Brian and Matt are volunteering in Tarma, a charming city of about 60,000 residents located in a fertile valley about 3,053 meters, or 10,016 feet, above sea level in the Andes mountain range. Tarma was founded in 1538 in the departamento (state) of Junín, between the central coast and the central Amazon rain forest. Because of its spring-like weather and natural beauty, the city was nicknamed the “Pearl of the Andes” by Antonio Raimondi, an Italian-born scientist and university professor, who traveled widely through Peru from 1850 to 1875 studying the nation’s geography, geology, botany, zoology, ethnography, and archaeology. Tarma has chilly nights and sunny days for enjoying the beautiful scenery and quaint, narrow streets.
Tarma also is referred to as the City of Flowers; flowers grown here are shipped to Lima and elsewhere and also are used during huge religious observances. Many tourists visit Tarma in the week before Easter. They shower flower petals on the images of Jesus Christ and Mary, which are carried through the streets on illuminated litters.
Brian’s host parents, Deyadira (or Yadira) and Abraham Bañon are a nurse and municipal official, respectively, who have hosted a number of Goshen students. They live with their two children in a small second-floor apartment. They are a warm and welcoming family who enjoy conversation and watching sports and game shows.
Matt lives with a new host family – the Valderde Gonzales family that consists of a grandmother, parents and two daughters, Stephanie and Amanda. Matt’s host mother, Rocio, was so excited about hosting Matt that she repainted and redecorated his bedroom and made other home updates to provide a more welcoming atmosphere. Both Brian and Matt are happy to have their own bedrooms on service.
Brian and Matt are working at the Fe y Alegría (Faith and Joy) school #67. The school, which is part of a network of more than 2,000 such schools across Central and South America, provides quality education for students from low-income families. Fe y Alegria schools are established and run by members of Catholic orders and partially funded by the government. Tarma’s well-run school is fairly new and situated on a hillside overlooking the city.
The Goshen students report to Sister Patricia Day, the school’s sub-director (vice principal). They’ve enjoyed her energy, positive attitude and Australian-accented Spanish. Whenever Sister Patricia enters a classroom, there is a deafening chorus of, “GOOD MORNING, SISTER PATRICIA!” in English. The school is administered by the Sisters of Saint Joseph, a Catholic order dedicated to education.
Every morning Brian and Matt make their way up the winding, dirt road to the school. The usually take a moto-taxi ride and walk down the hill to their homes at the end of the day.
Brian helps with sixth-graders in the classroom of Maria, a new teacher. Students call Brian by first first name or refer to him as “Profesor” (teacher). Brian keeps students focused on their work. He believes his major accomplishment has been helping students to learn mathematics.
“I spend plenty of time doing math at Goshen, and I was pleasantly surprised how easy I found it to help the students with math here in Peru. I feel very accomplished when I see a student grasp a mathematical concept for the first time,” Brian wrote in a report on his service. “I’m also finding that its very good Spanish practice for me to have to explain things multiple times and in multiple ways. I have to use all of my vocabulary and language skills to get a point across in a way the kids will understand.
“Discovering that I’m able to help children in a different language and different culture with their math has been the biggest (service) highlight so far. Although there are many differences between the Peruvian education system and that of the United States, I think my biggest takeaway has been the overall similarities in the children, who still more or less act like American sixth-graders. I am enjoying my service here in Tarma, and it’s good to feel like I’m having an impact here and connecting with the children,” Brian wrote.
Matt spends his days with a boisterous and adorable group of first-graders, doing his best to help teacher Lila Reyna Castro Suire instruct them and keep them on task. He prepares classroom materials, checks assignments, teaches mathematics, helps the students improve their writing and assists with physical education. A major responsibility is helping maintain order in the classroom for children who often have trouble staying in their seats, focusing on lessons and following instructions.
The students call Matt “Gringo Papa” and love to hold his hand and hug him. They often swarm around him and demand attention. The work can be exhausting. Matt said he had never worked with young children before and doubted he had the patience to do so, but has done quite well, according to the teacher. And Matt said it is “really comforting” to know that that he can work with small children and make a meaningful contribution. “I want to make an impression on them so they remember me,” he said.
In an email update on service, Matt wrote that besides coping with some homesickness, he has found service to be satisfying and has greatly appreciated his host family.
“Some highlights are on the weekends when I go on walks with my family. Usually on Sundays, we go somewhere so I can see the area, and I really enjoy that,” Matt wrote. “The greatest unexpected surprise was the day after my birthday. I told my family it was my birthday the day we arrived and then they told me that we would celebrate the next day. The next day, they cooked a big meal for me and that night, they bought a cake and invited over Brian and our neighbor. I was not expecting anything at all and they made me feel very welcome into their home, which was very nice.”