Abby, Bryan, Danielle, Frances, Maddie, Max: Serving in Cusco
November 10, 2014
Four of the six students who are doing service in the Cusco area are working at schools that serve deaf children: San Martin (public) and San Francisco (private).
On the day that we visited St. Martin School for Special Education (Centro Educativo Básico Especial Don José de San Martin), Max was playing a memory game with several of the 11 children in the classroom. They are ages 5 to 11. The teacher in charge, Señora Gabriela (or Gabi), said of Max: “El sabe un montón de señas” (He knows many signs). Some of the children, on the other hand, may know fewer than 50 signs. The gap between what the children want to communicate and know how to communicate adds urgency to lesson planning.
We found Abby in a class with deaf students ages 11 to 18. She showed us multiplication flash cards she had made for the teacher.
Abby serves as a teacher’s assistant — and on occasion as the teacher in charge — needing to remind students of the “palabras magicas,” or magic words, posted on the wall, including the universal permiso (may I) and gracias (thank you).
At San Francisco of Assisi Special Education Center (Centro Educativa Básico Especial San Francisco de Asís), we watched Bryan and Danielle assist children with their homework. San Francisco serves 26 deaf children, some of whom live at the school. Catholic nuns manage the school; three teachers take the lead in the classroom.
Frances quickly took to her role at World Vision, an international organization that focuses on the health and well-being of children. World Vision links sponsors from the U.S., Canada and other countries with children in the Cusco region. Frances, who is bilingual, helps to translate cards that are sent back and forth.
She also became a member of the team that travels into outlying communities to work directly with children. One day she served as a translator when World Vision took sponsors from Finland to meet with the children they had been supporting in Pitumarca (Frances was switching from English to Spanish to English, while another translator was switching from Finnish to English to Finnish). “One of the sponsors was crying her eyes out,” Frances said. “For the first time she was meeting a 9-year-old girl that she had sponsored for seven years.”
Meanwhile, Maddie is teaching at Promesa, a Mennonite school in San Jeronimo, a suburb of Cusco. The 10-year-old bilingual school is filled to capacity — planning is under way to build a new school on a nearby tract of land. We watched Maddie assisting in the kindergarten class, where the 5-year-olds are learning English (colors, sizes, occupations), among other subjects. She also assists with classes in History and Geography.
Maddie and Frances live next door to each other (actually, close enough that they can talk to each other from their bedrooms). We enjoyed a meal with their two families. Frances’s mother, Margarita, is a cook at Promesa. Midway through the service term, Max also moved to the neighborhood; his new host mother, Francisca, is a secretary at Promesa, and his host father works as a carpenter out of their home.
We enjoyed coca tea and bread with strawberry jam when we visited in Danielle’s home. Her sister, Ruth, who is 9, attends the San Martin school. Danielle reminded us of the challenges in trying to bridge signs from the U.S., Lima and Cusco. For example, Lima and the U.S. share the same sign for “life experience”; but in Cusco, that same sign means “dog.” Danielle also has a brother who, at 10 months of age, keeps her host mother very busy. Another brother, at 14, doesn’t talk much to Danielle, but accepts help with his English homework. He and her host dad, who drives a taxi, missed out on our family photo.
Nearby, Bryan is serving as a host brother for Dante, a deaf boy. An American ethnomusicologist who lives in Cusco, Holly, is in the process of adopting Dante. Danielle and Max teamed up with Bryan to provide after-school tutoring support for Dante, in effect using their free time to spread the power of sign language.
Abby and Maddie also are volunteering in their free time. On Saturdays, they return to a peach farm owned by Margarita, a Mennonite woman from Lucre whom they stayed with for two days during our earlier visit in Cusco. They pull weeds and help out as needed, enjoying the beauty of the area and the chance to fellowship with Margarita and other family members.
Abby’s home, which requires a significant walk up the mountainside at Cusco’s edge, wins the prize for best view. From the bedroom that she shares with her grandmother, Abby can see the much of the city and beyond in all of its Andean glory. “I also see Jesus from my window every day,” she said. Indeed, there on a facing hill is the statue of Jesus Christ known as Cristo Blanco, or White Christ, towering over the city. The statue was erected as a symbol of gratitude by a group of Christian Palestinians who sought refuge in Cusco in 1945. Cusqueños believe the statue serves as a reminder “that good deeds do not go unnoticed.”