Service in Ayacucho

Posted by: Kathryn Schmidt; Photos: Brynn and Melanie

Ayacucho has a population of about 151,000; a highland city, it is situated at 8,858 feet (2,700 meters). Local draws include Quinua, a town famous for ceramics, horse-back riding, a monument to the Battle of Ayacucho; a zoo; the Museo de la Memoria; and a bustling Plaza de Armas.

 It has been a challenging start for our Ayacucho group.  Since Chelsea, Brynn and Katie are posted in schools, and in Peru summer holidays are just ending, there was an awkward period of about 2 weeks of “filling in time.”  Chelsea helped at her host-family’s restaurant which was fun, but she had to deal with a lot of heckling from the males, a little too excited to see a “gringa.”  We are very glad her host family is watching out for her, and taking such good care of her.  Brynn and Katie spent time cleaning up their school; washing windows and even painting a mural.  All girls have appreciated some more free time; a chance to explore Ayacucho, do a lot of reading and hanging out.  But it is possible to have too much of a good thing!  They will be ready for the children to fill up the classrooms at the school.

Brynn is volunteering alongside Katie, at the Institucion Educativa Privada William Thomson, a private Christian school. At first, they were involved in helping to prepare the school building for the resumption of classes. Pastor Dionicio Bautista Gomez and Elizabeth Huarcaya Yarasca are the founders and administrators of the school and orphanage, and they are Katie’s host parents.  She lives with them along with their 5 children, and 2 extended family members.  It is a full house, right next door to Brynn’s host family; Brynn’s host mom is Katie’s host dad’s sister.  Brynn’s host family is smaller with only 1 eleven-year-old son, but there is a duck that waddles around among other animals!

Melanie is volunteering at the Centro de Salud San Juan Bautista. It is a large clinic situated in the San Juan Bautista neighborhood of Ayacucho. The patients are both Spanish and Quechua speakers, so it is a good opportunity to learn medical terminology and serve among people with medical problems.  Melanie spends a lot of time filling in important patient documents; this saves the busy dentists a lot of time and gives them more time for what they do best: tooth extraction.  Apparently there is a problem in Ayacucho with preventative care, so Melanie is excited to do some important tooth brushing education with local children.  Melanie is currently living with one of the dentists of the clinic named Carla, which is a plus since Melanie plans on becoming a dentist.

Chelsea is working at the Colegio Apostol Pablo, a private Christian school in Ayacucho, where she is assisting teachers and even leading a class of her own. Many of the children come from poor families near the school.  In addition to teaching, she assists the children with homework, joins in games or finds other ways to be a helpful presence.  There’s lots to do: coloring, baking bread, singing, counting in English. Of course there’s always the restaurant of her host family to help out at, and the 3 beautiful host-sisters for plenty of entertainment.  They love to lead Chelsea around Ayacucho, feed her, and make sure she’s ok.

Kenan is on service in Huanta, about a 45-minute bus ride away from Ayacucho.  Population = 84,000, Elevation = 2,624 meters (8,609 feet) above sea level.  The valley where Huanta is situated is unusually green, featuring a wide variety of vegetation and earning it the nickname “Emerald of the Andes.”  The climate is sunny and dry, with cool mornings and hot afternoons.  Huanta feels more like a small town than a growing city.  The population swelled during the 1980s and 90s as people fled the countryside to escape the conflict between the Shining Path terrorists and government soldiers.  Huanta continues to grow as people seek paid employment, better schools and the conveniences of urban life.  The streets buzz with the sound of moto-taxis and the main market features products from the rain forest as well as the highlands.  Kenan enjoys a peaceful host family situation, which gives him plenty of time to contemplate life alone, which he loves.  He also enjoys visiting Melanie in Ayacucho!

Kenan is serving in a school for young children called Johannes Gutenburg de Huanta.  The goal of the organization forming this school is to provide opportunities for children and families in poverty within Peru by teaching from a Christian perspective.  The facilities are particularly impressive, and it is possible for families with means to support students at the Gutenburg school monthly, as in a sponsorship.  This teaching placement gives Kenan the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant, to spend time with children, and to work as a music teacher.  Kenan is a very gifted clarinet player, recorder player, singer (and, incidentally, my piano student!)