From the beginning, I tried not to have any preconceived ideas about my service site, and certainly not about Peru or Ayacucho. The one preconceived idea that I did have was that my service job was going to be easy. It was the worst preconceived idea I could have had, but I genuinely believed that my positive attitude and excitement to work there would make the experience easy and perfect. It hasn’t been. I do love working there and I am just as excited and positive as I was before I started, but it has been difficult and emotionally draining.
One big obstacle is the kids’ behavior because it varies from day to day. The kids are not disciplined, they act out, and they are aggressive with the teachers and with fellow classmates. Sometimes they like you and sometimes they don’t. One day they are hugging you; the next, they are trying to throw water, drinks or even rocks at you, saying insults and smacking you. Some days are good and productive, while other days are not so great and it is harder to get the kids to do their work. However, there is always a great moment every day that makes the struggle worth it, whether it is improvement in a student or a hug from one of the kids.
The other preconceived idea I had was that the school might be using teaching techniques that the U.S. abandoned long ago. I also assumed that the teachers would be trained to deal with special needs children. I was right and wrong at the same time. At the school, most of the teachers are new and the teaching methods are not uniform. Some teachers are really good at dealing with the kids, while others are really lenient or really strict and harsh in their disciplining.
The classes are mixed, which means they have kids with different disabilities together in class. The kids are different ages as well. That is probably the biggest obstacle because we don’t really know what level of comprehension individual kids have, so we teach all of them really basic concepts that are really easy for some but not others. I am working with a fifth grade class and we have a sixteen-year-old who is learning along with the younger kids.
The teachers are using old punishment techniques to deal with the children. They discipline kids and get them to listen to instruction by threatening to hit them, send them home, or put them in the shower with cold water. The teachers do not really have high hopes for the children’s future; their goal is to make sure that the children learn basic hygiene such as how to shower, wash their clothes, and brush their teeth, as well as how to eat appropriately and use table manners. They are teaching the children basic knowledge such as how to count to five, ten, or greater depending on the child’s level of comprehension. They teach them how to add and subtract, and how to garden. They teach them about fruits, vegetables, plants, and the basic parts of the body. Overall, the information they teach is really basic.
Another of the biggest obstacles is that the teachers are not trained or specialized in working with special needs children. They are specialized to teach, but they do not have extra training in teaching special needs kids, so they don’t know the best way to teach them. The kids are also not receiving treatment or medication for their disorders, which exacerbates their symptoms and can be an obstacle for their learning. With so many kids with different disorders, it is hard to find a teaching technique that will benefit all of them, or to tailor an individual program for each student.
The biggest preconceived notion that I had about Ayacucho was that the family would treat us as strangers, but they have really opened up their home to us and treat us like friends or even family.