Global Service Scholar: Diane Delgado
Country: Peru

My trip to Peru taught me a lot more than what I expected to learn in the single month that I was there. I had one main site – the special education school San Juan de Dios – but there were days when I went to the orphanage; during my last week, the special education school went on vacation, so I spent the rest of my time in the Ayacucho clinic. The biggest lesson that I learned from this experience was about resilience.

Resilience is defined as toughness, as the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. I believe everyone is resilient, but sometimes they do not realize how resilient they are until they are pushed out of their comfort zone. I saw firsthand how resilient people could be in Peru. Working in our sites wasn’t easy; working at the special education school was emotionally, physically and psychologically draining. Being a special education teacher in Peru is even harder than it is in the U.S.; the school where I was placed was underfunded and was not led and taught cohesively. The teachers were left to their own devices in regards to how they led their classes. Sure, the school provided the materials and we saw the director at lunch or as she was heading out of the school to run errands, but it was mostly the teachers who dealt with the brunt of teaching and disciplining the kids.

The kids in my class were considered the ones with the most disciplinary problems. They would hit you, defy you by saying obscenities or insults when they didn’t want to follow instruction. They would talk back to you and throw things at you. The students’ behavior was, however, was a perfect testament to the amount of resilience I saw from the teachers every day. Regardless of how difficult the prior day had been, the teachers always showed up the next day ready to begin again in the hopes that the kids would have a positive attitude during that new day. The teachers from other schools joined a protest for a higher pay and quit teaching classes for a week, but the teachers at the special education school did not. They continued to teach until classes ended because they thought it was more important for the kids to learn and have a place to go during the day than it was for them to look out for themselves. The administration may have prohibited their participation in the protest, but in order to participate or not, all the teachers had to agree, and they chose not to participate.

Additionally, I am a perfect example of the resilience they experienced as well. I suffered through some emotional and psychological distress during my time at the school. But in the end, I can say that I love those children and that even though they were hellish at times, they always did something that made the struggle and effort worth it, whether it was a child showing improvement or a single hug or smile from one of the kids.

The children themselves taught me a lot about resilience. Most of the kids in the 5th grade class ranged from ages 13 to 19. No one forced them to come to school, yet they showed up ready to learn in the hopes of gaining a basic education that could improve their prospects in life. Some of these kids would work in the morning, go to school, then go home again, do homework, go to sleep, wake up the next morning, and do it all over again. These kids don’t have easy lives. Some of the parents are not patient with them. Two didn’t even have parents, and were in an orphanage because their parents had abandoned them due to lack of resources. None of the kids were receiving treatment for their disorders. The kids struggled in class with most of the basic concepts, yet they always asked for help and were willing to keep trying as long as you motivated them, letting them know that they were on the right track.

The doctors and nurses at the clinic showed a lot of resilience too. While most doctors were protesting for higher pay, the handful at the clinic were diligently seeing patients that came into the emergency room. Some were working 12 to 18 hours per day and sometimes more, seeing patients one after the other because they love helping people. All treatment at the clinic was free and we had cases where the patients would act out against the staff, but the staff would treat them with humanity until the last minute. This experience helped me realize that I need to have boundaries, and that I am stronger than I thought. This experience solidified my desire to work with special needs children.