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I am currently in my third month of volunteering for Kiya Survivors and have just decided to extend my time here by a further 3 months. I wanted to write this piece to give prospective volunteers an idea first hand of what it’s like volunteering for Kiya Survivors. I hope this proves useful and insightful. I first thought about volunteering over a year ago. I had graduated from university and was working in London for an NHS mental health service before deciding I needed to do something different. I wanted to use my skills in a different way and work with people who haven’t been able to have all the opportunities I have. I also wanted to learn about a different culture, learn a new language and meet new people. There is a whole world out there waiting to be explored so what better way to do it than to combine some sightseeing with helping people very much in need. I arrived in Peru with three other girls and was swiftly whisked away by a taxi driver who appeared to be practicing for the Grand Prix. I really felt like my life was in my hands! We spent a day in Lima doing all the typical touristy things before heading off to Cuzco to meet the volunteer coordinator, Laura. Cuzco stands at 3350metres so I had been advised to take altitude sickness pills of which, being the avid patient that I am, started taking religiously. Unbeknownst to me, the side effects of such pills include nausea, headaches and dizziness. Symptoms somewhat similar to altitude sickness itself... Having experienced all of these symptoms I soon stopped taking them and immediately felt better. We came to The Rainbow Centre the day after we arrived in Urubamba. My head was spinning (quite literally due to the pills) but I was so looking forward to seeing the children, to meeting the teachers and seeing in person the elusive Rainbow Centre I had read so much about that any ill effects were quickly forgotten. We arrived when the children were participating in the first activity of the day, ‘Brain Gym’. They were all in a large circle and we quickly joined in and introduced ourselves. I was immediately struck with how bright and colourful the Rainbow Centre was. I had seen the photos and video diaries but you really can’t get a full sense of how special this haven is until you visit. The second thing that struck me was the children themselves. I had heard stories about the difficulties some of the children had faced but here all around me were children laughing and smiling appearing to have not a care in the world. This is what Kiya Survivors has created. What an achievement. We spent time in each of the three classes, Inical, Primaria and Funcional where we worked alongside the teachers helping out wherever we could. The children’s abilities vary greatly and it was great to see how well Kiya Survivors caters for differing needs and promotes the skills the children already have. I was lucky enough to spend time working with Eliana, our speech & language therapist who is also a physiotherapist where I helped her do physiotherapy with several of the children. I really enjoy the variability of my volunteering and I hope I have been able to help by using some of my skills as well as learning new ones. As my background is within in the field of psychology and having done two degrees in psychological related fields, I was keen to get involved in the psychological aspect of the children’s health. I have been lucky enough to work with a psychologist and have been able to get involved in evaluating the children in terms of their cognitive and intellectual abilities. Being able to get involved in these evaluations has been the highlight of my time volunteering for Kiya Survivors. I found it and incredibly interesting and invaluable experience. Throughout my time thus far, I have created a brochure for prospective parents to the school and I hope to design further leaflets and brochures of interest. I enjoy the flexibility Kiya Survivors offers as well as the opportunity to get involved in different activities and work with different people. Recently I had the chance to go to a remote community on an outreach project where we went to a school to give a lesson on dental hygiene. We gave out toothbrushes and toothpaste both of which fell into grateful hands. It felt very rewarding being able to provide these children with something as simple as a toothbrush but yet something that I believe meant so much more. It meant that there were people out there thinking and caring about these children. What better gift can you give than that? Alongside volunteering for Kiya Survivors, I have travelled around Peru, visiting the large cities of Cuzco and Arequipa, trekking in the Colca Canyon, completing the Inca trail to Machu Picchu and sand boarding in Ica. I’ve had the best time of my life and hope the next three months will be filled with as many happy memories as the past three months have been. The Rainbow Centre is a very special place where the children can play, learn and develop in a safe, caring and stimulating environment. Just because some of our children may look different or behave different to other children, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be given every opportunity they can in life. No life is worth more than another which is the unsaid but very much understood message Kiya Survivors promotes.
Feeling a strong desire to travel and be useful in countries less privileged than my own, I researched opportunities to volunteer in South America and became aware of the work of Kiya Survivors. I didn’t leap immediately to apply, but after working in an orphanage in Cusco, Peru then in a school for disabled young children living in extremely poor conditions in Sucre, Bolivia, I felt I was ready for Urubamba. My initial reservations were due to the location of the Rainbow Centre as I had visited Urubamba, but much preferred to be in Cusco, and the fact that I lacked the confidence in my ability to cope with the level of disability of the children and young people. Now, I understand how we can all contribute to the well-being of the children under KiyaSurvivors’ care and fully appreciate how my voluntary experience has enriched my life and made a difference to the lives of the children who attend the Rainbow Centre. I have volunteered with Kiya on three occasions now, and have grown very fond of Urubamba and its inhabitants. In between visits, I embarked upon A Level Spanish at City of Bristol College which has helped me communicate more effectively while I am in Peru and opened up more options for me. Over ten years ago Suzy Butler, a young British visitor to Peru was shocked by the attitude to and treatment of children afflicted with disabilities and/or learning difficulties physical and/ordisabilities or learning difficulties.Suzy decided to act for these seriously disadvantaged children, and Kiya Survivors was born in 2001.Only a tiny percentage of the Peruvian government’s budget for education is dedicated to children with special needs. By founding Kiya Survivors as a British-Peruvian NGO, Suzy aimed to provide a proper education, love and support to ensure a brighter future for these children. Kiya Survivors and the team at the Rainbow Centre have worked incredibly hard over the past ten years to eradicate the social exclusion and abuse these children were experiencing. Such was the extent of the stigma attached to these individuals, they were often abandoned by their families or mistreated at the hands of parents who didn’t understand how they could communicate with their children. Today Kiya Survivors operates four centresfor children with special needsin Peru of which I am very familiar with two. The first centre was the Rainbow Centre (CEBE Arco Iris), which opened in 2002. It is a school working with more than 50 children and young people from Urubamba and the surrounding villages who have some form of learning difficulty or have suffered abuse, or in some cases both. The problems the young people and children suffer from include autism, Down’s Syndrome, cerebral palsy and numerous hearing and speech defects.There is no alternative support for these individuals or their families so Kiya Survivors is fulfilling a crucial role in their lives by welcoming them into the Rainbow Centre. By attending school, the children receive not only education, love and support, but also receive a hot and nutritious lunch every day. For many of these children, this is the only substantial meal they receive on a daily basis. The Rainbow Centre also offers physiotherapy and speech and language therapy, has an on-site psychologist who works with the children and their parents, and also a social worker who carries out home visits to the Rainbow Centre’s students as well as other children in the local area who are at risk. Kiya Survivors also runs an Outreach programme in Urubamba called Proyecto de Vida. The Rainbow Centre’s social worker visits the families of some of the poorest students to ensure that they are looking after their children properly, and to help lift them out of poverty. As part of Proyecto de Vida, the social worker helps finds jobs for the parents, puts younger siblings into nurseries, ensures that the parents understand the importance of keeping the house clean and tidy, and checks that the children are being fed and are healthy. The second project in Urubamba is the Rainbow House which is a small children’s home for 6 children. Due to the death of the children’s mother and their father’s inability to look after them, KiyaSurvivors opened the home in 2007 and now five of the children live there while their older brother who is severely autistic lives at the Rainbow Centre permanently. There were no orphanages in existence to offer help to children with special needs, so KiyaSurvivors responded to the problem with practical and enduring support. The five siblings were joined by another young girl from a different family who was likewise living in neglectful conditions. Three of the six inhabitants of the Rainbow House have special needs. Thechildren are cared for by two substitute mothers who ensure they are well fed and nurtured in a loving, supportive and stimulating environment. Most of the children now attend local schools, but all attend the Rainbow Centre for lunch and to make use of the facilities there. I have no personal experience of the two other centres that Kiya Survivors has opened in Peru, but they are equally important to the work of ensuring that children with special needs receive appropriate care and education.The Mama Cochahouse which opened in 2008 in Los Organos, northern Peru,provides a safe and stable home offering love and support for children and young people with severe special needs. Those living at Mama Cocha are aged between 5-22 and have access to creative workshops, outreach projects, and the Buddy system - where the young people of Mama Cocha are buddied with other young people from mainstream schools to develop reciprocal understanding of similarities and differences. The Early Bird Centrein Los Organos enablesKiya Survivors staff to attend to the needs of local communities. As well as the Early Stimulation Programme and workshops on Emotional Well Being, Cognitive Processing and Body Stimulation, the Centre also offers programmes for adults in the community: Mama Café (for single mothers to have a safe and open space to share knowledge and concerns about their home life) and the Parents’ School (offering both mothers and fathers advice on special needs, how to care for their children and how to improve relationships in the home and in the community). Since 2002 Kiya Survivors has run a successful volunteer programme to ensure there is enough support for the dedicated and extremely hard working on-site team of teachers, therapists and social workers at the Rainbow Centre. The volunteers bring along new ideas and constitute the main source of vital funds for all of the projects in Peru. A small team of staff in Brighton, UK,manage the charity and their work includes a ‘Sponsor a Child’programme, recruiting and training volunteers and raising funds through sponsorship, grants etc. As I start to write this I am on my third visit to the Rainbow Centre in Urubamba since June 2010, each time spending at least a month volunteering every day. I fully understand the crucial role Kiya Survivors plays in the lives of the families it supports – an ever evolving group with wide ranging challenges to face. In my three trips here, I have met about 20 otherKiya Survivors volunteers from the UK and USA, all of whom have different skills and experience to bring. We all work in a wonderful environment where much positive change is witnessed in the lives of the children and young people.Personally I find it hugely rewarding to spend time here. It can be frustrating as change is often slow and difficult but there is an overwhelming sense of optimism and such a happy and positive ambiance. Iwould recommend volunteering with Kiya Survivors to anyone seeking to give their time, energy and lovein a beautiful part of the world – it makes such a difference to the lives of these young people and their families. Like me I suspect you will be in awe of what Suzy has createdand I hope that it will inspire you to come and visit the Rainbow Centre or support Kiya Survivors in whatever way you can so that they can continue their vital work.
The working environment was great. You felt so welcomed by all the teachers and students, and they were all there to help make everything easier for you. When we arrived we found out that we were going to be doing hands on things with painting and making a better environment for the kids. It was really great to be able to do that and see the difference it makes for the kids, so I really feel like we accomplished our goals, and you could tell by the smiles on the children's faces. I really enjoyed using my creativity for the projects.
My experience at the Rainbow Centre was extremely fun and rewarding, probably one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far! I found the environment very relaxed, happy and friendly. Doing a range of activities, I was able to work with children from different classes and with different ages and abilities, which is what I wanted. Working in drama during summer school was fun and challenging, as it sometimes put me out of my comfort zone. The main highlight from working at the Rainbow Centre was developing relationships with specific children, either by working with them or playing, that made me feel I had made a connection or breakthrough.
I truly did not know what to expect prior to going out to Peru to work for Kiya Survivors. I had feelings of anxiety about the travelling, the culture, language barriers and most of all doubts about my ability to actually contribute positively. How wrong I was! From the moment I arrived I felt welcomed by the people of Peru and the staff and children of the Rainbow Centre. The work was very flexible and I soon realised that having a skill was not as important as having a desire to want to muck in, as and where required..The whole experience was fantastic and so rewarding.