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Omprakash volunteers have been posting stories, photos and even videos from their time abroad since 2007. We now have an extensive collection of personal stories from volunteers who've worked with our partners abroad. You can browse through the most recent stories below or use the category selection tool to narrow your search. Alternatively click on the Stories tab for each organization we work with to see specific accounts from a particular organization. Be careful - you might lose a couple hours of your day in here! Happy reading.
Wilderness Therapy Pilot Projectprint story
January 17, 2012
Currently I am working with Teach Huaraz Peru, one of Omprakash’s partner organizations in the town of Huaraz, Peru. As a volunteer I have been able to both teach English at a university language center and help set up a wilderness therapy program for at-risk youth.
Teach Huaraz Peru is an organization set up by Luis Delgado, an English teacher here in Huaraz. For a small room and board fee, volunteers live in the Delgado’s house and eat three meals a day with the family. I can’t thank the Delgados enough for warmly opening up their home to countless volunteers. During the stay in Huaraz, Luis helps place volunteers in English classes in schools around the city. Teach Huaraz, however, is not just about teaching English. Luis is involved in many different service initiatives, like building a shelter on the soon-to-be completed third story of his home.
This past week I helped the organization Teach Huaraz Peru develop a wilderness therapy program, as Luis has a long-term interest in developing a program for at-risk youth involving trips in the outdoors. As students are on summer vacation right now in Peru, we ran a 1-week, voluntary wilderness therapy pilot program, which will hopefully turn into an after school program during the year.
Before I arrived here in Peru, Luis searched for families who would be willing to have their children participate in our pilot program. You can imagine this was a difficult task, as it involved implicitly telling parents that their children were “at-risk” youth, and that we were going to take these children who had never been camping before into the mountains for three days. Working through the local public school Fe y Alegria, Luis initially managed to find nine families willing to have their children (ages 12-15) participate in the program.
The program consisted of one week of short two hour classroom classes you might find similar to a middle school health class, followed by a three day camping trip at the end of the week. The classes were essentially all the same format. Luis, the students and I watched a series of short videos on a laptop, and then Luis led a discussion. Only five of the nine students ended up participating in the program, and students often arrived to class quite late, but the classes had a real impact. Luis led meaningful discussions with students about gang violence, drugs, heath, personal finances, motivation, and a host of other topics.
Our program transitioned into outdoor education on Friday, when I taught the students how to set up tents. After my initially demonstration, the students did a really good job working together to set up the tents, especially considering we were using low-grade Coleman camping tents I had bought in the U.S. with the scraps of some college grant money. In addition, I am still amazed the students understood my demonstration, as I frequently had to gesture because I did not know the Spanish words for “to stake,” “rain-fly,” or “ground-cloth.”
Later on Friday afternoon all 5 students came to Luis’ house to set out for the trip. Our destination: Laguna 69, a lake in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range at an elevation of about 15,000 feet. Five adults came on the trip, including myself, Luis, Luis’ daughter Cindy, an official park guide, and another volunteer at Teach Huaraz.
We drove from Huaraz to our first campsite in private tourist transportation, which unfortunately is quite expensive and now required to enter the park. The drive was wild, snaking slowly up into the mountains on an extremely bumpy dirt road. Our driver routinely risked our lives to pass cars in front of us. When we reached our first campsite in the vehicle it was pouring rain. Setting up camp was rough and everyone got very wet, although our students did manage to pitch the tents very quickly! Luckily the rain died down in time for us to make a dinner of pasta, ham and cream sauce. We were well fed and went to bed happy.
The next day, Saturday, we left camp to hike towards Laguna 69 with our day packs. Luckily, our guide stayed at camp all day to watch our things and defend our food from the very hungry cows grazing nearby. The hike was stunning, winding up through a narrow green valley towards glaciated peaks in the distance. Most of the students did well with the hike, although there were also “teachable moments” which reminded me that this was a wilderness therapy trip. For example, some students forgot to bring water on the hike, and as a result had to constantly ask others for water all day. Other students did not bring a rain jacket, and as a result got wet in the afternoon. The outdoors clearly forces you to come to terms with your own decisions, one of the reasons why wilderness therapy is so effective for at-risk youth.
Small downsides aside, everyone had a great time. We made it to the lake surrounded by glaciers and enjoyed a lunch of fruit and crackers, skipped stones and took pictures. The acclimated students of course whipped the adults to the top. In the conversations with students while hiking I entertained questions about Justin Beiber, Rambo, and many of the other finer points of American culture. Being a foreign volunteer can certainly be amusing.
When we arrived back at camp after a day of hiking, it rained. This time the rain didn’t stop for dinner, and everyone ended up eating dinner in their tent (we didn’t have a dining fly). Cabin fever and teenage restlessness set in amongst the students. Conditions could have been better.
However, the next morning and it was warm outside, and wasn’t raining. Luis’ daughter was cooking French fries with our leftover potatoes for breakfast! Life was good. Luis and I had a debrief chat with the students, (what did you learn?) and they responded well. Everyone pitched in to break camp down quickly, and we made it back to Huaraz earlier than expected.
Overall, I think this wilderness therapy program was extremely successful and I hope Teach Huaraz can build an after-school program in the future. Wilderness therapy has been used extremely successfully in the U.S. to help at-risk youth, and I believe it can do the same in Huaraz, especially due to the city’s close proximity to countless outdoor opportunities.