Photo by Andreas, center, with fellow Volunteers, off to help on a current project.
Andreas took Brexit as his cue to leave rainy England and expensive London! For the past few months, he has been working high in the Andes in Cusco, Peru for Latin American Foundation for the Future, LAFF, an organization that enables marginalized young people to access education opportunities and supports young people’s organizations through income-generation, cost reduction initiatives, and capacity building for staff. In his free time, Andreas loves eating Alpaca burgers and avocados.
Volunteering at LAFF
After a few years working in London and paying debilitating amounts of rent, I was ready to leave, and sharpish. I applied to volunteer with LAFF (Latin American Foundatino for the Future) a non profit organization which gives children and homes in Peru the tools and skills they need to build a more independent future. That gave me the change to working in International Development, living abroad and learn a new language. Or at least attempting to learn a new language.
My position; Communication Coordinator
As LAFF’s Communications Coordinator, and later taking on the role of Fundraising Coordinator, I have immensely enjoyed my work and learned an incredible amount, back in November 2016.
Communications is about telling a story, and LAFF has quite a story to tell. The young people and organizations we support are achieving great things under difficult circumstances. Faced with abuse, neglect and discrimination. Before arriving at our partner organizations, the young people are carving out a future for themselves that defies their past, whilst our organizations do remarkable work, helping the young people overcome these barriers. And LAFF is right there in the thick of it, paying the school fees, educating the young people in the ‘soft skills’ they will need to get a job and helping the organizations become more sustainable and effective.
Blogging about social violence towards women
We have also commented on social issues, with blogs about the ‘Ni Una Menos’ demonstration against violence towards women and other articles on topics such as children’s rights. LAFF works in an environment that is not always in agreement of our aims to educate and empower young boys and girls who have suffered abuse and discrimination, and it is important that we are commenting on the movements and initiatives that are aiming to tackle the systemic issues behind our work.
I’ve also helped out with LAFF’s fundraising, grant writing and dabbled in some marketing for our partner organisations social enterprises. I’ve even assisted with an art workshop; as one of the young women at the Sacred Valley Project put it: ‘He doesn’t understand what is going on, but he is helping.’ I guess I’ll just have to take that one on the chin.
My personal view of working with LAFF
To me, LAFF’s work is an interesting model for the International Development sector; one which I think by-passes many of the issues plagues by the sector, like working in opposition to local communities or only applying a sticking plaster to the issues it aims to resolve. LAFF’s ethos of working through local partner organisations, making them more sustainable through social enterprises, as well as cost reduction initiatives providing training for their staff, leaves a long-lasting legacy; a legacy where the organisations and young people can move towards a future independent of outside support.
Most needs for Peru
What would help most in Peru, is changing attitudes to women; they need to become a respected part of the work force, and children need to grow up in communities where violence against women isn't so endemic.
This was most challenging for me
Beyond the language barrier (my Spanish was poor), the most challenging part was for me probably the ordered chaos of life there. Growing up in London everything works like clockwork, while in Peru you just need to go with the flow and can't expect to be on time.
Volunteering at LAFF is worth it!
I can absolutely recommend volunteering at LAFF, you get given real responsibility and by working through local organizations the work you do is more effective and has a long lasting impact.
Peru changed me
After 5 month in Peru I became a more nuanced view of International Development, which can support countries such as Peru. Also a greater awareness of different cultures and ways to live. After the more laid back and relaxed culture of Peru I run around much lesser; I have a better appreciation of maintaining a high quality of living that isn't focused on doing a 100 things at once.
Traveling recommendations around Cusco
Apart from Volunteering at LAFF I made some remarkable visits around Cusco - where LAFF is located. Some recommendations for those who want to experience the Andean altitude of Peru in breathtaking natural scenery!
Cusco, official name City of Cuzco - elevation 3,399 m
My first steps out of the plane, the big Andes mountain in front of me the city Cusco. I can’t breathe. My lungs are desperately trying to escape my rib cage in a bid to find more oxygen, which is turning into an ordeal! 10 Ways to Avoid Altitude Sickness.
The Sacred Valley
One month later and I’m merrily trotting along at 4000m, on one of the many treks I have done in Cusco and the Sacred Valley – some of the most remarkable scenery I have ever seen. There is an embarrassing amount to do around here and my personal highlights are like something out of a nature documentary. Like the nature documentaries that leave you in stunned silence for the rest of the week.
The attraction of the Sacred Valley to the Inca, in addition to its proximity to Cuzco, was probably that it was lower in elevation and therefore warmer than any other nearby area. The lower elevation permitted maize to be grown in the Sacred Valley. Maize was a prestige crop for the Incas, especially to make chicha, a fermented maize drink the Incas and their subjects consumed in large quantities at their many ceremonial feasts and religious festivals. Agricultural terraces, called andenes, were built up hillsides flanking the valley floor and are today the most visible and widespread signs of the Inca civilization in the Sacred Valley.
There was a trek to Choquequirao, an Inca ruin that’s so remote there were only eight visitors on the day we went. Architecturally it is similar to Machu Picchu. The main structures, such as temples, huacas, elite residences, and fountain/bath systems are concentrated around two plazas along the crest of the ridge. Presently the only way to access Choquequirao is by an hard hike. Treks to Choquequirao start from the villages of Cachora or Huanipaca, which are a 4–5 hour drive west of Cusco city. About Huanipaca trail, journey is easier and hikers can arrive at Choquequirao after only 7 hour trek.
We did the trekking without a guide over a period of three days, bringing all of our food and camping equipment. It's a tough trek and most wouldn't recommend doing it without a guide and certainly not solo. For trekking like this, you need to wake up at 5am and make sure you have set up your tent by nightfall. It's best to do it during winter as during the rainy season it would be tough.
The food in Arequipa, which is Peru's second most populous city, nearly outmatched the trek through nearby Colca Canyon, one that makes the ‘Grand’ Canyon look tame. The Colca Canyon is one of the deepest in the world. More than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. The canyon is home to the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), a species that has been the focus of worldwide conservation efforts. The condors can be seen at close range as they fly past the canyon walls, and are a popular attraction. There is also a natural natural hot springs named La Calera which is located at Chivay, the biggest town in the Colca Canyon.
And Lake Titicaca was so relaxing I was nearly horizontal for the week after, which is a large, deep lake in the Andes on the border of Bolivia and Peru. It is often called the "highest navigable lake" in the world, with a surface elevation of 3,812 metres. The cold sources and winds over the lake give it an average surface temperature of 10 to 14 °C
Grudgingly, I am about to briefly return to the UK, but I leave Peru optimistic about the future of LAFF, the young people and organizations we support, and this incredible country.