By Melissa Lopez – Student Opportunities Coordinator, YES Prep Fifth Ward
On June 8, 2018, five upperclassmen and four staff members from YES Prep Fifth Ward traveled to Peru where they lived for 16 days.
The five students that attended the trip were Alberto Partida, now a freshman at Lewis & Clark College; Lilizareth Norena, now a freshman at Our Lady of the Lake University; and current seniors Guadalupe Rosa, Alejandra Salinas, and Fernanda Sifuentes.
Students were selected through an extensive online application that included essays and a teacher recommendation letter. Thanks to the support of over 40 donors and fundraisers, who raised close to $11,000, our students were able to attend the trip at no cost to them.
The main goal of the trip was that it would be a service-learning experience. I visited Peru four years earlier, on a personal trip, and knew that our students needed to experience what I had. The culture is so rich and everyone I encountered received me with open arms.
I began researching organizations in Cusco, Peru and decided to partner with an amazing school in the neighborhood of San Sebastian.
The school was very similar to YES Prep’s humble beginnings. Mario and wife Rosita saw the need for a school in their neighborhood and started this school on their own! I also discovered they not only provided a great learning environment for the students but they also gave back to their community, hosting events and sowing handmade dolls for kids in rural towns for Christmas. In addition, the school had a house for volunteers on site and we were able to live there during our stay.
I knew that this experience would give students an opportunity to immerse themselves completely in a different culture and teach them about self-identity, responsibility, and provide a different world view.
Titans as teachers
For two weeks, Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., our students planned and delivered lessons to the most amazing three, four, and five year olds. After the first day of teaching, our students had a real understanding of what their teachers go through daily, expressing things like, “Whoa, I’m so tired!” and “I’m so grateful my teachers do this for six periods a day!”
The YES Prep students taught daily lessons in English, Art, Science, and Math. After classes were over, the students and staff helped with arts and crafts projects like making rag dolls for kids from a neighboring rural town and making Inca flags for the kids for the yearly Fiesta del Cusco, and a variety of carpentry projects. Most of the supplies we used for the lessons were covered by the donations made by our students and families.
Immersed in the culture
On the weekends our students and staff traveled throughout the Inca Valley region learning about the people, culture, history, and food. We visited Machu Picchu; the ruins at Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero; the salt mines at Maras and the ruins at Moray; hiked Rainbow mountain (17,060 ft. above sea level); took a dip in some hot springs; and encountered so many llamas and alpacas along the way. The students were particularly fond of the Asian influence in Peruvian cuisine.
We frequented this Asian restaurant and the students loved the “chaufa” rice, a Peruvian take on fried rice. They also loved discovering that French fries were very popular. Students also tried Alpaca, and most found the meat delicious! They were also mesmerized at how unchanged the attire of the Peruvian people was, specifically the local women, and loved the traditional garbs of the women.
Our students continue to express that this was the best summer they’ve ever had. For all of our students, this was the first time they had traveled abroad and been so far from their families. These students learned about independence and self-advocacy on this trip. The group of students, who knew each other before the trip but didn’t hang out with each other, became like family. I also witnessed students truly grow an appreciation for their teachers even more after teaching their own lesson for two weeks.
The trip was everything I expected, and more! Students completed a multitude of service learning projects and had a life-changing experience. Moving forward, I hope we can make this “Titans Take on Peru” trip a yearly tradition. I’d also love to add more service learning trips abroad for our students.
I am a firm believer that traveling abroad while doing service work changes lives and empowers students in the most hands-on way possible.
About the Author
Melissa Lopez has worked at YES Prep since 2011. She currently serves as Operations Coordinator and Student Opportunities Coordinator at Fifth Ward, and was a founding staff member at this campus. Lopez is also a YES Prep alumna, from YES Prep Southeast. Lopez attended the University of Houston. A lover of nature and wildlife, when not teaching, you’ll find her visiting national parks.