There’s a great saying we came across at SwimTayka which goes “one language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way” and this is spot on when it comes to the project we partner with in Peru.
We work with Otra Cosa Network, an organisation which has been run for 15 years by husband and wife Peter and Juany Murphy, to help Peruvian youngsters living in Huanchaco learn to speak English.
Juany is Peruvian and when Peter took earlier retirement, the couple went over to Peru to give something back. They planned to go for three years and stayed for five! They soon saw that having a good knowledge of that crucial English language was key to helping poorer people living in the shanty towns – this apparently affluent tourist hotspot – to achieve a better standard of living, to find employment and to secure a brighter future.
Juany, who in the UK worked with Somali refugees and was also a university Spanish teacher, invited some of her language students to visit, and together they set about helping teach English to children.
In 2009, Juany and Peter returned to the UK. Juany retrained in international development and Otra Cosa Network was put in a more formal footing, to ensure it became sustainable. The couple now base themselves in the UK, but Juany visits Peru for several weeks each year.
“Although English is in the curriculum, in the State schools it often isn’t being taught, or taught very well. There is a large gap between the State school education and private school,” said Juany.
“Huanchaco is among the 200 most visited areas in the world, with surfing, cruise ships coming in and out, and a huge tourism sector. Learning English is a way for local people to escape poverty. It leads to job opportunities or the chance to go on to university.”
Take the case of Miguel. Thanks to Otra Cosa Network, he has learnt English, taken a qualification to work on the cruise ships, and now has a great job with prospects. His is a real success story, one of many thanks to Otra Cosa Network.
From language to literacy – to learning to swim
Whereas in the early days Otra Cosa Network’s primary goal was teaching English, this fantastic organisation has expanded its scope to include literacy, youth projects, environmental awareness, sustainability and – of course – swimming, and all the benefits this brings.
Statistics aren’t even kept for drowning incidents for the area. Poorer children have no access to swimming lessons, nor are they taught about the risks of being in the ocean. Add to this the lack of facilities for children like playgrounds and parks, there is little to do. There is a danger, then, that drugs become the pastime of choice.
Together, Otra Cosa Network and SwimTayka are overcoming this, through the swimming programme which runs for several weeks of the year, and is delivered by volunteer swimming teachers – a mix of people from overseas and also local Peruvians who want to help their community.
Learning to swim doesn’t just make children safer in the water. It gives them recreation, exercise, and a respect for the ocean and the environment they live in.
The volunteer experience
So what will you get to experience as a SwimTayka volunteer in Peru? As well as teaching children to swim, you will get an opportunity to join in the other Otra Cosa Network projects.
This could be enjoying time with children on the youth programme (they are about to get their own skate park); running events at the beach, like beach clean-ups; helping in English lessons; or just chatting to the children and learning from them about their life and their culture. You’ll do some sightseeing, find out about the local area and culture, and form new friendships.
Juany sums it up. “The volunteers come to help us and give us something, but they take something back too, so it is a really valuable two-way experience. They develop skills, they learn about a new culture, they help us to make this a better world.
“I am very proud that we have promoted the idea of volunteering and doing community work. This wasn’t really a concept in Peru as it was very individualistic country, but we now have local people supporting our projects and their community.”If you like the idea of volunteering in Peru, and are a qualified swim instructor, please get in touch for more information or to sign up.