Students spend a week in Peru, teach English at local school


(Left to right, then downwards) Naren Roy (’19), juniors Sam Rahbin and Martin Kiron, senior Khanya Dalton, senior Micaela Murrugurra, sophomore James Cook, senior Liam Gilbert , junior Brady Infeld, graduate Ava Krensky and junior Ted Weise spent one week in Peru this summer teaching English with Whitman’s Manos Unidas club. Photo courtesy MICAELA MURRUGURRA.

By James Marzolf-Miller

It was quiet while junior Defne Aslan waited in front of the Yanapay school’s front gates in Trujillo, Peru with 16 other MCPS students. But once the gates opened, sounds of chatter and laughter escaped from the building. Teachers welcomed the Whitman students, and a line of elementary school children danced and waved handmade Peruvian flags. Yanapay students had prepared for this grand opening for weeks in advance. 

17 students and three adult advisers from Whitman and other MCPS schools volunteered in Peru for one week this past June. There, they immersed themselves in local Peruvian culture and taught English to children ages five to fourteen at Yanapay. Las Manos Unidas, a Whitman club that fundraises for schools in predominantly Spanish-speaking countries that lack resources like technology and school supplies, planned the trip.

“I was nervous at first because I’ve never been to South America before,” junior Brady Infeld said. “I didn’t know what to expect of the culture and the people there.”

The first day the group arrived in Lima, Peru, they rode an overnight bus to Trujillo. They spent a few days touring Trujillo, learning about the city’s history and people. For the rest of the week, their schedule shifted toward outreach — teaching Peruvian kids English.

The MCPS volunteers taught through exercises like “heart attack” — a game where an MCPS student says a word in Spanish to the Peruvian students, and the Peruvian students write the word in English on a white board. Other times, the volunteers taught with simple presentations, educational videos and English books. 

Students also found time to go on boat rides, take surfing lessons and play beach games. One of the most popular activities on the trip was “sand-surfing:” sliding down a sand dune. Students’ takeaways from the trip wasn’t just working with the kids in Peru, but also becoming friends with people from Whitman that they hadn’t spent time with before. 

“Although spending time with the kids was fun, we needed time to relax and spend time with one another,” junior Sam Rahbin said. “It was a great experience.”

On the last day, they visited the catacombs — underground graves — in Lima. Volunteers were surprised at the catacombs’ meticulous layout and details, senior Micaela Murrugurra said.

“The bodies were placed in a ritual and specific type of way,” she said. “It was thrilling to realize how much time and effort was put into it.”

Students didn’t expect to see all of the stark differences between Peru and the United States. They visited one of the students’ houses, and they were taken aback by its structure.

“The roof was made out of cardboard, and there was only one room and bed for the eight people living there,” Aslan said. “It’s important that more people recognize [the extent of poverty].” 

Aside from the significant memories they made with friends on the trip, the students discovered a new passion for teaching and volunteering. Rahbin enjoyed giving the students an opportunity to learn a new language. 

“Not everyone has the same opportunities as we do,” he said. “I’m glad that we gave them that little spark of inspiration that motivates them to keep moving and learning.” 

Next year, Las Manos Unidas will go back to Peru to continue teaching English to the Peruvian students and learning about the country’s unique culture. 

The experience not only left the Manos Unidas members with better Spanish-speaking skills, but also a better cultural understanding.

“We were able to exchange parts of our lives that we would never get the chance to,” Aslan said. “It felt really nice to be integrated into the culture there.”