Volunteer in the heart of Arequipa

“One´s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things” - Henry Miller

This is my story on volunteering and I hope it will stir you to do so as well.

It seems like only yesterday that I got there…

Discovering Perú and Circa´s children, Jesuit Father Carlos Pozzo, Father Darío and the nuns of María Coeli. These were all life-changing experiences which are difficult to put into words. These people I met were just good people that, far away from ideas or conventionalisms, only believed in helping others.

It was one warm month of January when I arrived in Arequipa, as Summer began in Perú. Arequipa is a city located in the South of Perú, crowned by the Misti volcano; its architecture typically Spanish.

Arequipa and the Misti volcano.

Arequipa and the Misti volcano.

All my life I have always loved helping people, being of service and giving back in any way that I could.

When I arrived in Arequipa I thought that my lifelong dream could become a reality, as I began collaborating with a Non Profit Organization called CIRCA-MAS.
Circa is an organization founded by the Jesuit Father Carlos Pozzo in 1958. It has built 35 schools, 2 first aid buildings and 8 Sumac Wasis (Children shelters, Sumac Wasi means nice houses in quechua language) in the region.

My first work there was in the main Sumac Wasi called “El Menor”. During ten days I woke up at five o´clock every morning and helped in anything that Father Pozzo asked me, such as cooking or looking after the babies from 0 to 3 years.

Children outside the Arequipa schools

Children outside one of the Arequipa schools.

In spite of all of this, I was not feeling as useful as I thought I’d be, so I asked for a new destination. This is how I ended up going to Mejía beach.
Mejía is a coastal location bordering the Pacific Ocean where rich peruvian people spend their holidays, and where Father Pozzo had built a house. Mollendo, the nearest town, was in the past the main port in the Peruvian southern coast, and remains a lovely place.

I spent almost two months in Mejía, on a wonderful beach full of not so wonderful zancudos (big mosquitoes pretty resistant to insect repellent). It was my best experience in Perú, and I remember funny excursions to the Motobomba beach, eating delicious lapas, cuy and lulo bread.

I had the opportunity to work with groups of children, called “Vanguardias” and “Montañeros” (both of them similar to the boy scouts), while also helping with groups of widows and families. Every night I was “the official storyteller of the camp”. In Mejía I gave and got back a lot of love. I was teacher, friend, daughter and mother.

Plaza de Armas in the historic Spanish colonial style of Arequipa.

Plaza de Armas in the historic Spanish colonial style of Arequipa.

When I came back to Arequipa I helped at two schools. I organized the fundraising of the Organization, giving tips on how to proceed, and my professional experience. Saturday mornings I taught “sevillanas” (Spanish dance) to the children and to Father Pozzo and Father Darío; and at the same time the children taught me how to dance Wititi (Peruvian dance).

Every morning I kissed each boy and girl of the house, giving nice words to their ears and big hugs to cover their souls. In return they gave me hope and happiness.

One day a newly born baby arrived, but her mother died due to labour complications. The father of the newborn had five more children and he could not take care of another one, so he turned the baby to Father Pozzo.

Peruvian children playing at one of the Arequipa schools.

Peruvian children playing at one of the Arequipa schools.

I loved her from the first moment, she was a lovely baby. I chose her name and Father Darío baptized her in the little chapel of “El menor”.
But I saw death too close when the baby died. That was too much for me, so I decided to come back to Madrid. Some of the kids were angry, others were sad, and one boy shouted at me: “No please, you will never come back, I know it!”. Hardest thing is, he was right…

It was very hard to say goodbye, but I learnt the huge importance of having a family, and I was missing mine too much. I am lucky to have had these friends and these children in my life, people who discovered me that: One´s destination is never a place, it will be much more…

About Elena Cascales

Elena has been travelling since she was born. Marketing expert, volunteering has given her fulfillment and self development. She loves children and has been in many remote countries.

4 responses to “Volunteer in the heart of Arequipa”

  1. Cecilia says:

    What a beatiful experience! Thank you for this post, it is very moving and shows a lot of love, hope and happiness 🙂

  2. José Luis Sánchez says:

    I know all you write in this article because you told me that many time ago. Elena you have a very big heart. And I always remember my trip to Perú. Was a good experience. Thank you for remenber me this.


  3. Águeda says:

    Thanks for sharing such an amazing and enriching experience! It is really inspiring! And thanks also for introducing us to the WorldFolio blog.

  4. Emily Browning says:

    Dear Elena,

    What program did you volunteer with?


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