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A Day in the Life of an Intern at a Peruvian NGO

Arequipa, Peru Sophie Thoms

What my typical day looks like, from start-to-finish. 

Working for HOOP (Helping Overcome Obstacles Peru) has been challenging and life-changing in every aspect. It’s hard to describe a typical day because each day is special in its own way, mostly thanks to the people I work for and with.

My morning usually starts slow: sun shining on my face, coffee in my hand, birds chirping and cars honking. My fellow interns and I start walking to the office around 10am. Everybody is pretty chilled about what time we actually begin our work—not because they don't care, but because we all know we're working for the same cause. When there's more to do, we'll stay longer and help each other.

HOOP focuses on working with an impoverished community just outside the city of Arequipa, close to the airport and the mountains. The main aspect of work is a school for the children of the community, who can get free English lessons there after school. But there's more to the NGO; while the kids are receiving English classes, we work with the parents (mostly moms) to teach them about self-care, finances, meditation, yoga and more. 

As a Social Work Assistant, my office work consists of a lot of planning, organizing and some statistics. We also update files of the families and do some case and community work.

After lunch we usually work for an hour more and then all head to school. It takes us about 45 minutes in a combi (mini bus) to get there, which is an adventure in itself. Combis are usually crowded—people cram in until there is literally no space to sit and stand anymore. There is a person hanging out of the door who screams the destination of the combi to the people on the street, and when you need to get off you have to squeeze through all that. But in the end, it’s fun and you see the most interesting things, both inside the bus as well as on the sides of the street.

Life moves different here and I want to fully embrace it, each and every day.

As a social work student, this is the work I’m most passionate about—the direct contact with the client, having a relationship with them and  building trust.

When we arrive at school, there are already kids and moms waiting for us, who greet us with big smiles that match ours. There is a little bit of chit-chat, games, running around, and cracking jokes. Classes start at 3:40, after the normal school day is over. (And when I say 3:40pm, I mean 3:50pm, because that's the Peruvian way of living.) The walls of the school are not that thick, so you can hear singing and word repetition and the kids calling “teacher, teacher” all the time. For me, it's not a disturbance at all—it gives me a feeling of connection. 

We start the workshops with the mums around the same time, sometimes outside in a circle, sometimes in our classroom. Every single workshop I attended so far has been fun and interesting at the same time. It’s great to see how attentive and interested the mums are of every single topic and how they take notes and ask questions.

After the workshop we usually chat a little bit or sometimes (my favourite days) go to cancha (playtime) with the kids and start a game of volleyball with them and the mothers.

As a Social Work student, this is the work I’m most passionate about—the direct contact with the client, having a relationship with them, building trust and confidence, and most importantly, having a good time together and laughing about my non-existing skills in volley.

Sometimes, we have fundraising events in the evening, more often we all go out to eat or cook together at home.

Before I came to Peru to do my internship, I was always fascinated by NGOs and I always thought about working in one. Now that I'm here, I know for sure that I want to pursue that kind of career. I can’t think of a better way to have a job with purpose.

One of the moments that let me realize this was at our annual Christmas party, when one of the moms came up to me out of nowhere and hugged me so tightly I could feel all her love. She thanked me for the work we’ve been doing. My heart was overflowing and so were my eyes. It's moments like that—sometimes it’s freaking challenging and seems like nothing is ever changing or going right. But if there is one of these moments once in a while, that makes it all worthwhile for me.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Sophie Thoms

Sophie Thoms is currently volunteering with a NGO called HOOP (Helping Overcome Obstacles Peru) in Arequipa, Peru. As a social work student, she is assisting the social worker of the organization in workshops, helping in individual cases and supporting the local community to break the circle of poverty.

Website: https://sophiesroad.wordpress.com/

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