One of the biggest challenges when working in a foreign country is learning the right way to do things. As volunteers we come in with a million ideas of classes, clubs, and workshops we can see would help our communities and then realize that in order to do anything we first have to learn how things work and who can help us.
If I want to use a classroom in the high school for a club all I have to do is ask the teacher, right? Wrong! First I would talk to the director of the school, then I would write a formal document soliciting a classroom with all the specifics of dates, supplies needed, and that I need the lights to be on if it’s in the evening. Next, I would bring this document to the school secretary and we would both sign and stamp it (yes everyone has a stamp here). Then I would go and make a copy and leave one with the school and take one with me. This document would be brought with me to every class.
Now it’s the first day of the club and I went through an extensive process to get everything I needed, so it should all be ready right? Nope. A few days before the class I would bring the signed and stamped solicitud to the director of the school and he would have likely forgotten, so now he calls in the groundskeeper to tell him to open the classroom the day of etc. Then the day before the class I would call the director and the groundskeeper to make sure everything is all good.
The day of the class I would probably call the groundskeeper again and he wouldn’t be the slightest bit annoyed because this is completely normal and expected. I would show up at least a half hour before the start time and chances are the classroom is not actually open, so I would hunt down the groundskeeper and get the keys to open it myself. Yes, all that formality and paperwork to just do it myself. Then there is a 99.9% chance the class will not even start until at least 30 minutes after the start time.
Luckily we were prepared for all of this during training, so I didn’t take it personally when the first class I ever set up was empty until 45 minutes after the start time! La Hora Peruana.