Teaching at USDA School

In this post I’ll try to provide a little more info about the other school we support – the USDA primary school in the distant neighborhood of Alto Trujillo. No, USDA does not stand for the US Department of Agriculture but, rather, Una Sonrisa de Amor (A Smile of Love.) It’s a Peruvian non-profit organization that does a lot of great things for people who need help. They were the ones running the summer school which concluded back in February. One of their outreach programs is the school they have recently built in the Alto Trujillo neighborhood. They are a private school with a paid staff but many volunteers work there as well. Their focus is on providing a good education in a loving environment. The differences between USDA and the other school we support – Simon Bolivar – are striking. Compared to Simon Bolivar, classrooms here are cleaner, better equipped, and decorated with bright, welcoming posters as you might find in the US. USDA classes begin and end on time, whereas at Simon Bolivar it’s not unusual for us to have to go round up our students from the playground, twenty minutes after a class session was supposed to have started. Indeed, at Simon Bolivar, there have been two or three instances of classes being cancelled because a teacher could not make it. When that happened the children were either sent home or left to roam the playground.

The buildings at USDA are very basic and can get quite hot in the intense Peruvian sun, but they have everything needed for giving the kids an education. For example, at Simon Bolivar, we often have to scramble to provide colored pencils for all the kids whereas, at USDA, every kid has their own set. I know of one instance of one of our volunteers donating 16 backpacks to the USDA children. All of us volunteers really appreciate the USDA environment and we enjoy going there, despite the fact that their school day is longer and our commute is longer.

You’ll see in the video below that the school is surrounded by a wall and the front gate is carefully guarded. When the kids leave at the end of the day they are not released until their parents claim them. The school day consists of three 90 minute sessions, with 15 minute breaks between them. During breaks, everyone searches for a shady spot behind a building to get out of the sun. It’s at these times when the more curious kids come up and give you hugs and/or ask you questions. The little girl who sat on my lap (see photo from previous post) is named Samita. Last Thursday, Tommie (our volunteer coordinator and fellow teacher) said Samita came up to her and asked her “Donde esta abuelito?” – this means “Where is grandpa?” She and her friend Katia are the two who wave to the camera near the end of the video.

You’ll also see me teaching a fifth grade class, thanks to Tommie who volunteered to take the video for me. I was afraid of how I might look, since I feel I’m a fraud as a Spanish speaker, but I think I did OK. I won’t be giving lectures in Spanish any time soon but I seemed to be able to teach them a few simple English words 🙂

Video: Teaching at USDA Primary School (click on photo)

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8 Responses to Teaching at USDA School

  1. Dennis Lynch says:


    Cathey tells me that the kids are placing stickers on you for doing a good job. You must be loaded with them by now. The litle girl is also very perseptive …. Grampa.
    You are doing great work. I look at this way …. I now have a new food item on my menu (Guina Pig) and after watching the vidio I now speak fluent Spanish. You are not only teaching the young children in Peru, you are also educating one cranky old American. Cathey says that she is not the cranky one. I await you next lesson. Continue the good work and we look forward to seeing you when you get home.

  2. John says:

    From one cranky old American to another … thanks for the kind words. The kids are wonderful, making it all worthwhile… even the challenging times, and there are some. With my reduced work-week (3 teaching days), I believe I can stay the course another five weeks until Grace arrives. This adventure is fun but I’ll be ready for a relaxing break with no responsibilities 🙂

  3. Christine Bennett says:

    Last year a student at wilson primary center told me I was really old

  4. John says:

    Well, from a young person’s perspective, it’s difficult to deny – guess we should at least be glad we’re still sentient enough to remember and enjoy the comments 🙂

  5. Grace says:

    You can tell John has been in another world for a while now — he thinks shepherding a cranky old lady around Machu Picchu and being her one-on-one translator will be relaxing! I’ll have to be careful he doesn’t trade me for a group of cute 5 year olds.

  6. John says:

    haha – i married you partly because you don’t do “cranky” very well – you are kind and considerate even at those times – wouldn’t trade you for a barrel of 5-year-olds 🙂

  7. Paty says:

    John, what a constrast between the two schools. Video “Taking” the bus ride to the rural school showed the barren land and impoverished towns. Bravo for you to bring added smiles (and some English) to the kids who are responsive, happy, energetic youngsters. And you didn’t miss a beat in teaching them. What a special term of endearment : abuelito!

  8. John says:

    Thanks, Paty! It is rewarding but very challenging – I think the biggest challenge is to develop lessons for grades pre-school through six – at two very different schools. We (I) barely have enough energy to get through our 4 hour days, much less spend time developing lessons appropriate for so many levels. I really think this program has “bitten off more than they can chew” and trying to staff it with volunteers who come and stay an average of two months is almost un-doable. Would be much more “doable” if we had only one school with days off between. (OK, done complaining now 🙂