Helping Hands – San Gabriel Charity School

After our 8:00 am family breakfast, our group embarked on our first day of community service with Helping Hands Cusco.

Helping Hands is an organization that focuses on improving the living standards of underprivileged children, families and community members in the poorest areas of Cusco. Helping Hands, not only focuses on providing accessible education and after-school activities for underprivileged children in the Patron San Sebastian area, but they also focus on empowering the larger population by providing quality medical care, family counselling, and economic opportunities to vulnerable single families and mothers. Helping Hands Cusco strives daily to make sure each child and member of the community feels supported, accepted and connected in their home.

After a short bus trip to the Patron San Sebastian area we arrived at San Gabriel, a charity school established in 2008 by Helping Hands Cusco. We were greeted warmly by a small group of Peruvian students, who were very excited to meet their new volunteer ‘teachers’ for the week.

Following a tour of the school and grounds, we were split into two teaching groups: one to work with the 4-year-olds and the other to work with the 5-year-olds. Each group had an opportunity to lead an English, Art, Lunch, and Sports period. During the English class, our ‘estudiantes’ practiced cursive writing and common phrases such as, ‘good morning,’ ‘good afternoon’ and ‘goodnight’ in English. In art class we focused on painting Popsicle sticks yellow, and colouring in exotic animals on colouring sheets. During lunch, our group was responsible for supervising our students, serving them food, and cleaning up! After lunch, we had an exciting period of ‘sports’ in the gym. The students had a blast shooting hoops, playing with balls, jumping on the seesaw and sliding down the slide.

The majority of the students who attend San Gabriel have parents who are unable to assist them with homework or their education because of illiteracy or simply a lack of time. Without San Gabriel, these children would spend their days unsupervised and unsecured. Our students were so humbled to learn that their contributions to the school and these children, will not only encourage these students to continue studying through secondary school but also gain more opportunities in their life than their parents.

Once our time on the playground was complete, we said goodbye to our students for the day to focus on improving the grounds of San Gabriel. In two teams we were able to re-paint the main entrance of the school in vibrant purple and blue, and prime the fourth-floor unit that was under construction. The fourth floor will eventually be turned into a residence for high school girls who want to continue their studies after elementary school.

For the last activity of the day, we unleashed our inner artists by painting two authentic Peruvian pottery items – pucará bulls and aryballos. The Spanish brought pucará bulls to Peru during colonization. These animals were quickly adopted into the indigenous culture to support their growth and development throughout history. Pucará figurines now symbolize strength and serve as a visual reminder of the prosperity of the bull to the Incan culture. Aryballos are one of the most unique Inca ceramic forms developed in the Cusco area. They are large globular chambers with pointed bases, and tall flared necks. Aryballos were commonly carried on a person’s back and used for the production, storage, and transportation of food and drinks. Today, aryballos figurines symbolize good fortune and prosperity when received as a gift. Both the pucará bulls and aryballos will be given to the students at Christmas time, so no child has to go without receiving a gift.

After a full day of community service, our CS family enjoyed an authentic Peruvian dinner, followed by free time in the main square – Plaza de Armas. Tomorrow our staff and students are looking forward to returning to Helping Hands and exploring the outskirts of Cusco by mountain bike.

Until tomorrow … Buenas Noches!


Activity Coordinator