Traveller Not Tourist is a small organization set up by a lovely young couple who were determined to give visitors to Peru the opportunity to travel responsibly and help the local community. As the name suggests, Traveller Not Tourist is all about helping people have a positive impact on the community and environment rather than mere ‘tourism’ without thought or care.
I discovered the organization while doing a web search for free or low-cost volunteering. My husband and I had decided we wanted to volunteer overseas, but were a bit disheartened by the exorbitant fees being charged by many organizations, with no guarantee that the money paid would be used for the local community. Traveller Not Tourist appealed to us for this reason, they only charge a small administration fee ($100 USD at the time of writing this).
I expected to hang out with some cute kids and feel like I was doing some good in the world when I signed up, but I wasn’t prepared for such an emotional and intense experience. There were days when the work was exhausting, or I would be overcome with sadness for the situation these kids were in, or I was just plain sick of nappies! But the smiles and hugs from the children every day when you open the door and they pile into your arms is the most precious thing on earth. And watching the babies learn to clap and crawl and knowing you helped them in their development is just incredible.
Our time at the orphanage was life-changing and memories of the children will stay with me forever. On our last night with them they performed a concert to say goodbye, and each gave us handmade letters they had written to say how much they would miss us.
Traveller Not Tourist know how much the volunteers bond with the children, so they send a newsletter out with updates and photos of the kids, it makes my day every time I get one!
Work: They have two projects available to volunteer for, an orphanage and a school – the one we were placed with was the Casa Hogar Luz Alba Orphanage. The orphanage is a home for children who, for a whole range of reasons, are unable to live with their parents. There were 23 children aged two months to 10 years there at the time we volunteered, including four babies under eight months old.
Volunteers do ‘half days’, either morning or afternoon, so you have the rest of the day off to yourself (we used the time to do an intensive Spanish language course). Volunteers are there to give the few orphanage staff a much needed break (they are all local full time volunteers who live at the orphanage). So you will be asked to play with the children, provide some general care (bathing/eating etc), clean the living spaces and wash clothes. I was generally asked to spend most of my time in the tiny nursery caring for the four babies so it helps to have some experience changing nappies and caring for very young babies.
They ask for a minimum volunteer commitment of one month, but they also offer a ‘volunteer for a day’ program, where travellers just passing through can offer their services for a day or two.
Accommodation: Traveller Not Tourist has a self-contained volunteer house with rooms available at very low cost to accommodate volunteers. It is around the same price as local backpackers but luxurious in comparison, with a big loungeroom, hot water, great kitchen! It’s really lovely to live with all the other volunteers in a communal space and you will make some great friends.
Be aware that… The orphanage staff don’t necessarily speak English and you need to communicate with them regarding the children so make sure you have some basic phrases in place before you start.
It’s not all cuddling babies and playing peek-a-boo, it can actually be extremely physically demanding work, there was no washing machine when we were there and the babies were mostly in cloth nappies, so large chunks of the day were spent on hands and knees scrubbing clothes. My knuckles were red raw by the time I left.
The orphanage staff ask for all tattoos to be covered and piercings taken out or hidden and for dress to be conservative.
- Traveller Not Tourist are a tiny, grassroots organization and have a very simple formula of only asking for volunteer time, not large payments of cash, so there is no need to worry about where your money is going. It’s all very transparent, you donate time and see the immediate benefit.
- This is no token volunteerism – volunteers make a huge difference in these children’s lives and the orphanage relies on their help. The orphanage gets no funding from government, so has no way of obtaining much needed support.
- These children so badly need the attention that the few, overworked women at the orphanage just don’t have time to give them.
Date of visit: April 2008
About the author: Renee Dodds is a freelance writer and public relations professional living in Perth, Australia. (Photos courtesy of Renee Dodds)