Written by Celeste Marion
Anxiety, nervousness and exhaustion dominate many Peruvian households at the moment —yet our Manos Unidas Peru teachers persevere, stay connected, and continue teaching their students. As most of the country anxiously awaits their vaccines (now reaching people 50 and older), they recently elected a new president after a turbulent election, creating tension throughout the country. As schools remain closed to in-person learning, Latin America is facing an education crisis where students are leaving school in alarming numbers in the face of the longest school shutdowns of any region in the world.
MUP 2021 School Year
“Amongst the angst, teaching has kept me alive,” Profesora Izayda says in tears during our interview.
MUP’s 2021 school year launched with 25 students, down from a top enrollment of 70 students before the pandemic. Teachers began the year with house visits to support families until the 2nd Covid wave made it too dangerous to have in-person visits. The teachers resorted to creating pre-recorded content to keep children engaged, hoping parents would share it with their children when convenient. Sometimes that meant sharing it at 8pm when they returned from work carrying the only cell phone in the family, or with the help of a sibling on the family laptop.
The five steadfast Manos Unidas teachers realized their content was not reaching the kids and opted to go back to live virtual classes via Google meet so that students could interact with their teachers and peers.
“There is such angst and fear, but I work hard to make my students laugh, and that gives me joy. I even joke with the parents supporting their children and make them dance to songs. They enjoy it, and this is how I have won over my parents. We couldn’t do this without the parents’ support,” says Profesora Juana who teaches the middle school class.
Juana works on functional academic skills that align with the state curriculum, found on the national online platform, Aprendo en Casa. “Sometimes they are moody and shut off the camera but I start doing tricks or jokes to bring them back…. And they always come back.“
Juana teaches three-hour long group sessions three days a week, and works individually with the students an hour each week. She collaborates with parents as they help their children work on functional life skills, like cooking. Last week, I attended a class where the students were making cakes. One mom didn’t want her son in the kitchen, so he worked in the living room. There he was, working hard to mix his cake batter, getting it all over the floor. Meanwhile Juana jokingly encouraged the mom to let him be so he could do his best, and then they could clean up together when the class ended. The mom laughed and shrugged her shoulders. The student continued to proudly mix his cake batter.
Both parents and siblings assist the 25 students currently enrolled during the week to attend their virtual classes. They work despite internet and connection challenges, and interact with each other and the teacher.
Profesora Izayda teaches the primary school class. Four of her six students showed up for Wednesday’s class. After about 15 minutes of sporadic internet, with the images and sound coming in and out, the group was all there. Three young siblings and one mom positioned cell phones for the students. One sister helped her brother, a 10 year old with cerebral palsy in a wheelchair, see the phone screen and interact with the reading lesson. She held a paper notebook in front of her brother and helped him read the words the teacher was presenting on her virtual lesson board. Then, their puppy jumped in the brothers lap and he squealed. The sister scolded him for being distracted, and they resumed the lesson.
Many of the younger students are at home with older siblings while their parents work. Peru has been devastated by the lack of tourism, and many Camino Nuevo parents have taken to selling produce on the street or finding ways to make money. Some are sitting on street corners for 12 hours a day selling masks, hand sanitizer and gloves outside of hospitals.
Virtual school has been a challenge for everyone, and more so for children with disabilities. Now, apply that to a country that is experiencing one of the worst pandemic education crises, and think about the 90% of children with disabilities who never attend school to begin with. Trying to stay connected with our 25 students is a real challenge. Many parents do not have time to dedicate to their children during the day, so children are left in the care of older siblings or other family members. Priority is given to healthy children. Many families have battled severe illness and death.
Children with disabilities already suffered severe isolation and segregation from the community, and now many of our students have not left their home in over a year.
MUP teachers have remained steadfast in their attempts to keep families and children engaged. The families who participate in virtual classes say they are a source of joy and a distraction from the stress and anxiety of their environment.
While there is talk of beginning a hybrid learning program after the mid year break in August, doubts are high. Vaccines are only reaching people above 50 and there has not been an organized approach to vaccinating teachers, especially in rural areas outside of Lima.
But we remain hopeful. And we’re focused on recovery. As we look forward, into 2022, we see the arduous task of re-engaging our lost families. MUP will focus on family services and helping them recover from the trauma they have experienced during this time.
**We invite you to join us for a virtual meet and greet with MUP teachers and families on Friday, August 20 at 12pm PST. ** See Events for more information.
The virtual tour will engage participants in a mock class with Profesoras Juana and Izayda and give people the chance to ask teachers, parents and some students questions. If you would like to join our meet and greet, please sign up here.