SPARTA, NJ - From participating in in country volunteer trips in college, to New Orleans and Gulf Port Mississippi Sparta Middle School Math teacher Allison Nowicki developed a passion for helping others as well as travel. Nowicki has always dreamed of participating as a volunteer abroad. She began to search for the perfect program, inquiring mostly about safety and the helpfulness of the program to the community.
“I really can't say why I choose Peru, but I would not have changed it for the world,” said Nowicki.
She spent five weeks in Peru living with a host family, taking Spanish classes as part of the program that had her working in an after school program in a very poor province of Cuzco, San Jeronimo with children three to fourteen. This program was run solely by volunteers. The volunteers worked together to determine what they would be teaching them and differentiating between age groups and abilities.
“Education is extremely different in Peru to say the least, just fitting into a different part of the culture. I may not have learned any monumental new mathematics strategies, however I learned an immeasurable amount from working with these children” explained Nowicki. “The most important thing I took home with me is that some facets of education is universal. No matter where you are in the world, regardless of the children you are lucky enough to work with, kids respond to kindness, they respond to compassion. I am a firm believer in the saying children do not care what you know until they know that you care.”
For Nowicki this was a life affirming adventure. “This experience solidified this for me in ways I did not know existed. I worked with children with far less [material things] in their lives than I have ever seen. They were living in conditions that we in America would call substandard to say the least; children with shoes who did not fit and sweaters that did not zip. Children whose eyes light up when you say hello, pay them attention, sit with them, hug them and show them kindness.
“I had the most life changing experience learning to appreciate the fact that you can make a difference in someone’s life just by making them smile and giving them your time. This experience will help me to be a better educator, a constant reminder to be the best I can be day in and day out.”
Nowicki only regret seems to have been that she did not know to bring enough supplies with her. “I wish I had brought many more with me. I purchased most of the supplies once I got there.” She bought such varied supplies such as a new mop for “the very dusty and muddy floors and art supplies for projects to help teach whatever subject we were teaching them.”
“The lack of supplies is evident, broken crayons, no paper. It’s hard to make things engaging without a lot of the supplies we are used to in the United States. However, I did learn what is possible with a piece of paper and a pencil. I would like to organize a supply and used clothing and footwear drive for this school. It's still an ongoing effort, but I am compelled to give back in some way. Those kids gave me so much life experience in five short weeks.”
Nowicki stayed with a host family which afforded her the opportunity to be truly emerged into the culture.
“They were so kind and patient with me learning Spanish. They did not speak English so I had to learn fast. The first week was quite overwhelming but I settled right in and made Cuzco my home. The culture is inviting, the people so welcoming. It was so different from the United States and so beautiful in every way.”
“Bottom line, this experience was life changing. I will never be the same. I have become a more appreciative and adaptive person. I have learned the real value of being kind all the time and living stress-free and offering no excuses. I will continue to be a lifelong learner and will remember and use what I have learned from the country and children for my whole life.”
Nowicki is a seventh grade Math teacher on the Ruby team.