Susan St. Louis is a very impressive woman from Rancho Mirage, California. After graduating from Harvard, she went to work as a consultant before becoming a soccer coach and raising a family. She has travelled extensively throughout the world, and she and her physician husband have gone on medical missionary trips to several countries. In October she joined the “assisting at an after-school” Volunteer Abroad in Cusco. She proved to be a loving and hard-working volunteer, and we are thrilled to introduce her here.
Why did you volunteer in Cusco?
I was originally interested in Cusco because of the opportunity to join the sports project. However, as the minimum time commitment was longer than I could commit to, I joined the after-school project for two weeks.
The reason I didn’t want to do more than two weeks is that I wasn’t sure how I would react to that environment. Except for work trips, this would be the first time I would be traveling abroad for such a long time by myself. And not having done it before made it seem a little more intimidating. So it was an exciting, but also a scary step.
In terms of what I wanted to get out of the experience, I would say it was the following three items: First, to help. I wanted to work directly with people in need, preferably children. This was a great opportunity to do so. Second, I wanted to be fully immersed. I wanted to improve my Spanish and experience the local culture. And third, I wanted to test myself. I had never done something like this. As it turned out, it was challenging, and I’m proud to have come out of it more confident about going out on my own.
What was your impact?
When I first arrive at the project I was frustrated by how few resources there were. The poor teacher of the class I assisted in had so many kids to deal with! I initially found her to be very rough with her 4-year-old students, more than I’m used to. But I then realized this was the only way to maintain control—she was the only one whom they listened to and respected.
Once I settled in and got into the swing of things, I think I helped make her life a little easier. I think the children also appreciated seeing a new and friendly figure. There was one little boy who was very rough and disruptive. I had my tussles with him, and could barely get him to stay in his seat. But one day I got him to fill out a counting worksheet, and I was impressed with his result. I encouraged and praised him, and he reacted really well, and applied himself with even more determination to his work. Most of the kids came from very difficult backgrounds, so any sort of positive reinforcement made an impression on them. I was only there for two weeks and didn’t change their lives, but hopefully I made a small positive mark that they’ll remember.
I also built a great relationship with my hostess. I hope I impacted her. For sure, she impacted me. We talked about where we come from and how we look at the world. It was a very special opportunity to share culturally. And finally, I think I impacted my fellow volunteers. I was the oldest one in the crew and I think they appreciated my different perspectives as much as I appreciated theirs. We went to dinners together and played pickup soccer, and it was eye opening for them to see me hanging out with them. I was delighted to find that they accepted me as one of the group, even though I was probably older than most of their parents!
What was your favorite memory?
Walking the streets of Cusco and feeling like I was part of the vibrant life all around me. Not having a car was really special. I was fascinated by the incredible engineering of the ancient Inca streets. I loved being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of Cusco. The roar of passing vehicles, the smells of fresh pastries in the morning, the brilliant sunshine, dogs barking, Quechuan women passing by with babies bundled on their backs…it was all so memorable. I remember being on Avenidad de la Cultura one day and seeing a vendor selling from huge barrels of olives set up in the middle of the street, with buses and trucks passing within inches. It was so random! That’s a sight I’ll remember forever.