Observations of Elizabeth Saunders,
co-founder and first director of Bruce Peru Cusco

Bruce Peru opened its doors in Cusco on December 20, 2004. The first program began on January 10, 2005 in Vista Alegre, San Sebastián. Soon after a second program began in Wimpillay, Santiago (technically this area pertains to the district of San Sebastián). The groundwork conducted by the volunteers and directors during this time and continuing through early March lead to the following observations about the general living, working and educational environment in Cusco. Clearly, more experience in Cusco will lead to more informed observations and ability to adapt our program accordingly.


Similar to the phenomenon occurring on the coast, Cusco has experienced rapid unorganized growth. Many people from nearby pueblos have moved to Cusco in hopes of generally better economic and educational opportunities. In ‘el campo’ there are schools; however, they may be ‘unidocente’ which means one teacher is responsible for 2 or even 3 grade levels. The schools also often do not offer education after grade 3 or 5 of Primaria. And, of course, the parent(s) is/are seeking job opportunities, expecting that work is readily available and that it will pay more than in the countryside.

Unfortunately, these dreams are rarely realized. Cusco has grown exponentially in the past 5 – 10 years, with the hillsides becoming populated at a rate faster than the municipalities can maintain. Shanty towns are settled by these recent immigrants, therefore no services are established (electricity, water, sewage) and clearly no schools are built. Parents do not find work and, sadly, they are unable to find openings in the schools for their children.


While there are many schools in Cusco there are very few openings for new students. Teachers are hired to teach classes of 30 students; however, they are usually in the classroom with 35, sometimes 40+ children. With this existing overcrowding they are simply unable to accept additional students.

Each March during enrollment, schools save a place for every student who attended the prior year. Therefore there is always space for children in first grade but not necessarily in any other grade. Interestingly, just as there are many children looking for a place to study there are also teachers looking for work. So why not build more schools where these children can study and these teachers can teach? Because the Ministry of Education does not have the funds to pay additional teachers!

Programs like Bruce Peru and others that work within the existing educational system provide an interim solution. Some programs pay for teachers to work within existing schools and others, such as Bruce Peru, provide an education alternative for children who did not make it into school.


Numerous NGO’s are working in Cusco. This makes getting established and gaining credibility more challenging for new arrival NGO’s in Cusco than in smaller cities. Why? For one reason, many have begun programs, promised many services and within a short period of time closed their doors. Another reason is that some organizations claim to a long list of accomplishments yet cannot show any proof of their work. Still others invite volunteers to work with them and then have no structured program nor projects with any clear objectives. This leaves volunteers dissatisfied while furthering the notion that NGO’s are all talk and that volunteers are social tourists, come for a good time but have no real burden to help the very poor sector of Cusco’s population.

Concerning our recruitment of local volunteer staff, it is common for NGO’s in Cusco to pay their local ‘volunteers’. While this is great for Peruvians who need work it makes it difficult for Bruce Peru to attract local volunteers.

It is important therefore that we coordinate with the municipalities and established NGO’s. We need these organizations to be aware of our existence, of our work and of our goals in order to gain their support. With their support we will easily acquire locations for our educational programs and even materials and access to volunteers.

This example has been set by our collaboration with the Municipality of Santiago (the Social Worker has facilitated many contacts and has offered advice on any additional programs we may wish to add), with the Municipality of San Sebastián (we have signed an agreement with the Mayor’s office and they have facilitated the use of space in their central market), and with World Vision in the area of Margen Derecha in Santiago (we have formed a Club de Tareas with them using a library they manage).

An important contact we have yet to make is with the local Ministry of Education. It is important that this office be aware of our existence and is supportive of our mission. With their backing we should have an easier time of securing places in schools for our children next year as well as with requesting exoneration or discounts of the enrollment fees.


To date (March 6, 2005) we have been unsuccessful at retaining Peruvian volunteer teachers. The typical demands are some level of remuneration and/or a Constancia (letter of reference stating the type of work and length of service). Even with promises for a constancia after a month of service along with free English classes, the people who have come for interviews have either never turned up for work or else soon left for paying jobs – whether education related or other.

As a result our plan for the near future is to offer a small package of benefits to our volunteers:

  • Propina to cover transportation, between s/1.20 – s/3.00 daily
  • Constancia – many university students are on vacation now and will be looking for internship (práctica) opportunities
  • Free English class
  • For volunteers who teach in the morning program and also in the Club de Tareas we will offer lunch – either additional pay or lunch at the Bruce Peru house


Bruce Peru is becoming well-known very quickly. We are listed in the South American Explorers Club along with many positive trip reports, we are recommended by Academia Latinoamericana de Español, we have flyers all over the city and we are a top result for the Google search ‘volunteer cusco’. As the tourist season picks up more and more people will be coming our way. Not only because there are more people but because we are a serious organization offering rewarding work.

Until now, our experience has been that people are either beginning or ending their travels and want to stay in Cusco or are mid-way and need a break. We have not run into many folks interested in moving to our other locations in order to complete their volunteer service. We hope that as the season picks up this will change - it should as Trujillo and Huaraz are interesting cities to visit and offer strong programs for serious volunteers.

Another reason travelers will choose Bruce Peru, no matter the location, is for the affordability of the volunteer experience. No other program exists that offers so much (lodging, food, responsibility, real hands-on experience, etc.) for such a low donation amount. Our foreign volunteer options are now:


€360 monthly

Live-out, eat out

€30 weekly