What do you think of when you hear the word “bread”? My thoughts tend to go toward a loaf of Whitewheat® Sandwich Bread, pre-sliced with a twist-tie on the baggie. This is closely followed by French baguettes or breadsticks from Olive Garden (mmmm…). But no matter what kind of bread you think of, I guarantee that you don’t think about bread the way the Peruvians do.

In Peru, it would be an understatement to say that bread is a staple. Really, in most houses, it is 2 out of 3 meals of the day. Breakfast AND dinner in our house is “pancito” (little bread roll) that is fresh from the bakery, topped with butter, jelly, cheese, or bologna. Don’t worry, we’re not starving – lunch is the biggest meal of the day here, so that is where the calories come from.

But my point is that bread, which I have had expectations about and have always thought about in a certain way, turned out to be one of those radically different things I have encountered while living in this country.

Like my notion of bread, my expectations about my responsibilities at my volunteer placement turned out to be radically different than I initially believed.  Based on my preliminary phone interview for the Ann Sullivan Center of Peru (CASP), I thought that I would be a teacher’s assistant in the classrooms. But during my first month of work, I have done 10 evaluations of speech or language, have done audiological evaluations on more than 100 children, and have been called “doctora” (doctor) more times than I can count simply because I have a college degree. I have also, on occasion, been called to serve as special educator, translator, D.J., judge of a costume contest, hand-washer and nose-wiper.  Needless to say – not what I was expecting.

So what do I do at CASP? Well, I work from 8am-6pm Monday through Friday and about every other Saturday. I do individual and group speech/language therapy, and consult on any and all evaluations relating to language or speech. I am the new captain of an audiological screening team that plans to test over 300 children by the end of the month. When these things don’t keep me busy, I help in a classroom of 5-year-olds who all have special needs and “different abilities”.

And it’s great! My boss, supervisors, and colleagues are a happy, loving, thoughtful group of people who really care about each other and the kids at the school. There are always new things going on and new people visiting the center to meet. I have really been made to feel welcome and needed.

I have also learned a ton!  My Spanish improves by the day and I have embraced the CASP philosophyof striving for the kids to be “independent, productive, and happy”. I have become more confident about doing on-the-fly speech/language evaluations with no tools… not even a pencil to write with. After four days of being the right–hand of the visiting audiologist and receiving training, I know so much more about ear function and hearing loss.

So, I guess you could say that volunteering at CASP is the best thing since sliced bread!!

(I know, I know, I just couldn’t resist!)

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