Peru Alumni Volunteer Kurt Jaeger admits his relationship with kids in Peru is exceptional. On the campus of Global Volunteers’ partner, Sagrada Familia, he’s revered as an engaging volunteer teacher, a compassionate elder, and more – a talented musician. Sharing his violin and voice, Kurt inspires students to push boundaries and give their all. Since retiring, the nine-time volunteer has joined two teams a year and became a Changemaker monthly donor. Read on to learn what fulfills Kurt in giving fully to children living in the dusty villages north of Lima.
“In Peru, I never have a problem feeling relevant,” Kurt declares. “I go back to the community all the time, and I see people who know me; they value me. There’s a connection there. Even if I’m with them only for two weeks, it’s always rewarding. I’ve done it five times. And I keep giving because I think I’m making a difference; teaching the kids and trying to create a real connection so that we can share. That’s what really draws me back.”
Kurt, a retired senior information technology specialist, says he’s always enjoyed teaching. At home in Virginia, he volunteers at his church as a choir director. “Music is important to me,” he says. “There’s something magical about music wherever I go. Music gets everyone’s attention. Everybody loves it.”
As a Spanish speaker, Kurt said sharing students’ native language is helpful, but music is what connects him deeply to the children at Sagrada Familia. “I like to teach what others want to learn. When I first went to the sixth grade class, I said, OK, I’m here to teach you, and I can teach you English, but what do you want to learn?”
At first the students asked about the American education system and the Statue of Liberty. “I went right back to my hotel room that evening and researched everything I didn’t already know about the Statue of Liberty to share with them the next day,” Kurt chuckled. But after the first few lessons, what they wanted most was to sing, Kurt recalled, and he was ready to indulge them.
Music is an organic element in the education at Sagrada Familia, and is integrated into daily life on the sprawling campus. The students sing with preparing lunch. They sing when doing laundry and cleaning their rooms. “All the children say they love music. Even the kid sleeping in the back (of the classroom) raises its head and starts paying attention when the music starts. Even in the preschool with the kids running around doing all kinds of crazy things, when you start to sing, suddenly they’re all singing together and they’re all paying attention.”
“I love to make music, and I think the kids see that, and they enjoy making music too.” Kurt, naturally soft-spoken, becomes reverent. “The first time I taught, we sang the song, ‘I Need You To Survive.’ The message is powerful. It speaks to what we’re about. What our work is about. ‘We’re all a part of God’s body.’ That’s how it starts,” he continues. “I love you and I need you to survive. It’s a message I believe and it really connects with everyone.”
The opportunity for deep connections is essentially why he continues to serve – returning to the same community year after year – and also commits financial resources to ensure those projects continue serving children. “I know I’m making a difference, I value that, and I don’t want to stop,” he asserts. “And, (the local people) value it. That part is central. We have this relationship going. I want to do anything I can to make sure the program continues.” Kurt’s contributions help maintain the children’s daily living and teaching resources, and contribute to special needs throughout the year.
“I see the Sagrada Familia community as a source of goodness in the world,” Kurt says simply in a 2021 blog post at the resumption of service programs after the pandemic. “Miguel and the people who work with Miguel are teaching these kids how to be good human beings; how to be productive, caring and loving. He’s making the world a better place… by instilling those values in the children.” So he was anxious to return to service as soon as the program resumption was announced. “Our role is to help make that happen. I see my role as providing skills and resources they don’t have.” Kurt appreciates knowing his ongoing support enables a consistent flow of volunteers to serve meals, teach children and improve the overall community with labor project materials.
Summarizing, he said Peru repeatedly draws him back to service and inspires monthly donations because he enjoys the service work, the need is go great, and he wants to ensure he can continue to contribute for long into the foreseeable future. But, he’s also open to serving in other countries, he insists. “I served in Costa Rica and Appalachia before Peru, and in fact, I’m thinking about going to Tanzania for the first time. Everyone says I should do that,” he laughs.
“I want to see the Tanzania Reaching Children’s Potential Program and understand how it can work in Peru,” Kurt explains. I assisted a little bit at family home visits with the staff on my last program, and it has the potential to be really valuable for that community.” In early 2022, Global Volunteers launched the Reaching Children’s Potential (RCP) model of focusing education, intervention and technology on mothers and children under age two to reverse childhood stunting in Ventanilla, Peru. In the impoverished neighborhoods surrounding Sagrada Familia, families who enroll in the comprehensive, child-focused, parent-driven, family-centered, and community-led program gain skills in nutrition, disease prevention and child development, beginning with pregnancy, extending to the 18th birthday, with a focus on the first 1,000 days of life.
“Global Volunteers has become an essential part of a network of care. The RCP Program wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Global Volunteers. The need is obvious. I see it everywhere. And I think the biggest thing we do is show the children that there are people in the world who care; that they are important.”
The kids we work with in Peru and around the world grow up in poverty. They live on the margins. They grow up with prejudice and believing they’re not good enough. When the volunteers come from abroad and work with them, and teach them, and tell them they are good enough, that they can succeed, well, that makes an impression. They know we come from an entirely different country and spend our own money to work with them. Because we care. That has a whole other level of impact.”
Pausing to reflect, Kurt says, “My experience with Global Volunteers as an organization is so good. I respect your philosophy. I love what you’ve built. I’ve worked with a bunch of staff people, and I trust them. I’m impressed with all of them and their dedication to what they’re doing. That’s why I can’t stop. I have to keep coming back.”