“Carga, carga,” beg Dario, his brother Diego and their cousin Katy in unison.
It’s time for the daily dilemma…
Who gets the piggy back to the gravel road?
“Come on then Katy,” I decide, mainly because she looks like she’s about to cry if I don’t pick her, and the dirty-faced little girl giggles with delight as I hoist her on to my shoulders.
“Corre! Corre!” she screams before roaring with laughter as I run up the dirt track, mimicking the stride of a galloping horse.
In the distance there’s a warm orange glow as the sun sets behind the surrounding mountains.
This is Flora Tristan. A desolute shanty town in the north of Arequipa.
It is a sprawling tangle of dirt streets, corrugated tin roofs, giant potholes, unviting breezeblock houses and scores of stray dogs.
The breathtaking scenery contrasts so starkly with the immediate environment that it doesn’t look real – more like a make believe backdrop from a Disney fairytale.
My eyes jar as they shift from the natural beauty of the giant snowy mountains and the awesome spectacle of Mount Misti to the bleak dirty wasteland around me.
In Peru the striking and the startling are often uncomfortable neighbours.
I lower Katy down and the three-year-old Peruvian says “thank you”.
A yellow minibus pulls up next to us, the conductor repeatedly spitting out place names in lightning fast Spanish.
Sophie and I squeeze into the rickety people carrier. It’s so full it looks like it’s about to burst at the rusty metal joints.
Standing room only makes for a pretty uncomfortable hour-long journey back to the centre of Arequipa, but as I glimpse over the passengers’ heads to see little Katy, Dario and Diego wandering back to their unelectrified, waterless breezeblock homes I realise I have no reason to moan.
From the off, the odds are stacked against anyone born here.
But three years ago a project was launched to try and give kids like Katy, Dario and Diego a better chance in life.
A Peruvian man, Luis Antonio Chavez and his British wife Jay set up an organisation called Traveller Not Tourist. Its aim is to provide youngsters with an escape from their grey lives and give them the opportunity to climb out of poverty.
At the end of 2008 volunteers from around the world began to construct a small school on the border between the communities of Flora Tristan and Chachani.
Today this bright colourful structure boasts four classrooms, a small library, two computers and its own play area.
The purpose of the school is to teach English and there is barely a spot on the classroom walls that doesn’t feature an English word, rhyme, or phrase.
While the majority of those attending lessons will sadly never be able to afford to visit an English-speaking country, being able to speak the language is hugely desirable in the historic city of Arequipa, which is awash with English-speaking tourists.
A few blocks down a sandy path a whitewashed building is the home for adult English learners and this is where I start my volunteer teaching. A friendly young American by the name of Chris fills me in.
“I’ve been trying to teach a class containing students who have never spoken English before along with three or four others who are pretty advanced. It’s very difficult so it would be great if, with your help, we can split it up.”
I work with the more advanced students Gustavo, Julio and Marcel. They are in their late teens and early twenties. All are keen to learn even if they are not the most punctual of attendees, often strolling in up to 30 minutes late.
These are kids from hard knock lives, but one of the school’s most important values is to instil discipline.
A boy who brings a knife into class one day is instantly told he is not welcome anymore.
There is also a punishment system. If a student is flashed more than one red card a week certain privileges, such as computer time or borrowing a book from the library are removed.
With the late but well-behaved adults I work through articles and exercises featuring more advanced English words, on topics such as Guy Fawkes’ Night and organ donation.
They are keen to know about some American-English song lyrics – Western songs have well and truly permeated into Peruvian life.
The following week I get the opportunity to work with Sophie teaching children between the ages of five and eight.
I am surprised at how good their standard of English is as we play games and use flashcards and worksheets to try and get them to remember different bits of vocabulary.
This lively end to the lesson seems to set them up for cancha (playtime) a short stroll away on the school’s own concrete play area, complete with basketball nets and goalposts.
Teachers get involved by swinging a skipping rope, playing on a football team or just looking after some of the babies on the sidelines.
On mine and Sophie’s final day it’s assembly time and our little band of merry souls try to remember the words to “Heads, shoulders…” in front of the rest of the school.
I think there are a few nerves, but they do their best.
The highlight is class two’s hilarious version of the American rap ‘I like big butts’ complete with dance moves.
Everyone is given a slice of cake and a party bag before me and a couple of colleagues try and control the sugar-high rabble enough to play a game of musical statues.
The excitement reaches europhic levels when they are each presented with a new pair of trainers thanks to an incredibly generous donation from former volunteer Chris Kondas.
Party over, we begin to wander back to the main dirt road.
I feel someone pulling on my arm.
“Teacher Phil, teacher Phil, carga, carga.” It’s little Dario. “My turn, my turn,” he says desperately.
So for one final time I plonk him on my shoulders.
The sun descends behind the mountains as I start galloping down the dusty track.
He roars with excitement. Just like every other kid in the world.