Teach to Teach: Training Women to Teach Spanish

by Awamaki
Spanish teachers in front of the local Inca ruins
Spanish teachers in front of the local Inca ruins

The Awamaki Spanish teachers have taught over 500 hours of Spanish classes so far this year. Their clients include Awamaki volunteers and groups, volunteers and tourist groups from other organizations, and the occasional tourist. They have a steady stream of customers. Some teachers work 10 hours per week, and others work only when a big group comes. They teach one-on-one, and groups of three to four. 

They have had specialized trainings in how to teach volunteers who have just arrived in Peru, showing them local vocabulary words that they will need in their homestay and around town. They also teach introductory Spanish courses. All their offerings are popular, but their interactive walking tour of Ollantaytambo is the most popular. Your donations helped fund the trainings that developed that class. In fact, your donations funded all of their trainings. 

When we started working with the Spanish teachers, we had only an idea. Here we were, an organization devoted to women's economic empowerment, sending all our volunteers to a city a half-hour away to take Spanish classes. We saw an economic opportunity for local women, and your support helped our idea come to fruition. 

We started with 40 women, as some of you remember. Many dropped out during the trainings, and others left during the initial months, when the project was still getting started and we didn't have very many clients for them. One star of the program left for a full-time teaching job in Cusco. The numbers dwindled to about 10 women, and there they have stayed, with some only working occasionally when we have large groups, and others working more regularly. 

You helped us revitalize the program by funding trainings for the interactive Spanish walking tour of Ollantaytambo, and to provide additional support for their teaching. You helped us renovate the office so that the teachers had furniture and privacy for their lessons.  You helped us buy them books and other resources. 

So for all this, we want to say thank you, and we also want to say: We don't need your donations for this project anymore. Your generosity has taken this project all this way, from literally nothing. Now, the women have a steady or occasional highly-paid income opportunity that works for them in their busy lives. They are earning money and we see them investing it in their children's schooling or in their homes. We are at a good place.

We are ready to declare this project sustainable, independent, and no longer in need of funding, as we promised you we would all those years ago when we started down this journey together. We know that  if anything changes--for example, if the teachers need an extra infusion of resources or trainings--we can come back to you. But for now, you have done your work, and we have done ours, and it is time to let the Spanish teachers do theirs. 

We do hope you will stay connected to us. We have two other projects on GlobalGiving that help us invest in the artisans with whom we work. We are working to get them to the same level of sustainable business success, and you can help us do that too, or just follow along

The initial trainings started with 40 teachers
The initial trainings started with 40 teachers
Teachers at a supplementary training two years ago
Teachers at a supplementary training two years ago


This could be your classmate
This could be your classmate

For this month's progress report, volunteer Lisa Winthagen has written about her experience taking classes with her Spanish teacher. Read on for a great description of her experience!

It was a long journey from The Netherlands, it took nearly three days of flights and layovers but I finally arrive in Ollantaytambo. It was a long drive, but now I see why. The stunning scenery and the surrounding mountains are overwhelming. So are the people around me. Some are speaking Spanish, but what is that other language? I’ve never heard it before. I am consumed with a feeling to see, smell and taste all that Ollantaytambo has to offer. But how do I handle the language and cultural barrier?

This is a perfect example of a visitor’s first day in town, feeling overwhelmed and out of place is ever-present. I was no exception: a new Awamaki volunteer. This is the point where Awamaki’s teachers step in. The profesoras provide the tools to learn as much as possible about life in Ollantaytambo.

During their first week, every Awamaki volunteer receives a crash course of cultural orientation, fully taught in Spanish. These are not your typical lessons. They never take place in a classroom. You learn about the Spanish language and the local culture by being immersed in it.

While walking around the town, I learned more and more about Ollantaytambo, through a trip to the market to taste different fruits and then a hike up the mountain to learn about the Incan history. When I turned around from the climb, I saw a stunning view over the whole town. And I finally felt like I was where I was supposed to be.

Whilst these lessons are very useful for the students, they also help the teachers. All those which Awamaki employ are very motivated to help their students but are also very eager to learn from them. Our cultural exchange happened so naturally and was extremely helpful for both teacher and student.

As soon as I started my cultural orientation, I felt a want to keep learning more of the language and immerse myself fully. The enthusiasm and liveliness of the teachers is contagious and fed my desire to learn. It keeps everybody progressing individually but also collaboratively.

Ultimately, the course shows a genuine introduction to the Ollantaytambo community. And the best part is, anyone can take it! Any visitor open to a fresh perspective can enroll in the cultural immersion. The energy of the profesoras comes from the pride they have in their town, and in the lessons they designed themselves. Your continuous support is what has enabled our teachers to create these lessons and shape my experiences. Thank you!


Lisa Winthagen, Awamaki Volunteer

Thank you Lisa for being part of our programs, and helping us thank our wonderful donors!

Now that is a classroom with a view!
Now that is a classroom with a view!


Spanish teacher Ruth
Spanish teacher Ruth

How do I get to Machu Picchu? Where are the best fruit markets in the Sacred Valley? What do I do on the weekends? I keep seeing the word “wasi,” but what does it mean? Por favor, can someone teach me how to pronunciar “Ollantaytambo?”

Luckily, Awamakis interns learn the answers to these important questions through the Cultural Orientation Spanish course. The newest additions to our team spend their first week learning from an Ollanta native about five key topics: Ollantaytambo in Incan vs. modern times, typical foods of Peru, touristic information, homestay family norms and etiquette, and Quechua language and culture.

Our team of teachers designed the course themselves with a little help from Christine Ellison, a teaching consultant who lives locally and is a teacher herself.

“It’s a really interesting way to learn about the place you’ll be living and working for the next 10 weeks to 6 months,”our Volunteer Coordinator, Laura Brokaw calls it. While half the class you devote to improving your grammar and learning Spanish and Quechua vocabulary in the classroom, you spend just as much time climbing local ruins, tasting local fruits, and walking through local family farms, or chakras.

In a nod to Perus culinary greatness, most students say that their favorite class session was Typical Foods of Peru. After describing the look, taste, and texture of the native fruits, the teacher leads her students to the market to identify their location and correct prices. Megan, a textiles design intern, chuckles as she recalls, “Our teacher Ruth kept laughing at the faces that Holly and I would make when we tasted the sour capuli or the super sweet chirimoya.”

Whether interns learned essential information such as how to catch the combi to Urubamba and how to politely ask their host family to serve them fewer rice and potatoes or the historical tidbit that the giant stones used to make the temple of the sun in the fortress ruins came from far away quarries on the other side of the river, all conclude that the cultural orientation course offered them something new that theyd never learned in previous courses. Beginner, intermediate, and advanced Spanish speakers alike learned useful day-to-day vocabulary while improving their technical skills.

And, of course, they learned the answers to the previously mentioned questions: To get to Machu Picchu on a student budget, you can take a combi to Santa Teresa and Hidroeléctrica; Wednesday and Friday are great market days in Urubamba; youve got to go to the Salineras, Chinchero, and Pisac; wasi means house; and Ollantaytambo is pronounced as its spelled!   

Though most of their formal training is in teaching Spanish, the Spanish teachers are increasingly applying their language instruction skills to Quechua, their native language.


Awamaki’s own volunteers make up most of the demand for these classes so far. Quechua is much less widely spoken than Spanish, but still very common in homes and rural communities where the volunteers spend much of their time.


The teachers have begun offering beginning Quechua classes in conjunction with Spanish lessons. They see an opportunity to teach their native language and share their culture. Volunteers take the classes in order to communicate better with the women with whom Awamaki works. With a totally new and different sentence and grammatical structure to learn, learning Quechua is very difficult! But the students agree it adds a dimension to their visit that they would not have been able to experience otherwise.


Erika, who took Quechua classes for 3 years in the United States before coming to Peru to volunteer at Awamaki, explains, “I learned a tremendous amount of culture in my Quechua classes, both at school and here in Peru. You have to, because so much of the language is based in the things that Quechua people see and use every day.”


“I’m working with local women and sometimes you need to know some Quechua words to communicate with them,” explains Simone, a Sustainable Tourism volunteer who elected to take several Quechua classes to help her bring tourists to the weavers’ communities so they can learn about weaving and purchase directly from the weavers. “My job as a tour guide got a lot easier when I learned some key words in Quechua!”


Teaching Quechua is rewarding for the teachers as well. “I have to be creative because it is very different than teaching Spanish,” says Ruth. “was at first surprised so many volunteers wanted to learn it.” But, she says, she has always known how to speak it and so she can teach it to them. 

The instagram #wcw of Jenny.
The instagram #wcw of Jenny.

Jenny, a native of Ollantaytambo, has been a Spanish teacher with Awamaki since 2010. Surprising to those who have witnessed her natural knack for teaching, Jenny’s background is neither in Spanish nor in education. In fact, she studied in a culinary institute for several years in Cusco and then worked as a chef in restaurants throughout Peru. Jenny expresses that her favorite part about being a chef was meeting people from all over the world, hearing their stories and forming connections. 

This love for sharing in others’ experiences is what inspired Jenny to become a Spanish teacher with Awamaki.

"I thought this would be an interesting way to connect with tourists," Jenny explained, which was the part of her culinary career that she loved. On a more practical note, she states that the flexible hours guaranteed by being a Spanish teacher with Awamaki allow her to achieve a balance between work and family, something she highly values. 

When asked what her favorite part about teaching Spanish is, Jenny pauses and smiles softly, thinking for a moment. Then, she beams and says, “I love the beginning of classes with a student, because it creates friendship. It makes it easier to get to know people.” 

Recently, Awamaki chose Jenny for #WomenCrushWednesday, where Awamaki's amazing women get a spotlight each Wednesday. Former students on Facebook gushed about their teacher. Stacy Ridgley extolled, “Best Spanish teacher ever!” 

“Jenny. Mas mejor maestra de espanol,” wrote Lourdes Malave, exemplifying her Spanish chops honed by her teacher. “Hola Como esta su hija? Besos y brasos por ti y su familia.”

Jenny has indubitably impacted the lives of many during her time as a Spanish teacher with Awamaki. We thank her for sharing her bright spirit with us and inspiring countless to study the Spanish language.

Comment from Lourdes Malave on Facebook
Comment from Lourdes Malave on Facebook
Comment by Stacy Ridgley on Facebook
Comment by Stacy Ridgley on Facebook
Jenny starting classes at 9 am.
Jenny starting classes at 9 am.
Jenny loves to teach about Peruvian cuisine.
Jenny loves to teach about Peruvian cuisine.



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Organization Information


Location: Ollantaytambo, Cusco - Peru
Website: http:/​/​www.awamaki.org/​
Project Leader:
Mary Kennedy Leavens
Ollantaytambo, Cusco Peru

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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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