Teach to Teach: Training Women to Teach Spanish

by Awamaki
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.


Learning about fruits after a trip to the market
Learning about fruits after a trip to the market

Hello and happy Bonus Day!

Our teachers are kicking off the year with the brand-new Cultural Orientation classes.

Last year, you funded 20 capacity-building sessions with our teachers from July to October. With their instructors, Chrissy Ellison, the teachers designed five sessions. The women came up with the topics and figured out how to teach each while Chrissy helped develop the best practices for the classes.

Kasey, a brand new volunteer working in with our women’s fair trade artisan cooperatives, says the class was a great orientation to Ollantaytambo.

“This is very important to have when you arrive,” she said, “especially the personal connection with the teacher.” Kasey and other volunteers tell us that the relationships they forge with their teachers are crucial during their first weeks in Peru, since that can be a lonely and difficult time. 

Kasey’s teacher was Aby, and as part of her Cultural Orientation class, they visited the market and a local ruins site in the farm fields outside town. They also discussed homestay basics, like how to use the electrical showerheads that are ubiquitous here, and how to politely ask for more or less food at mealtimes. 

The teachers are pleased too. As of January, all new Awamaki volunteers take the sessions, and many of them like it so much that they sign up for more classes. Tourists also can take the class, since it is designed to be a standalone cultural orientation as well as the kickoff to more traditional classes. The teachers offer sessions in Ollantaytambo, Tourist Information, Typical Food, Quechua, and Homestay Preparation, giving both tourists and volunteers a good set of options for whatever their plans are while in town. The number of hours they are teaching has gone up, and we are excited to see the program grow in the year ahead! 

With a few months of teaching the Cultural Orientation under their belt, the teachers are looking ahead. They hope to work with Chrissy to improve their basic-level Spanish class so they can offer more options to potential students as their school’s reputation grows.

This bonus day, contribute to fund the next stage of teacher training to support the teachers and their growing business!

In the classroom
In the classroom


Aby teaching a student
Aby teaching a student

Today we want you to meet Aby! Aby is the newly-elected President of the association that the Spanish teachers have formed. Aby has been one of our most enthusiastic teachers from the start, and she has emerged as a leader since the teacehrs decided to form their own association so that they can learn to run their own business.

Aby is 29. Before becoming a Spanish teacher through Awamaki's training program, she juggled an assortment of jobs. Now, she spends the majority of her week teaching at Awamaki and fills the other hours of the week working as a receptionist at a small hotel.

Aby told us that teaching Spanish has has changed the way she looks at the world. Working with students from all over the world ignited her interest in traveling abrod. Now, on any given weekend, Aby is off exploring various corners of Peru. She dreams of one day traveling to China and Egypt. 

“I am grateful for the work through Awamaki because it provides me financial independence,” Aby says.

With the money that she earns from Awamaki, Aby has been able to set aside a portion of her Awamaki salary. She is saving to eventually purchase a home of her own, and maybe even a motorcycle--for her travels, of course!

Aby currently lives with her boyfriend in a nearby town. They are one of the few Peruvian couples that do not plan on raising children, but Aby says that she often thinks of her students as her kids.

At Awamaki, Aby’s students consistently name her as one of the most engaging and creative teachers. She is always the first teacher to volunteer to take on additional students. Her work ethic and commitment to her students are inspiring, which is why her fellow teachers chose her as their president. As president, Aby strongly advocates that the teachers plan and attend more workshops to improve their teaching skills. She says that personally, she hopes to one day be able to lead the workshops herself. 

At Awamaki, we use your donations to invest in the teachers' skills. We invest in their teaching skills, and also in their leadership and management skills, as Aby is demonstrating. By donating now, you can help Aby invest in her fellow teachers and improve the management of the cooperative, so that the women can run a successful business and earn a sustainable income. Thank you so much for your support!

Aby, left, and Roxana at a training session
Aby, left, and Roxana at a training session

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Organization Information


Location: Ollantaytambo, Cusco - Peru
Website: http:/​/​www.awamaki.org/​
Project Leader:
Mary Kennedy Leavens
Ollantaytambo, Cusco Peru
$14,214 raised of $16,500 goal
203 donations
$2,286 to go
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