by Kiki Cokorinos, Marketing & Communications Intern

This week we’re crushing on Simone Verstegen, a 22-year-old Sustainable Tourism volunteer from Ledeacher, Netherlands. She arrived in Ollantaytambo in mid-April eager to learn about life and culture in the Sacred Valley. Simone was most excited to learn about the dialogic relationship between Awamaki and our cooperatives and soon became an invaluable part of the team, leading tours and workshops in Patacancha, Huilloc, and locally around Ollanta.

Simone was first drawn to volunteer at Awamaki because it seemed like a great way to combine two of her biggest passions, women’s empowerment and sustainable tourism. “I saw that Awamaki was all about encouraging women and increasing the available opportunities, and I wanted to be part of it,” she remembers.  Simone’s favorite part of working at Awamaki is guiding tours through Awmamki’s various cooperatives.

“I love sharing what I’d learned with the tour groups,” Simone continues. “By seeing their smiles I know that they get as excited about this intercultural experience as I do.”

6300 miles from home, Simone assimilated to Ollanta life in no time—at first with the guidance of her host family and later with the friends she met around town. Simone spent the weekends hiking the area and hanging out with the other volunteers. “I really liked the volunteer potlucks, they were always really fun. We don’t have those in the Netherlands.”

What will Simone miss most about Ollanta?

“The fruit!” Simone laughs, recalling her Tuesday trips to the market. “And how everybody knows each other. If I go to the market, the ladies know me, same with the stores in the plaza. It doesn’t have to be a big conversation, but you can see it in their faces that they recognize you, and we know each other.”

We’re crushed that our crush is leaving so soon, but we wish her all the best as she returns to NHTV University of Applied Sciences in Breda, Netherlands to finish her degree in Tour Management. We’ll miss you Simone, thanks for being such a dependable part of the Awamaki team for the past 5 months!