For my STEP signature project, I traveled to Peru to volunteer for a week through Cross-Cultural Solutions. After getting acclimated to the altitude and culture in Cusco, I had the chance to visit Machu Picchu. I then flew to Lima to work with children and do some manual labor in a daycare facility in the shantytown of Chorrillos.
Before this experience, I never had the opportunity to embrace a new culture in such a personal way. Although I have been out the country numerous times, my family is not the adventurous type. We always were sure to stick close to resorts or tourist destinations. I was unsure how I would be able to navigate a country I had never visited before, never mind the fact that I do not speak Spanish! I knew this trip would challenge me physically with the long length of flights, mentally with the language barrier, and emotionally with trying out new things on my own. However, it has been the best experience of my life.
Through many hours of research and some long phone conversations with my CCS mentor, I hoped to have some background knowledge of Peru before I arrived. Of course, what I had learned was only the tip of the iceberg. I was fortunate to have made some Canadian and Peruvian friends in my hostel that showed me the ropes of Cusco and what to expect in Lima. When I arrived to my volunteer placement in Lima, I could not believe my eyes. Many of the poor in Chorrillos live in a dusty, overpopulated, and unsanitary shantytown. Some of the children we worked with have been suffering from respiratory infections due to the poor air quality. I knew that things would be much different, but I did not know to what extent.
While working with the children, teachers, and parents at the daycare and school for disabled children, I fell in love with their sense of community. Despite their limited resources and harsh living environment, they found ways to make the lives of the children better. Independence and creativity were fostered by the teachers in every way possible. Lesson plans and activities had dual purposes. One day we created a recipe for the children’s lunch, then went down the street to the market to purchase the ingredients needed. The children helped us pick out the fresh ingredients and pay the merchants.
Due to holidays, there where days where attendance was lacking. On these days, the other volunteers and I updated the appearance of the school by painting the posterior walls. Although it took many hours, the teachers appreciated it, as they did not have the time nor energy to devote to such a massive project. The teachers requested this project due to the distracting nature of previous paintings. Too many of the children often lost focus during lessons because they were distracted and discussed the old paintings. Although we had to paint over many of past daycare kids’ paintings, I know that the current students will get much more out of their daily lessons now that they can give their full attention to their teachers.
Despite the language barrier, the relationships I formed with the teachers and children will be ones that I never forget. The teachers were very patient with us when trying to explain concepts. They were so excited when we completed the projects they requested of us. The children were often very young, so they did not notice the language gap often, as they simply wanted to play. By the end of my trip in Peru, it became apparent to me that it does not matter where you travel, as long as you are willing to learn and try new things the world has so much to offer in experiences and ideas.
This experience has unveiled a new side of me that I did not know existed. Before travelling on my own, I did not know what I prioritized in my life or try new things often. Since coming home, I have found myself being much more willing to try new things and being more open minded to ideas other than my own. Thanks to this experience, I now plan to pursue a global health elective once in graduate school for physical therapy. I wish to take my knowledge and apply it in places where I will be more than repaid in experiencing culture, adventure, and new ways of life.