Two years of high school French did nothing to prepare me for my first taste of South America. Summer had barely started when, after a few days of hectic packing, I was meeting up with five hundred other teenagers from around the world, finally embarking on the missions trip we’d spent months preparing for, aided by the organizations who put the trip together every year, Brio Missions and Big World Ventures.
Since I’d never visited a country like Peru, I had some preconceived notions about the poor areas of Lima that we would be working with. My expectations as the plane touched down in Lima included run-down shacks, dirty naked children, and illiterate adults, but those presumptions were instantly wiped away the first day on site. The children were dressed and eager to play, the adults were interesting and articulate, and the houses, as small as they seemed, were maintained and homely. Though our 30-person team attracted dubious looks as we first stepped off the bus, the residents of the small mountainside community were soon conversing warmly with us with the help of our team’s translators. As the day wore on, we performed maintenance work and ministered to the residents of the village. We entertained them with pantomime dramas we’d rehearsed, danced around with the children and offered to help the adults with anything their community needed. As the bus pulled away from the village at the end of the long day, I felt as if I were leaving friends behind.
Fortunately, I soon realized that I could communicate with Peruvians without explicit knowledge of their verbal language. With a few key phrases scrawled into the palm of my hand and a Spanish-English dictionary, combined with my determination to communicate and their willingness to cooperate, I was able to have conversations with Peruvians and found that despite the geographic separation, we all have a lot in common. Even without translators or dictionaries, I discovered that communication could occur despite the lack of a common language.
Finally, visiting such impoverished areas really made me much more grateful for what I have. I met one girl who let me into her small house. I couldn’t see a lot besides the dirt floor and the hand-washed laundry being hung out to dry across the room, but I did notice that the house had no roof, like others in the area. Although rainfall can be as little as 2cm a year, it was still hard for me to imagine an entire family living in a house as big as my bedroom without a roof. The degree of difficulty I had comprehending this normal family’s living situation made me realize not only how accustomed I’d grown to our materialistic culture, but how much I take for granted the blessings that most other parts of the world lack. I developed a new understanding and appreciation for people who struggle every day to survive yet have such a positive outlook on life. Despite how little these people had, the way their eyes lit up when they interacted with us was truly inspiring, and reminded me that it really isn’t necessary to have a lot to be happy.
What I expected to be only a fun summer trip turned out to be one of the most amazing adventures of my life. Despite the thrill and joy I’d experienced in Lima, it wasn’t until after I returned home that I realized what a huge impact the trip made on my life. Visiting Peru gave me a broader perspective and a better understanding of the people of the world.
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