I stepped into the world of Peru. Immediately I was immersed in a culture that contrasted with home in every way. Each house flashed a different intense color. From a distance, the city of Cuzco looked like layers of Legos climbing their way up the dry mountains. Each house was a block that sat upon or linked side by side to another. Everything was unconventional, people simply did what they could to survive. Their homes and stores were crudely built and many were falling apart. Peru never ceased to surprise me, I was constantly in awe, “I am really seeing this,” I told myself over and over.
I was in Peru as part of a group called Alliance for Youth Services (AYS). We were there for two weeks to build an orphanage and a school house in Urubamba, a town an hour away from Cuzco in the Andes Mountains.
The school we were to build was but a single room. Still, it meant a great deal to the small farming community that had recently moved to this area for the sole purpose of their children’s education. The school site was a quarter of a mile climb up the mountain; the elevation was 10,800 ft. It was our job to hoist bags of dirt, as much as we could carry, to the top. From there, we would use the dirt and sand to make mud bricks. Until then, I hadn’t known what hard, physical labor really meant.
The average house in the farming community was about the size of my bedroom. They were made of mud brick and their roofs were composed of a couple of sheets of scrap metal. They had a pit for a fire and a mat to sleep on. The better version of these houses was equipped with one light bulb and a chimney. Being dirty was inevitable, the people worked, played and slept in the dirt and when they came home, they came to a house made out of dirt. Despite these people’s poverty, they had selected the best of their potatoes and given them to us at the conclusion of our stay in thanks for their new school.
Upon our arrival at the Sunflower Orphanage, I fell in love with the children at first sight . They crowded around us in excitement. Without reserve, they grasped my hand, leaned their heads on my shoulder and played with my hair. They had such beautiful souls, ones that I thought were incomparably better than ours but somehow the adoration was mutual. They absolutely loved everyone in our group
I grasped that within these children was more strength then I will ever know. As I got to be around them more I learned that many of their parents had deserted them or that they had been neglected or abused . A little girl wrote me a note that she had decorated with sparkles and crayon. I asked my group leader for a translation, the note said “You are beautiful, I love you very much and I will keep you in my prayers and will never forget you.”
Likewise, I will never forget her or my experience in Peru. As the faces of those children are burned into my mind, I will never lose my drive to make a positive difference in the world.
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