I feel dizzy as I step off the airplane. The sun blinds me as I try to find my footing. After eight hours on a plane, I am displeased to find my shoe covered in mud instead of resting on concrete. It is at this point that I realize that I am truly in Lima, Peru, instead of Atlanta, Georgia. The roads are uneven and without rules. There aren’t any yellow lines, and traffic can stand still for two hours. Crossing the road is suicide because drivers don’t stop for anything. Small children crowd around doorsteps with no parents around. It is chaos for everyone, but for Peruvians it is merely everyday life.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
I spent two weeks in Peru last summer on a mission trip. Our goal was to help broken hearts find Jesus. We traveled to markets full of the poorest and most downtrodden families, the places American tourists never go. Our friend Pepe told us that we had earned their respect by just bothering to show up. I held the dirty, tired hands of strangers to pray for them. I went to bed sore every night because I never wanted to put the kids down. One girl struck me in particular. Her name was Areida. She wore a large navy blue sweater and plastic monkey barrettes in her hair every day. She said ten words to me in the six days I knew her, but she changed my life.
Each afternoon my team would put on Vacation Bible School for the neighborhood children. They would run in crowds down the hill, pure joy on every face. Areida would race up to me, shyly tap my leg, and bless me with the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen. I would then pick her up and she would stay with me. She never asked me to play with her or give her anything. She just wanted to be held and loved.
I wanted to give her something to remind her that somebody on the other side of the world loves her everyday. All week I had been wearing a necklace with a dolphin charm hanging on the end. I wanted to give Areida something to keep forever. On the last day of my team’s stay in the city, I took off the necklace and tried to give it to her. She refused over and over. At first I was a little offended, but then I suddenly understood. In the United States, with my friends and family, we give each other tangible gifts and do each other favors to show our love for each other. She expressed care and support by simply loving the people around her without asking for anything in return.
I had always wanted to be an elementary school teacher because I love children. Areida gave me a new inspiration and a reason to care through the blunt refusal of my necklace. American children find love in things, tangible objects. I want to show other children the love that Areida showed me. I had never before met a person who wanted absolutely nothing from me but love. She made me worthy. My week with her illustrated the selfless way in which I want to connect with the children in my classroom. I want to instill in them that their true value is not in their possessions but in their relationships. Areida taught me that we can make a lasting impression on those we encounter through compassion and kindness. I will never forget her and she will never forget me. Neither of us needs a necklace to remember.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.