OUR SERVICE TRIP TO PERU
The National Leadership Council (NLC) is a 4-year leadership program organized by DiscoveryBound. The Class of 2012 has been together since 8th grade, and our two previous summer trips included a session at the A/U Ranches in Colorado and an adventure trip to Juneau, Alaska. A service trip is scheduled for the third summer of the program, and our class decided they wanted to go to Peru.
In July, our group of 17 teens and 3 class leaders worked at the school in a village called Huatata, which is between Cusco and Urubamba. We helped the local villagers build a classroom, and we taught art, music, dance, sports, and English to the students. Collectively, we logged more than 1000 hours of volunteer work. Our efforts were organized by a local non-profit called Peru’s Challenge, which is helping several rural communities in Peru become self-sustainable. The founders, Jane and Selvy, and pictured here with us on our first day in Peru.
For those of you who are just joining us, this recap will give you a taste of our trip from beginning to end. This post contains videos that were not part of our original posts, and links to our photo gallery at Smugmug.com. Enjoy!
We left from various locations in the United States on July 9th and 10th. A small group arrived in Lima on Friday night and spent Saturday touring. The West Coasters took overnight flights to Ft. Lauderdale, spent the morning at a youth hostel, and then met up with the others on Saturday afternoon. This large group left Ft. Lauderdale on the evening of the 10th and arrived in Lima 6 hours later. Everyone stayed at the Manhattan Inn, then we got up early to catch our flight to Cusco.
The pictures of the travel days can be seen by clicking here…
DAY 1 RECAP: ARRIVAL IN URUBAMBA
Our guesthouse was located in the city of Urubamba, in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The whole valley is lush with vegetation and is surrounded by HUGE and gorgeous mountains. If you want to see all of our photos of Urubamba, click here…
After walking up a long and dusty dirt road, we were all pleasantly surprised when we first walked into our guesthouse.
Once we came inside the huge wooden gate, we walked through a pathway of gardens, full of flowers, vegetables, and luscious green grass. There is even a cage with birds that are always singing. Inside, there is a living room, kitchen, dining room, and three floors with bedrooms. The bedrooms sleep anywhere from 2 to 4 people, so we are all distributed around the house. In the backyard, there is another apartment-type house which houses the caretaker Lenny and his wife and child. There are many stray dogs running around the whole city, but there are 3 dogs who are at our home who are very people-friendly and energetic! The decorations in the house are very happy and uplifting, mostly made of ceramics and other local crafts.
This home is an incredible place to stay, and we are just so lucky to be able to stay in such a stunning place! -Tori
If you want to see more photos of the guesthouse, click here…
DAY 2 RECAP: FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL
This morning at 6:30 we dragged ourselves out of bed, packed our day packs, ate a quick breakfast, and made our way to the local bus stop. From there we took a crowded bus to the Huatata school. We were totally astonished at how beautifully the children welcomed us – with confetti in our hair and hugs all around. They sang and danced for us before we headed down to begin construction on the new classroom.
There we found enormous piles of adobe bricks made from mud and straw,
as well as a foundation already created for us by the last volunteer group. Everyone pitched in for about two hours building up the first two layers of brick before classes in English, Art, and Dance began. At 1:00 we took a lunch break and played with the kids before they left for the day. We were all totally blown away by the sheer joy of these incredible young boys and girls.
For the rest of our time at the school we continued to mix mud mortar, laying bricks, and learning a little Spanish. We worked along side a group of local fathers and mothers with whom we toiled until an entire four layers of bricks had been mortared and layered – double our quota for the day.
Upon returning to our palatial and incredibly lush lodgings we consumed a delicious soup and delectable beef with vegetable and mashed potatoes before heading to committee work such as writing this blog.
Here we leave you for the night… awwwwww!!!! Wishing you all were here!
DAY 3 RECAP + FOOD IN PERU
Hola! Today, we completed two more brick layers for the school. We have now completed thirteen out of fourteen layers. After the final layer is completed, we hope to put the roof on and finish the floor with wood beams. The fathers and mothers have been wonderful and the entire process, thus far, has gone very smoothly. We are also teaching classes to the children. Today, English was taught to the 5/6 class. They were taught simple phrases such as ¨I love you.¨ The 3/4 class had an art class. They used crayons to color the Incan flag. Instead of teaching a specific class, I elected to help primarily with the grade 1/2 class. Today was music. Liam, Camille, Katie, Jesse, Annika, and I had a wonderful time with them. First, Jesse played his violin, then Camille sang a song in Spanish. Then, we proceeded to turn on Liam’s iPod and have the kids clap the rhythm with us and bangs on cups with paintbrushes. After a bit, that was abandoned, and we began to dance around the classroom. Once we got out the hula hoops, they were absolutely delighted as they attempted to hula hoop.
Even though they are very young and have wavering attention spans, getting a hug/high five every morning from all of them, and hearing “Gabby, Gabby, Gabby,” is the greatest joy in life. I will never get tired of holding them and hugging them and making them smile. I’m so grateful my very-apparent language barrier has not been a problem. They are the most darling children I’ve ever met. I love them to death. I’m pretty sure I can vouch for the rest of the class as well in that regard.
Here a video recap of how people are feeling so far:
As we all expected, the food here in Peru is different from the cliche American food we all are used to. I have yet to find a hamburger joint or a Chipotle along the roads here, although I don’t find myself wishing I could have one either. The chefs at our house have given us a very good variety and type of food, with options for vegetarians and plenty of extra for those of us who find themselves still hungry, even after the three-course meals. The main suspect for this scenario is known as ¨the human vaccuum,¨ aka David Grossman. He cleans the plates of those who are finished eating, even if the scraps include watery mashed potatoes or heaps of spaghetti. If its food, he will eat it. And for all those non-Grossman parents reading this, there is no need to worry, your kids are getting plenty to eat too. We eat family-style in an enclosed porch at the front of the house…
With the continual labor during the days, it is expected that we are very hungry and look forward to the meals. In the mornings we will have a main dish (the past two days have been an omelet, and the other French toast.) If for some reason we do not care for the main course, then all we have to do is pick up our head and look down the 20 foot table. There is always granola, yogurt, cornflakes, milk, and a type of bread or toast. There is a powder to make milk and chocolate milk or hot chocolate. After four meals of considerable dedication to finding the right consistency of milk powder to chocolate powder, we can proudly say we have made a drink that somewhat resembles our beloved NesQuik chocolate milk. The breakfasts have been a great start to our day and I can´t wait to see what more they have in store for us.
Lunch is eaten around 1:30, once the teaching is finished and the kids go home. The cooks make each of us a box lunch with two sandwiches, some candy, a juice box, and a piece of fruit. The sandwiches are made on Peruvian bread, that are slimmer and less airy than a typical bagels. The first sandwich usually has some meat and cheese on it, and the other contains cheese and a surprise (the vegetarians had mushrooms on one of theirs the other day.) The candy is very good usually with some chocolate and then hard fruit candy.
Dinner consists of a three-course meal. Starting off with delicious soups, we warm ourselves up before the next course. Then, the cooks bring out a meat and a carbohydrate, usually a potato and rice. Then we finish off with a light dessert that is either jello or a sweet bread.
We are very grateful for our two cooks!
DAY 4 RECAP + COMMUTE TO SCHOOL
As another day in Urubamba comes to an end, we all just can´t help but be in love with the country, the people, and the culture. Today we worked on the classroom, taught classes, and started two new projects to help better the Huatata community. Our new projects are putting tile on top of the surrounding school walls so that the rain doesn’t destroy them, and also picking up an assortment of trash that is on school grounds. Although we all have been working hard on the new classroom, we all wish to do as much as possible while we are here.
The classes that were taught today were dance, English, and sports. I helped out with the dance class for the 1st and 2nd graders. We did a quick warm-up, learned the chicken dance, moved our bodies, and played with some hula-hoops. The 1st and 2nd graders are the cutest things ever. They argue about who gets to hold the teachers’ hands, and love hiding under desks (much to our delight). Another regular activity here is “health and hygiene”, where the kids have the chance to wash their hands and faces, use much-needed face cream, and brush their teeth when they might not have the opportunity at home.
Much love from Peru,
BUSES: Each morning we leave the house at 8:30 and head to the bus station, which doubly serves as a makeshift marketplace. The hustle and bustle usually awakens those of us who are still half-asleep, and we’re quickly ready to board the bus. In the afternoon, we´re lucky to be semi-comfortable or even surfing in the aisles.
On multiple occasions, we’ve been able to grab seats on a fancier tour bus or in a local´s car. Those of us brave enough (and well-versed enough in Spanish) take up conversations with locals both morning and night and we can observe the calm, kind, and hospitable nature of the native Peruvians through these chats. For me, the best thing about the bus is the view. We weave through a mountain road on what feels like the winds of something holy. The landscape and the sun shining down create a miniature paradise, and it´s always fun to see the antics of the young children as we pass by.
I guess it gets us from point A to point B, but for us, it´s become so much more than that. It´s become our daily snapshot of the Sacred Valley. It´s become a refreshing cultural learning process. It´s become a time to think about upcoming events and to reflect on those that have passed.
MINI CABS: Here in Urubamba the taxi’s are motorcycles attached to a small wagon. With all of the stones and holes in the “road” from the public market to our house, keeping all of your teeth in your mouth becomes an art! Weaving between people, holes, and other cabs your sense of balance is thrown off too. If you are lucky, your taxi may have the luxury of doors which help enormously with the amount of dust and dirt that finds its way into your nose. Even with all of these negatives the positive is not having to walk a 30 minutes to the market and back. Also, the ride is only 2-3 Soles which translating into US dollars is just barely 1 dollar. Plus, where else would you have the fun and exhilarating experience of riding in a cab that’s really a motorcycle on training wheels?? They are pretty awesome.
-George and Camille
DAY 5 RECAP + TEACHING CLASSES
Hola amigos! Another incredible 24 hours has passed, yet filled with such timeless moments and experiences. As practitioner of the day, I was awakened at around 6:15 by Papa K to begin some metaphysical work for our group, such as preparing graces for the meals and a planned activity for lesson study. Everyone was up by about 7:00 in order to have all of our gear ready to go after we ate another delicious breakfast served by Hijidio and the gang. Piping hot pancakes straight from the griddle with a side of bananas were enjoyed by all. After a fully-satisfying first meal of the day, we shared some thoughts about the three different verses of Hymn 58 during Bible study, then headed out for the day, filled with divine food and food for thought.
We experienced another pleasant walk and bus ride to Huatata, with shared iPods and attempts at conversation with the locals, then a safe arrival at the school. We greeted the children as always, with a massive “hola”, several hugs, and all smiles. Again, we LOVE the kids, and amazingly, they love us too. More work was completed on our wall project, and the classroom is coming along as well. Mud was schlopped, bricks were lifted, and tiles were placed carefully as we became even closer to a finished project. Classes went really well today, English and Sports were successful from what I heard and saw, and Art was a blast with “Where the Wild Things Are” read in Spanish, and many colorful monsters drawn with crayons very cherished by the children.
Today we also had a house visit, where 4 of us get the opportunity to leave the school campus and go to a student’s house and deliver food and figure out how to help. More on this next week. After the house visit people returned, we enjoyed another exciting game of futobol with the padres who have been helping us build the classroom. It got so cold as we waited for the bus that we revisited the penguin “huggle” invented while freezing our buns off on the glacier in Alaska.
Finally, the bus arrived, and we were able to return to our beautiful volunteer house, muddy and exhausted, but also filled with extraordinary experiences. More were to take place even after our return home, as some of us had the chance to go to the evening mass. A wonderful dinner was served and eaten, and now here we are! More to come even tonight, with Peruvian culture presentations before our adventures this weekend! Ciao!
A complete gallery of our pictures taken at school can be found here…
DAY 6 RECAP: TOURING CUSCO
Every single time we enter the Urubamba bus station, lots of people start yelling “Cusco, Cusco, Cusco” thinking we’re just tourists. On Saturday, we finally got to go there. After sleeping in late, our private bus dropped us off at 11am. We were immediately welcomed by several vendors hawking paintings and girls in Peruvian dress holding lambs asking for a few soles in exchange for a photo. I think I saw more baby lambs than I had ever in my entire life. Our first stop in this amazing day was a bakery with clean bathrooms and delicious chocolate croissants. We decided to split up into 2 groups and did practically the same things but at different times. Both groups started at the Plaza de Armas (main square), which is dominated by two huge Catholic and Jesuit cathedrals. Next on the agenda was money changing (2.78 soles per dollar). Geoff promptly had his debit card swallowed by the ATM. We explored at least a hundred shops and stands trying to pick out the perfect presents for none other than our wonderful parents, siblings, and mentors ☺ We found a quaint place to enjoy guinea pig pizza, with the exception of Liam who had a whole roasted guinea pig to himself. We drank chicha moradas, a traditional purple corn drink that we mixed with lemonade (a Peruvian Arnold Palmer?).
Afterward, we strolled through a huge covered market with numerous stands selling breads and cheeses and various tourist items. Liza and Makenna disappeared for 5 minutes and were forced to hold Kevin’s hand as punishment. After that, we stopped by a cafe and ordered 7 different kinds of cake. On our way to dinner, we met JC, a restaurant promoter trying to get us to eat there by rambling off random trivia about the states we were from. When I told him I was from Texas, he immediately replied “George Bush!” We didn’t end up eating there however instead having dinner at Jack’s Café, which had good “Western” food, especially the strawberry lime frappes. When it got dark, the entire city lit up, making it a very beautiful ending to a memorable day. -Annika
A gallery of our photos from Cusco can be found here…
DAY 7 RECAP: MACHU PICCHU
Unlike Cusco, we started our trip to Machu Picchu by waking up at 6:15. It began with a forty-five minute bus ride, to catch a two hour train, and finished with another twenty-five minute shuttle from Agua Calientes up to the visitor center. The one-lane road up to M.P. provided some drama as our shuttle bus driver played chicken with the buses coming down the mountain. Once up top, we realized that we couldn´t have picked a better day to make our visit to this sacred city. The two days prior to our visit were filled with clouds and rain, which couldn´t have contrasted more with our nearly cloudless trip. When our tour guide Esmerelda took us to the high vantage point where those classic postcard pictures are taken, almost everyone began three hours of non-stop picture taking.
In one day we took over 1000 pictures, and it would have been a lot more if Hanne hadn’t left her spare battery at the bag check near the entrance. (You’ll have to wait until we upload them to SmugMug after we get back to enjoy them.) We learned a lot about Inca history, and we got to see all three of their temples, which included the Sun temple, the Condor temple, and the temple of Mother Earth. We also were intrigued to learn about the ancient sun dial. During the summer and winter equinox, the sun shone on the dial so that M.P.´s inhabitants would know when to start planting crops. Unfortunately, one of the corners of the precise instrument was knocked off by a falling crane during the filming of a television commercial, so the dial no longer works as it used to. We also learned about how whenever possible, they would use the natural shape of the mountain for the building of their city. Another interesting fact we gained, was that the mountain that is in all of the pictures, is not in fact Machu Picchu, but Huayna Picchu–Machu Picchu is on the other side of the city. Although we ended up traveling more than twice as long as we were actually at M.P., every minute of travel was worth it! -Jesse
Here’s a brief video recap that can’t possibly do it justice, but it gives you a little taste…
All of our photos from Machu Picchu can be found here…
DAY 8 RECAP + BUILDING THE CLASSROOM
After a busy weekend, we got off to a little bit of a slow start. We stayed at the house an extra 2 hours and had some inspiring discussions before arriving at school in time to teach class. The 1st and 2nd graders had English class and they worked on learning the “head-shoulders-knees-and feet” song. The 3rd and 4th graders practiced the Macarena and the Chicken dance for a performance on Thursday. And last but not least, the 5th and 6th graders had art class where the made some snazzy duct tape coin purses ☺. After “health and hygiene,” four of us went on a house visit, while the rest of us helped with construction. The Fathers put up the first part of the roof on the classroom so its beginning to look like a building!!! Since much of their work was technical in nature, most of us spent the afternoon putting tiles on top of the wall.
We played an amusing game of telephone during dinner, did our highlights and gratitude, and most people headed off to bed early.
So the way that the classroom is built is somewhat primitive but extremely effective. The building starts with a foundation of rock and concrete formed in a rectangle where the walls will eventually go up. The two main building materials for the building are a thick mud mortar ( a composition of dug up dirt which we haul to the site and water brought up from a small watering hole a hundred feet away). The dirt and water are then mixed by shovel and stepped on by bare feet to create the perfect constancy of mud that will help cement the adobe bricks in place which are the second material. The adobe bricks are pre-made by hand by the locals. Each of the families of the school were required to make 130 mud bricks for the school and so they ended up with three thousand, three hundred adobe mud bricks to use. Quite a lot if i do say so myself.
On top of the concrete foundation, a layer of the mud mortar is spread all the way around the entire base and then the adobe bricks are carefully laid around the whole foundation with the exception of a three foot area for the door. The use of a string which is pounded into the corners creating a strait line along the edge of where the wall will be built ensures that the bricks are laid in a strait line. This makes sure that the wall is made straight and that it is stable and sound. After the first level is laid, we go across the top of the mud bricks, chipping away with the flat end of pick ax making to make the top of the bricks flat all the way across. This is because all of the bricks are hand-made and thus are not identical meaning they are different heights. Using the pick ax creates a flat, stable surface on which to build the next level. This process is done after each level is completed.
On top of the first layer of adobe another layer of the mud is spread and then another layer of bricks onto of that. The bricks that we use to build with are spread all around the site so we must bring them to the site by use of a wheel barrow. There are generally three or four bricks to a load since they weigh about 40 pounds a piece. The same process is repeated until the fourth level when spaces for the windows are added to allow natural light into the classroom. When each new level is started, the very first bricks that are laid are the corner bricks. The fathers of the children who attend the school who are helping us build the school carefully measure the position of the corner bricks since any misplacement of them will ruin that entire layer, thus ruining the whole building. The tools that they use to measure this are string.
As the building progressed (after 8 layers or so) people start to work on top of the walls since it is now a good 5 feet off the ground, and the taller people must hand the heavy adobe bricks up to the people on the wall who are laying the bricks. After today’s work we are currently on the 11th level of bricks and we only have three more levels to go until we reach 14 level (levels just referring to how many adobe bricks high the structure is). Once we reach the 14th level a roof will be added and you will all be informed on that process.
DAY 9 RECAP
Once again we had blue skies and sunshine for another beautiful day in Huatata. As we walked through the iron gate of the school, a delivery truck arrived full of long bamboo rods for the roof of our classroom. After unloading the truck, a few of us helped the Fathers work on the roof, while most of the teens went to work tiling the rim of a large section of the adobe wall that surrounds the school. By the time we headed home, the majority of the roof beams were nailed in place and the tiling was completed:
The 1st and 2nd graders spent their class time today out on the field with sports class. Annika, Geoff, and Colby led the very enthusiastic little ones in varieties of soccer, jump rope, and tag. The 3rd and 4th graders drew self-portraits in art class with Hanne, Kristen, and George. Each one was unique and creative, and all the students were quietly focused on their artwork for their entire hour-long class. In dance and music class, the 5th and 6th graders practiced the Macarena, YMCA, and Chicken Dance in preparation for their big presentation to their parents on Thursday afternoon. David, Liza-Jean, Tori, and Akayla also went on their house visit this afternoon, leaving only one more group to go tomorrow.
We returned home after a very full day of progress in Huatata to another scrumptious dinner. Somehow our master chef, Hijidio, has prepared a different soup from scratch every night and tonight´s was a savory potato soup with french fries in it. Mmmm! We will all be sleeping well tonight before our last full workday at the school. It´s hard to believe that our trip is already beginning to wrap up, but there´s no question that every moment has been fulfilling!
DAY 10 & 11 RECAP + FAREWELL CEREMONY
It’s been a VERY busy two days–too busy to blog! We got up early so that we can get to school and help the Fathers finish off the roof of the classroom. We had to lay bamboo over the cross beams and put mud and tiles on top of the bamboo. Fortunately, we had reinforcements today, as parents from the community spent the entire day helping us.
At 1pm, after classes were over, we participated in a closing ceremony that involved performances and speeches by everyone.
For a gallery of photos from the farewell ceremony, click here…
The founder of Peru’s Challenge, Jane, gave us certificates and t-shirts and talked about the qualities that she admired in each of us. She is such a great role model for our teens!
We finished the roof at 5:15. I’ve been keeping you in the dark on purpose, since I didn’t know how far we’d get. So here is a before and after picture of the classroom and a video recap of our work during the past two weeks:
For a gallery of all of our construction photos, click here…
After completing the roof, we celebrated with a traditional ritual involving firecrackers and then played soccer for 30 minutes before heading home. The teens are usually begging to go to sleep after dinner, although last night a bunch of us stayed up until 10 doing Indian leg wrestling.
DAY 12 RECAP: BACK TO LIMA
On Friday morning we got up early and began our journey home. We stopped at the school on the way to Cusco Airport for one quick photo in front of the classroom with the students. Our flight was delayed, and then we nearly missed it, but we arrived in Lima around 1. We loaded our gear on a bus and headed to the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Lima, where we enjoyed a BBQ, mixers, games, and a hymn sing…
For a gallery of our photos from the Lima BBQ, click here…
After being treated to popsicles, we loaded the bus again and headed to the airport for our overnight flight to Ft. Lauderdale. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed long enough to throw off several connecting flights. So instead of arriving home in the morning, we all spent the morning at Ft. Lauderdale airport. We were grateful that several snafus were resolved and we all slept in our own beds on Saturday night.
It was a life-changing trip for all of us. It even had a profound impact on those of us that are seasoned international travelers. We worked hard, had some fun
and helped ourselves as much as we helped our friends in Huatata. I see this trip more like a beginning than an end, and I look forward to my future involvement with Peru’s Challenge and the people of Peru.