Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with AJWS in Peru?
Lom: I had done a few one-week service programs before and really liked them, but wanted a chance to get to know the local community more and feel like I was really able to learn about the problems they were facing and have more of a contribution to the solutions, so that's why I looked for a summer program. I chose AJWS because I liked a short program I did with them before, I liked the Jewish aspect, and I really respected their relationship with their foreign partners. The local NGO decides what the project should be and AJWS supports them. They also think holistically about poverty, consider sustainability and helped me think critically about the nature of service-learning programs.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Lom: On a daily basis, we slept, ate, and worked together. Breakfast at 7 am, on the worksite at 8 am, lunch at 12:30pm or 1 pm, free time until 2:30pm or 3pm, then some kind of learning session with texts and activities or a meeting with locals, NGO leaders, or a cultural exchange until dinner. After dinner we'd have either another AJWS program or meet up with local teens and 20 somethings for something social. The days were long and full. Some days we all craved a bit more autonomy, but we knew the schedule made sure we were getting the most out of our relatively short time there.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Lom: The experience felt unique and special because we were all Jewish, but diverse. We celebrated Shabbat each week and other holidays as they came up. Our study sessions also challenged us to look at Jewish texts, both old and modern, in how we look at our values and practices of doing service, relating to those in need, feeling obligated to social justice, etc...it added a whole extra dimension to our community and our learning. We were very isolated in a small community and really got to know our neighbors. All the food we ate was Peruvian...no spaghetti or pancakes! We learned a lot about the culture this way and it was delicious! We got to meet with several movers and shakers in the Peru NGO world thanks to AJWS' long connections and work there.
For example, when we visited the capital for a couple days we even met with some people who had worked with past presidents as well as people working on the ground with inner city youth. The same was true in our own region. We were given the opportunity to start our own mini-projects which focused on local needs and our personal interests. Though one of the biggest lessons from this was how hard it is to arrange for an impactful project! Most of us tried and a few were successful.
This experience made me feel that going abroad for longer is not only realistic, but necessary if I want to be involved in ethical, sustainable and effective change abroad. It also made me think about long term involvement in issues at home too, since I see that short-term projects are limited and the real work is the work the communities do for themselves over the long haul. I plan to give money to small programs abroad making change in their own communities, look into doing a year long program abroad, and becoming more involved in social justice action in my own community over the years. Also, after living in a community whose main business is agriculture for export to the US, I am more conscious about where my food comes from and what purchasing decisions I want to make.