One piece of advice I would give to someone working with the Lama Pack Project would be to do some primary research about the culture of Peru prior to your travels. While I did learn a lot about the Peruvian culture during my trip, I found it very helpful to do some research about the government, economy, environment, class system, and general culture of Peru before I left the states. This research was guided by Student Shoulder to Shoulder and I found that having a context for much of what I saw in Peru helped my better understand what I was experiencing in Peru.
As a participant of this program, an average day changed slightly depending on where we were during the program. The first week, we would wake up to breakfast in the Lama Pack house and take a van to the school. We would review our lesson plan that we made the previous night. Then, we would teach the children about the environment during the morning before lunch. We also had a little bit of time to play and bond with the children during the morning.
After lunch, we would begin to work on the playground fixing equipment, painting tires and murals, pulling out overgrown grass, and cleaning the classrooms. Then, we would return to the Lama Pack House for free time and, some nights, time to walk into town. We would have nightly reflections and dinner before retiring for the evening.
During the second week when we were in Cancha Cancha, the average day would look a little different. We would wake up in the morning from our tents and sleeping bags (the nights were a little chilly) and we would eat breakfast in the home of one of the community members who was gracious enough to host us. Then, we would spend the day working on the tree nursery whether it was moving rocks, tilling the earth, removing grass roots, building a rock wall, cutting the saplings from trees up in the forest, or planting the saplings in the beds.
We paused midday to return to the house for lunch and an hour break. After our work during the day, we had free time before dinner which a few other students and I used to hike the valley and explore our surroundings. Then, we would have a warm dinner in the house before reflections and going to bed underneath the stars. On the weekends, we visited the ruins around the Sacred Valley.
Going into my experience abroad my biggest fear was the language barrier that I might experience. Before arriving in Peru, I was fairly uncomfortable with my ability to speak Spanish to the locals. I was afraid that I would not have the courage to spark up a conversation in a different language than my own. I wanted to get the most out of my experience and did not want to regret being limited by my fear.
I overcame this fear by embracing the mentality that I had traveled a long distance for this experience and that I didn't want to have regrets. I began speaking to the Peruvians we met in Spanish and came to found that they were excited that we were making an effort to speak their language. I learned from this experience that even if one makes errors trying to speak another's language, others are simply excited and receptive to those who try to speak their language. This has given me more confidence to try to speak Spanish or other languages wherever I go, even if I am not entirely fluent as trying is a worthwhile experience.
What is your favorite memory on this trip?
My favorite story from my experience in Peru was when I met Urpi. When we were teaching the children about the environment in Urubumba, I was still a little weary about speaking Spanish. There was one Peruvian girl who was very shy and never liked to share her drawing from the lessons. Every time I made an effort to talk to her she got very shy and looked away from me.
However, one day, I sat down next to her and began to ask her question about her family and herself. She quickly opened up to me and began to tell me about her life. At this moment I gained both confidence in speaking the language and a genuine relationship with a little girl from another country. I was so happy to form this connection. The next few days I spent a lot of time with Urpi and her friend Estella in the classroom and playing tag outside.
One morning, I entered the school and Urpi and a few of her friends jumped out at me and gave me a giant hug. I will always remember this experience and the bond that I formed with Urpi. This experience has inspired my to seek out connections with people from different backgrounds and cultures wherever I go.