The bottom line is that I could not think of a better way to have complimented my degree than by experiencing a developing country. I believe DWC did a great job preparing us and setting us up with a unique host partner, IFEJANT. Our trip included 4 work weeks at the volunteer site- an elementary school called San Jose Obrero. All 9 of us participants were University students, though DWC offers several programs for all ages.
We worked approximately 7-hour days from Monday to Friday in a very poor barrio known as Villa Maria del Triunfo. It was such a learning experience for all of us to drive from our hostel in a middle income neighborhood to one of seemingly endless dirt hills, and unsafe water. We additionally had the opportunity to talk to some of the brains behind the 'working children' movement, including the wise theologian Alejandro Cussianovich. Their philosophies power the school we worked at, along with funding from several NGO's. Even though our communication with the locals in the community was extremely limited due to the language barrier, we began to see and learn that close to half of the children were malnourished, and half also worked after school to supplement their family's income. Their great need became obvious.
The most beautiful part of the village was the locals' smiles and energy, even though they were living in dirt. Our project was not without frustrations, but playing soccer and interacting with the kids daily undoubtedly outweighed the difficulties. Our $500 donation (on top of trip costs) payed for the lumber and supplies for our construction project. Though money is a common issue for students, our donation did not quite cover all of the supply costs. The trip could not really have cost any less.
Our constant lifting, hammering, sanding, painting, roofing, and valiantly attempting to talk to the locals yielded 3 much needed rooms- a kitchen, dining room and workshop (for working kids).
The volunteers from the year prior gave us a list of 'what not to forget' before our trip, so most of us were very well prepared. While the food was generally very good and some of us got to try some delicacies such as guinea pig, the majority of us did not feel well at one point or another.
The social scene was outstanding, and we all agreed that we had so much fun. Though Lima is not super touristy, we made our own fun! Casa Rodas, the hostel that hosted us was unbelievably hospitable and affordable. They made breakfast for us daily.
We had to be motivated and driven to finish because there was a time crunch at the end of the 4 weeks. The 9 of us worked so well together, and everyone had their strengths. The ability to 'laugh it off' should not be forgotten at home for such a cultural experience, and indeed we had some great laughs along the way.
The mayor and local heads visited and saw how important our work was and made donations to the school, even pledging more donations in the future for the entire community. Though half of us stayed in Peru a bit longer to see more of its beautiful people and vistas, each of us left Villa Maria filled with pride of what we had built. The 9 of us feel like we really did something great, developed worldly connections, and we miss it all!