Life is so much bigger

I looked at him and thought of our realities – intersecting momentarily, but probably never again – and I knew that’s where I was meant to be.

This was a thought that crossed my mind several times during the last week of my semester in Peru. Volunteer work had never been a major priority, after all the trip was about me: Me learning more Spanish, me traveling a new country, me making new friends, me growing as a person. Me, me, me.

Anyone who tells you their study abroad experience was not somewhat self-centered is probably lying. Sure, there are some service-based experiences, but this is one of the few times in life when it’s socially acceptable to take out a big fat loan and escape real life for a finite amount of time, discovering a new part of the world and going through some self-examination in the process.

One of several vacations on vacation - Huanchaco, Peru

Long story short, my fulfilling, awesome, but me-centered experience led to a money shortage at the end of my trip. I came across a place called the Villa La Paz Foundation when searching for places to volunteer at. After being accepted to spend the week there, I forgot about it until the day I got back from Machu Picchu, two days before volunteering began.

It took two buses and two hours to get me to the center, and when I arrived in Chaclacayo (chah-kla-KIGH-oh) I couldn’t believe I was still in Lima. Chaclacayo is a pretty district on the outskirts of Lima where wealthy Limeños own second homes, but it’s sandwiched between much poorer districts. And at a big hogar on Calle de los Giranios (Geranium Street), I found my new home.

Walking into the hogar made me see children in a whole new way. Everyone there had an injury – some were burn victims, some had cerebral palsy, others had mental disabilities – so I felt like the odd one out. At first I couldn’t stop staring, but it wasn’t long before I passed other children on the street and immediately searched them for an ailment or disability. Seeing all of the things that could go wrong in a child’s life, then seeing one with twenty working fingers and toes, a capable mind and body, I began to see kids outside the hogar as little walking miracles.

Then I realized that really, the ones inside the house were the miraculous ones. The ones who learned to sprint around a house with one working limb, the ones who learned to eat with their good hand because the other one was too burned to use – they had the best attitudes in the world, and they also had a lot more adversity working against them than I ever will.

There’s no way to capture that week in words. All I’m trying to say is that, now, when I’m starting to feel annoyed or indignant or a little bit self-important, I think of that simple life when little things didn’t matter. For a week, the only needs that mattered were those fifty-some little kids’, and for a week, I spent much more time meeting their needs than my own. When schoolwork or critical comments start to get me down, I think about how life is so much bigger than me, my schoolwork, my blog, my petty concerns.

Though I only spent a week in that house, it changed my perspective forever. I will always remember those little people, even though I was just passing through the house along with many other volunteers. A blip on their radar, at best, I’ll never forget what they taught me. They are what I’m thinking of tonight, and what will get me through a few challenging upcoming weeks.


2 responses to “Life is so much bigger

  1. What an amazing experience. One of my mom’s best friends travels around the world with Operation Smile, and she’s been to Peru several times. She takes old beanie babies along with her to give to the kids before they go into surgery (since many of them are so scared) and she said the gratitude they show for something so small is incredible. Many of them have never had a toy of their own before. Thank you for writing about this – it’s so easy to get lost in our own worries and troubles and forget how fortunate we really are.

  2. hermosa. y claro, te entiendo totalmente, y peru (y mis niños/hijitos en proyecto peru) me ha cambiado un monton tb. tenemos tanto suerte. tqm!!

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