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.
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.