Monday, January 27, 2014

Volunteering at a Rural School

Instead of going to the clinic today, I went to the volunteer project that the girls are doing every Friday.  Fridays are typically slow at the clinic, so I figured missing one to check it out couldn’t hurt.  I can choose when I want to go and when I don’t, so today was basically tryouts.  I loved it.  Manual labor, extremely rural town, beautiful mountains everywhere in the backdrop.  Incredible.  The president of the town met us as we got out of the cab after a 45 minute drive.  He speaks Spanish, but he and the whole town much prefer Quechua.  It’s interesting that we can communicate in our second language even though our first languages are so different.  There is some limited electricity, but there are only a few places with running water in the town and all the homes are made of adobe.  I couldn’t help but thinking we’d regressed if the Incans were building extravagant stone structures 800 years ago, yet now many rural people live in mud huts.  The economics of the town is solely based on agriculture.  Many animals are roaming the streets, finding the next patch of grass to gnaw on.  The town is surrounded by more fields for grazing, as well as an impressive amount of corn.  We aren’t looking at solely sustenance farming; they produce enough to bring to the market to sell and trade.  Overall the town seems like a peaceful and happy place.  Just because I grew up in a different environment to this doesn’t inherently mean that their life is any less happy than mine.  In fact, I found myself identifying with these people in many ways.  Many parallels can be drawn between my experience in rural USA and the lives of rural Peruvian farmers.  Granted, I have a comparably large, heated house in which I get internet so I can reach the whole world.  My floors are not made out of dirt.  But, I live on a dirt road like they do.  I am accustomed to being surrounded by animals like they are.  Corn surrounds my house just like it does theirs.  Open fields look as much like home to me as they do to these people.  I know these similarities may seem minor compared to the differences.  And maybe they are, but I am very thankful for my rural upbringing because I think it will help me to identify with rural populations throughout the world.  Here are some pictures to give you an indication of what the town is like:

The project we worked on was a school, which ProWorld has been contributing to for about 3 years  (picture below). 

The school is fully built of adobe, and is painted green.  There is another shell of a building next to the school, which is one of the only concrete structures in the town.  Part of this will be a kitchen for the school, and the other section aspires to be a dining room.  The floor of this add-on is unfinished, and we’ll be hauling gravel and cement to finish it off next week.  Today our task was to even out the ground of the playing area for the kids.  There were a few particular areas that could use a lot of work.  The space between the house and the next building was filled with a high heap of dirt for us to move.  I was almost giddy to start, I love manual labor on volunteer projects.  It brought back many fond memories of Mississippi mission trips in high school and the Detroit Urban Plunge from Sophomore year of college.  Each of those trips transformed me in some way.  Throughout the span of those trips, I clearly saw that I had a role to play in God’s plan for restoration.  I was spurred on by the hearts of my brothers and sisters who all wanted to do everything in their power to make a tangible impact on these people’s lives.  The Detroit Urban Plunge especially stands out in my mind, and not only because of its recentness.  That was the most committed team of volunteers I’ve ever been a part of.  We had to be told to take breaks.  When anyone finished a job, they would immediately look for something else to do.  There was even a time when everyone wanted to work but there wasn’t enough work, and I realized the best way I could serve the community would actually be to sit out and allow others to work.  That was a hard decision because I love working so much, but seeing the united heart and strength of our group was truly moving to me.

One nice thing about working with 3 girls is that I don’t need to worry about fighting over the fun, power jobs with other guys; it always just falls to me.  I shoveled with my best speed and efficiency for a long time today.  It was tiring, particularly with the whole elevation factor, but I remained strong.  The others took a break at one point, and I stopped for a little while but I couldn’t stand around talking with that mound of dirt glaring me in the face.  I also moved many very full wheelbarrows, which was a feat.  There are a few little steep areas right before the dropping point, and those gave me a great workout.  I absolutely love working hard with my hands.  I’d never want a career out of it, but one day a week for the next 4 months sounds like heaven.    

We finished the dirt stuff early on, so I was given a tour of the town.  It’s a cool place.  Amid the adobe homes, there are immaculate gardens with fruits and veggies to diversify their diets from the traditional rice, potatoes, and occasional meat.  Among the many farm animals, they had several farms of an animal that we are less accustomed to; cuy, AKA guinea pig.  I got to look at one of them, so if you ever wondered what a guinea pig farm looks like, here it is!

After eating some lunch together, we helped with concrete laying for the foundation of a gate that will be used for the school.  This just means shoveling rocks into a wheelbarrow along with some water, mixing, and pouring it into the hole.  We made good progress on this too.  It’s the first time since I came that I really felt like I was doing something useful for people.  Even if I know that it’s still small, and perhaps the lessons I learn will exceed the little benefit that I can offer this town, I feel good that there is at least some tangible impact.  In the clinic I don’t get to see this very often, so the volunteer project was refreshing.

Upon arriving back home, I had some paperwork to do for the Gilman.  I kept forgetting to put in my new address and whatnot.  I also have to write a recommendation for why the honors college at GVSU is so wonderful.  That is of course something I am passionate about and want to be a part of, but I simply didn’t have the time this week.  I’ll write it during the weekend for sure, since the deadline is coming soon.  My time at ProWorld was tripled by the dysfunctional internet. 

Back home, I hung out with the kids after my much needed shower.  Joaquin and I went to get ice cream at one point, which was delicious.  I had the unfortunate luck of seeing a dog get it’s foot run over by a taxi during this trip.  I think he’ll be ok, since he was able to put a little weight on it after a few minutes.  This wasn’t even a street dog, it actually belongs to someone.  I do feel bad for the poor dogs, so many people just don’t care about them in the way we do in the US.  Maybe we care too much sometimes or spend too much money on that industry, but having dogs roaming the street because of owner negligence is certainly worse in my eyes. 

In the evening I went to the plaza with the ProWorld girls, of their friends from class who’s from Cali, and Katherine (the girl from the clinic).  Again, there just aren’t many males to befriend that are easy to find.  We wanted to check out this Israeli place that Amanda told us about.  Salad, entree, dessert, and a drink for 12 soles, or a little over $4.  That’s what I call a deal.  Food was delicious, and I got to try strawberry juice.  I expect that we’ll be back.  After this we hung out in the plaza for a while.  One little boy commented that I was hanging out with 5 girls, another ploy to get me to buy things.  Eventually they headed to a bar, but I was too tired to continue.  I want good sleep if I’m going to be hiking tomorrow, and I deserve it after the hard work I put in today. 

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