Life has been moving quickly. Trees have been planted, school has started and all the students are back, world map painting has begun, we are making advances in our community landfill project, and many educational activities are being prepared! Overall, life in Tomas is busy and that is a good thing. Apart from my life here, I recently had the experience to work with a group of 16 PCVs and the Connecticut based NGO Builders Beyond Borders. Let me tell you a little more about that experience.
Builders Beyond Borders (B3) is an NGO that runs work-based service trips during spring break for Connecticut high school students. The students raise all the funds, provide most of the materials, and then do much of the labor themselves. The concept is great and is an opportunity for well off students to see different, and much poorer, parts of the world. This year B3 came to Peru. In Peru they coordinated with a 3 different PCVs on the coast to help organize their project. I was asked by the Peace Corps to help during one of these projects, translating, organizing a small work group, and just doing whatever was needed to help things go smoothly. So, last week I worked in the costal department of Ica, helping to build 15 pour flush toilets. Things went well and I learned a lot.
Working with Builders Beyond Borders was a really good experience for me. Not only did I learn a lot about construction, as in laying bricks, installing PVC tubing, building doors and corrugated metal roofs and other basics, but I saw a whole new interaction between Americans and Peruvians.
The interactions between the students and the families were very interesting because the students come in with almost no cultural sensitivity. They wear short shorts, are loud, rarely say good morning or another greeting that is important in Peruvian culture, and they just generally act as they always would without much consideration to the families. Yet despite this lack of cultural sensitivity the families were very excited and happy to have the American students in their town. It wasn’t so much about the bathrooms they received or the materials they brought, although those things were much appreciated. Mostly, the town was really excited about all the excitement that the students brought with their energy. The town had new things to talk about, new people to watch, and everything was different from the daily drone of working in the asparagus fields that surround their town. It made me realize the importance of presence. The presence of the students was more important than the work that they did.
Seeing this gave me a great feeling of pride, knowing that here in Tomas my service is much more than the technical and environmental advances that we are making. In Tomas the people appreciate the improvements, but I think it is my friendship and presence in their lives that makes my time here so important. Knowing that I’m making a difference in so many lives has a large effect on me personally and my perception of service work. Service work is showing people care and love, and that can be done in so many different ways. It can be done with the excitement of a group of high school kids or by developing relationships on a personal level. That difference is certainly worth my time here in Peru.
Now, some pictures to please your eyes!