The Life-Long Impact of Study Abroad Volunteering

One of my most memorable experiences in Peru was volunteering in the greater Lima area in Pamplona Alta. Volunteering while abroad offers the chance to see and experience parts of the country that you are in that you may not encounter on a day to day basis.  These experiences help to shape your overall experience abroad and they will stay with you. They are not only with you in the short term, but also provide long-term value in helping to understand your purpose, potential professional experiences in the future, and any future humanitarian work.  

In short, the purpose of volunteer work is not just checking an action item off of a list.

Uncertain Expectations

One day in Peru, one of my Peruvian friends told me about a place in Lima called Pamplona Alta.  They had a contact who was in charge of organizing students to go to Pamplona Alta to do volunteer work.  My friend said that I should definitely go to Pamplona Alta while I was in Peru. I did not initially think much of this, but I would soon realize why she highly recommended that I go.  Before going to Pamplona Alta, I felt as if I did not know what to expect. Up until that point, I had not really ventured outside of the main parts of Lima.

Pamplona Alta - Lima

Gaining New Perspective

The day began with me going to meet with my friend’s contact and other volunteers in San Isidro.  We then boarded vans and headed toward Pamplona Alta. On the drive over I noticed something that I had not seen yet in Lima.

After exiting the main city part of Lima, there was a tunnel that we traveled through, and on the other side there was a stark contrast to what we had just left.  The main question I had was: Was this intentional? Would the government actually create a physical boundary between these two parts of Lima?

Upon arrival at the bottom of the mountain, it was time to get out of the vans and walk to where we would be working.  We walked for about twenty five minutes to our site, but there were even farther places higher up the hill. This is a walk that every person living in this community has become accustomed to.

Building For The Future

I knew that we would be helping to build new stairs for a part of the community, but I did not realize we would actually be making our own cement.  I learned that day just how this is done.

After making cement, we would put it in buckets and pass them down to the next person in the human assembly line, and then pour into the steps to dry. After working for a few hours, the members of this community who lived near our work site treated us to a homemade lunch.

I remember thinking about how selfless this was, how people with less than us were making us lunch, yet were so giving and generous in spirit.  After a few more hours of working and finishing the steps for that particular section, a person who lived in the community wanted to show us more of the community, so we climbed even higher up the hill.

Life-Long Impact: Sharing Solidarity

What we had done that day really hit me when we were at one of the highest points on the mountain. Viewing the entire community from that spot made me think about how the people of Pamplona Alta deserve everything. Everyone I met were the most warm and loving people I had ever met.

Stairs - Lima

After writing our names in the fresh concrete and saying our goodbyes, we descended Pamplona Alta.  On the ride back, it was hard for me to not think about what I had just experienced. Stairs are a necessity for anyone living in a community like Pamplona Alta, yet this is not a guaranteed right.  I remember feeling a little angry that more could not be done, but I could only remember the smiles on all of the faces I saw that day.

There comes a point where you cannot be angry, but simply do more, and step up to bring change daily.  I learned from this experience that we are really in it together, and change can only be accomplished together. I also learned that the people of Pamplona Alta and beyond live their lives and make it with our help. It is up to us to live in solidarity when we do enter communities like Pamplona Alta, as they give a lot living their lives with big hearts.

Having New Appreciation

What I experienced in Pamplona Alta was in stark contrast to what I experienced on the daily in Miraflores. This experience taught me even more about Peru as a country and as a population. Would a random person in Miraflores invite me into their home for a refreshment?  

In Pamplona Alta, this type of hospitality happens without hesitation. Volunteering in Pamplona Alta definitely shaped my experience in Peru, as it exposed me to what most of Peru truly is, a country of warm, generous, and loving people.  Going to places like Pamplona Alta and actually interacting with the community make these areas less scary and aid in breaking down stereotypes.

In the long-term, experiences like this help to see your place in the world and serve to inspire you to do more in the world.  The world needs more people like the people of Pamplona Alta, a living example of selfless love in the world.