Monday, August 9, 2010

And it’s over….Closing thoughts

Before I had set out on this adventure, I was afraid. Until a few weeks before the trip, it did not really hit me that I would be living for 2.5 months in a completely foreign environment, a completely foreign culture, and speaking a completely different language. Not only that, I had to actually WORK in this very same country, culture and language. I got very nervous…but, nonetheless, decided to challenge myself, suck up the fears, and get the most out of the experience.

Back in April, sitting in my cozy room in Vancouver, I could not even begin to imagine what my experience would be like in Peru. I knew a little bit about the country, and I knew quite a lot about the programs I would be working with- but what I would experience on a daily basis, and how I would feel in those foreign environments…was completely unknown to me. That was probably the very thing that scared me. But, I told myself, that there is no point to mull things over you cannot change or do anything about- and so I sat on that plane- open, willing to learn, embrace, and help. And very, very nervous. More like- extremely nervous.

In retrospective, I am glad that I didn’t let the fear or nervousness take hold of me because the time in that beautiful country, with such exceptional students as my friends, was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

The more I try to fit my fellowship into a few descriptive words, the more I realize that the experience was indescribable. It was…to sound cliché, amazing. There really are no other words to describe it, honestly! The experience was beautiful, challenging, fun, difficult, sad, inspiring, stunning, tiring, incredible…if I try to find more words! Waking up in the Andean mountains, having breakfast with a Peruvian family, and then working during the day, meeting students and families, learning about the way people live, hearing their stories, their wants, needs, wishes…it was an experience that I will never forget. It was a true immersion into a culture that is so rich and so inviting.

The experience would also be nothing without the immediate friendships that I had made with the Mosqoy students. They are mature, enthusiastic, and friendly students who are eager to take on the world and the new opportunities being presented to them. I felt so fortunate to be working with organizations that are truly making a difference in the Peruvian communities and helping all these wonderful people I had met.

Thinking about the experience, here are a few thoughts that I’ve been having.

Making a difference – One student wrote to me after the trip:

“Thank you for giving me strength to keep going and never give up.

It really moved me and made me think. My work in Peru did not change the world. What I realized and saw firsthand, however, is how we can all make a difference. There is no impact too small. One, two, or four hundred kind acts…they all help and in turn create a ripple effect. The work that Mosqoy and Education Generation do, helps out, not only the student, but their families, and their communities as well. Act by act; empowering people to make a difference themselves - that’s how you change the world. I saw for the first time, however, to what extent this actually works. Lives are being changed. Families are being changed. Communities are being changed. All because everybody is doing their part in helping. It was incredibly inspiring and moving.

I will always remember how eager the students were when they talked about the program. How incredibly excited and hopeful their parents and families were when they would think of all the opportunities their child’s education would bring to their families. They would always ask if this program would go on for longer because it is so important to them. I will never forget that.

Challenge and growth- One of the remarkable things about the fellowship is that, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s a challenge. It’s a different life- sometimes without showers or comfortable beds. Sometimes with different food or different customs. Sometimes you love it and other times you’re frustrated with it. But I would not trade my fellowship experience for the world. It was incredibly fun, but at the same time I really had to push myself to adapt to the life.

It was really powerful waking up in small villages and not thinking about what I was going to wear or stressing about what people will think if my jeans are a little dirty. Seeing that some families do not have proper kitchens, electricity, or even running water, really shifts one’s priorities. It makes me feel ashamed that I am stressing about getting the new iPhone while my Mosqoy friends live completely simple and basic lives. The thing that got to me the most was, that they were all incredibly happy- while I, who has a ‘higher standard of living’, could list many more problems in my life. I saw that you don’t need much to be happy and sometimes even felt ashamed at how spoiled I was. In Vancouver, I get bogged down by superficial and material things (which ultimately cannot be real sources of happiness), and as such automatically set myself up for failure and unhappiness. It was refreshing to live life with different priorities.

I’m starting to ramble now, but those are a few thoughts I’ve been having.

Overall, it was an incredible experience, in an incredible country, with even more incredible people. I hope that you enjoyed reading this blog and finding out more about the trip. I also hope that it inspired you just a little more to make your small difference that will ripple, and go a long way in communities all around the world.

The Last Few Days

First off, I cannot continue writing without apologizing for the delay in blogging. A fortunate and unfortunate turn of events kept me off the computer for way too long- and I didn’t get a chance to finish blogging about my last little bit of the trip.

At the end of June, I had gotten pretty bad food poisoning that kept me off the internet for a while, but quickly recovered when my sister, Mila (an Education Generation volunteer as well) came to visit Mosqoy and me in Peru for the last part of the trip!

It was so fantastic to have Mila there to see both my work, but also to meet the students and see the program she’s been working with for years. We got to hang out with students, help out, and also hold our big community event. And of course, in between Mosqoy activities we also did some great tourist sightseeing and visited Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. Stunning!
The big community event that I organized with Mosqoy 3 students was a soccer and volleyball championship. It was a completely different experience organizing an event in Peru as the cultural differences really come to shine during times like that. In the small town of Ollantaytambo, communication and organization methods are much more different and it was a fun (and sometimes very frustrating while learning) challenge adapting to those differences and still making sure everything runs smoothly. Luckily as the event unfolded, all worries quickly disappeared. The students really impressed me with their initiative and leadership keenness. Even things that we never discussed were taken care of, and the Mosqoy 3 students kept on running up and down making sure everything was under control. The strength of the program really came to light during the event, as both Mosqoy 1 and Mosqoy 2 students showed up to help out and compete at the event.

During Mila’s stay in Peru, we also participated and helped out during the recruitment and selection of Mosqoy 4 students. Not only is Mosqoy 3 just starting their studies, but also it is time to think ahead and start the selection process for Mosqoy 4. We were part of Mosqoy 4 meetings with students and their families, as well as the introduction of the Mosqoy program to a new high school in a nearby village, where we hope to recruit students from. It was very interesting to watch the student’s faces as they learn about the program- a mixture of confusion, awe, and disbelief that something like this is happening and is real. I am sure we will be hearing much more about Mosqoy 4 students in the next year.

In between these Mosqoy activities, we also went to Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. There are really no words to describe this beautiful country. We are so incredibly lucky to have seen the many sides of Peru.
Check out some of the photos below:
High School seniors at Colegio Ollantay listening to a presentation about Mosqoy 4.

Mila and I in Machu Picchu!

Students competing in the Soccer and Volleyball Community Championship organized by Mosqoy students.

Teaming competing during the community event. This is the Colegio Ollantay- the high school where a lot of the Mosqoy students went to school.

Mila with Mosqoy 1 leaders

With Mosqoy 3 students at the community event.