"The power that Peru had on us was tremendous."

CSB student reflects on service trip to Chimbote, Peru.

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February 4, 2011

By Jill Yanish '13

On our first full day in Chimbote, a young girl holding a Barbie doll asked us if she could trade her doll for our shoes. From that moment on, I knew the trip was going to have a significant impact.  

Over Christmas break, I, along with 10 Johnnies and Bennies, traveled to Chimbote, Peru as part of an Alternative Break Experience through CSB's Campus Ministry program.  For eight days, we worked with the mentally and/or physically disabled children of Chimbote through the Los Amigos Foundation, a faith-based organization. 

Chimbote is one of Peru's poorest cities, stricken with disease, pollutants from local fish factories and high unemployment rates.  Residents lack basic essentials like clean water, electricity, roofs and beds.  A typical kitchen in a house resembles an outdoor fire pit.  Bathrooms consist of a hole in the ground with a tarp curtain for privacy.  

At the beginning of the trip, I was looking forward to impacting the children's lives.  I knew we were not doing anything extraordinary like building homes or providing clean water to everyone.  However, the time we spent with the children allowed them to escape the conditions of poverty that they live in, even if it was only for a short amount of time. 

Little did I know that the children would have more of an impact on our lives than we did on theirs.

The Los Amigos Foundation organized the group of children we worked with (and by worked, I mean played). The children's eyes lit up as they came in the room and saw all the toys.  The wide variety of toys overwhelmed them and they ran from one play area to the next.

It was evident that some of the children had never seen some of the toys before and they cherished the time they spent interacting with us and the toys.  Carley Braegelmann, CSB senior and co-leader of the trip, asked a little girl if she wanted to play outside.  The girl replied, "No, I only get to play with toys here for a little while."

Playing with the children made us feel like we were kids again.  Coloring, playing ball, setting puzzles, playing kitchen and building with blocks made me wonder who had more fun- the children or the college students.

Despite all the fun, reality did strike at times.

A girl had to go to the bathroom but before someone could help her, she had relieved herself in the corner, a few feet from the toilet.  It hit us that she probably did not know what a toilet was since a majority of the homes do not have such luxuries.  

Seeing the poverty, the living conditions and health problems was a downer, but playing with the children always put a smile on our faces.  They made us realize that despite all the bad circumstances and conditions, happiness can still exist. Here were these kids that suffered from a mental and/or physical disability, lived in extreme poverty and often had family problems (alcoholism, rape and drug use are common family issues in the community), yet they managed to live their lives with every ounce of happiness they had. 

The power that Peru had on us was tremendous.  It transformed a group of strangers into a group a friends who shared an experience of a lifetime.  It changed our outlook on poverty, children with disabilities and the items we had previously considered necessary. 

The stories we heard, children we met and poverty we saw still resonates within us.  Our journey to Peru inspired us to do something for the poor.  We are in the process of creating an initiative that would provide money or goods to the people of Chimbote.  We feel that we have to do something, even if it is something as simple as collecting shoes from the CSB/SJU community and sending them to Chimbote.  We hope that whatever we do will raise awareness about the poverty that exists in Chimbote.   

My experience in Chimbote redefined the word 'necessities' in my vocabulary. I did not realize how big the effect was until I was shopping with my mom two weeks after I got back.  Footlocker had a sale on sweatshirts and she was buying my brother one and asked if I wanted one.  I said, "nope, don't need it."