A Volunteer Story: Sarah Cowan

My first experience volunteering abroad was in Guatemala in 2007. After my time there, I began searching for another opportunity to lend a hand abroad and challenge myself personally. The day I read about Solidarity In Action (SIA) in the Laurier Brantford weekly newsletter I knew that it was something I needed to be a part of. That very day, I began to fundraise with the hopes of saving enough money to secure myself a place on a future SIA trip.

Having previous experience participating in social justice trips, I had extremely high expectations going to Peru. I knew it was going to be challenging. I knew I was going to be immersed in an environment that I wasn’t used to. But, what I wasn’t aware of, was just how much the Peruvian people were going to teach me about myself and the person I wanted to become. While in Peru, I experienced a roller coaster of emotions. It was difficult to see the poverty, yet I was shocked by the people and their happiness and generosity. But, most of all, I was happy to feel a part of something so meaningful.

The Peruvian people are amazing – I have never met people like them, who are so willing to give the shirt off their backs to help a neighbour. The adults I met are strong and amazing individuals who taught me a lot. One of the most memorable days in Peru was when the people of Pacifico so generously opened their homes to us. These home visits threw us right into the middle of the reality that many of our new friends were living in. As a local woman was taking us on a tour of her house, explaining to us how she and her family go about their daily lives, I was fighting back tears. She explained to us that her community has many solutions to the various problems they face, yet acquiring the resources to achieve those solutions is their greatest barrier. On that day, I felt an overwhelming feeling of happiness invade my body because I knew that I was in the right place. I was there to help this community achieve some of its goals. Although, at the same time, I remember feeling shame and guilt for the life I live in Canada, like how much food and water I waste on a daily basis. One thing I learned while on this trip is that I shouldn’t be ashamed of what I have, but be aware of how I am using it. The more that I am aware of my surroundings the more I change I will be able to create, whether that is in my own life, my community, or Peru.

Maybe it’s because I’m currently studying to become a teacher, but the Peruvian children truly stole my heart. These children are so grateful for everything they have, and are so willing to learn from anyone who will take the time to teach them. The smiles on these children’s faces made my day, each and every day. One of my favourite days on the trip was when we got the chance to take some children from the local community to an amusement park in Lima. I was with a group of five little boys between the ages of three and five, these were some of the most active and curious little boys I have ever met (and I have four nephews!).

There is one moment from that day that I will never forget. We were taking a break sitting on a soccer field, and I figured the boys were becoming anxious to find a ride or go to the park. Then, one of the little boys opened up his backpack, which had only one item inside: a soccer ball. These little boys were just so excited to have a patch of grass to play soccer on, that it was all we did for the rest of the day. I was amazed to see that these boys were told they were going to an amusement park and their only hope was to have grass to play on. They expected nothing more from us other than friendship.

While in Peru I built everlasting relationships with my fellow participants, my trip leaders and with the many Peruvian people I met. These relationships helped me to grow as a person and define what I want my role to be in the world. Solidarity in Action offered me an opportunity to do some good and create some change, and my experience in Peru was the first time in my life that I knew for certain that my life was headed in the right direction. I am so excited to go back as a trip leader this summer and have the opportunity to see how the trip affects others.

Sarah Cowan

Sarah bonds with one of her friends from Pacifico de Villa during a visit to the community.
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