A Day in the Life: University of Waterloo Students in Peru

It’s been just four short months since University of Waterloo students embarked on their first ever Solidarity in Action Trip to South America.  As we begin to get busy with school work, jobs, and the holiday season, it is good to look back at the amazing memories that were created in Pacifico de Villa this July.

Here are some excerpts from a day in the life of Renish Kamalanathan and Patty Hoyeck; two of our incredible UW students!

Terminal 3, that’s where 23 of us began this journey. We had one too many large suitcases carrying clothes and donations. Donations? Yes, July 26th couldn’t have come any sooner. We’ve been planning, fundraising and anticipating this day. Standing in a group at Pearson International Airport at 7:30 am, we were exchanging smiles, and wore determination. We were definitely the representation of Waterloo’s Solidarity in Action. “On a mission” was my facebook status that morning, because I knew our group was ready and had a passion for change, to make an IMPACT on humanity and in 13 hours (2 Flights) Peru our destination.

Expectations, excitement, and geared entertainment were definitely packed. Haha. We were handed a yellow envelope with our itinerary, a high-5 bag, some other letters, and a pen.

First stop, San Salvador. We were slowly exposed to the Spanish culture as I did not understand the Emergency Exit instructions that were shown in the video. The time changed too, we were only an hour behind.
Our flights were on time, we conversed amongst each other about our programs, what time we were up and how long we’ve been preparing for this trip. Everyone seemed to be on the same plane, plane of thought too. We wanted to get so much out of our experience, the level of anticipation didn’t reduce the turbulence that we felt on our flight we caught from Sal Salvador to Peru. I was just hoping all that, the vaccines, fundraising, sacrifice of wifi was all going to be worth it. The Peruvian airport was so heartwarming and welcoming with bands playing traditional songs, smiling Peruvians with their name cards, we recognized the familiar face that interviewed us back in November(2011). Larry, Larry was smiling in the crowd; and I still haven’t wrapped my mind around the fact that I was miles away from a place I called “home”, the transition was very smooth and it honestly felt like I was at my ‘home away from home.’ Most of us got distracted on the way to the bus but Larry managed to get all of us there. We also exchanged our dollars. So, I’m here in a new country, I now have soles in my wallet and it still didn’t sink in, I mean, we’re actually in Peru. The bus ride to the retreat house wasn’t too long, as most of us were still awake. We held our first group meeting in the dining area, where Larry gave us his welcome speech, with introductions to our awesome team leaders Jessie and Victoria and Guillermo, who was going to be our translator. We then were assigned to rooms with our roommates. I may have not mentioned this, we were all strangers, and we were paired up and were told to rest because we weren’t going to have much of it for the upcoming mission week.

The retreat house is a church, it had quadrants of rooms aligning each side and an open ceiling space in the middle. It was nice and cool but we were warned that it may get much cooler at night. We went to bed around midnight and were reminded that our wake up calls will be at 6:15 am. That didn’t even matter, I just couldn’t wait to see Pacifico de Villa. 

– Renish Kamalanathan

I was sitting in the Pacifico de Villa community center, a small rectangular building that consisted of a stage, two bathrooms, and a sitting area. It was lunch time and I was seated at the back of this building. My gaze was focused on the cement floor. The floor was teeming with cracks. It stared at me. Children of Pacifico de Villa ran over it, multiple types of sessions took place on this floor, and this center, positioned at the heart of the village sustained community life.

The cement flooring and its imperfections represent the people of Pacifico de Villa and their circumstances. They have a foundation of people, but due to the conditions in which they find themselves, they cannot foster and develop their potential. I witnessed multiple individuals with talent words cannot describe. But because of where

they live, I fear that this talent will not be fully realized. The people of the community have also been scarred. We heard testimony of hardship and pain. One of the community members mentioned that she was connected to another woman through the diseases of their children. Unattended illnesses affect the patient and those around them. Individuals who suffered psychological trauma are left to silence. Women who have been victims of domestic abuse are muted.

And so there are cracks. There are cracks in their foundation. These cracks, some even trenches, cannot be filled due to a lack of resources. Even if this community chose to invest in cement to patch up the floor of the center, these cracks would reappear after enough wear and tear. These crevices, when observed from a different angle do bring about something of worth. You can see that the floor is well used and therefore brings a sense of community to Pacifico de Villa. Here, people meet and talk and aid each other. Leonard Cohen stated, “There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets through.” Pacifico de Villa portrays those words. The people of this community, infants to the elderly, seem to share a light, an open heart that I’ve scarcely witnessed before. However, when the locals opened themselves to us, it was seen that much pain had been endured. In spite of it all, they find happiness.

During our time here, the people of Pacifico de Villa demonstrated their beauty and hardship through honesty. When emotions were heavy, they cried. When moments of joy presented themselves, they smiled and laughed. I crave this level of truth. Here, I feel at ease. And though I am not deserving of their constant praise and well-wishes, here I feel peace. I experienced something human, something different that the 24/7 365 schedule back in Canada. And for that I am grateful. We always tend to degrade the image of poverty in Canada, and this is understandable. There is no doubt that a good economy would enable better development of the people of Pacifico de Villa. However, this extensive feeling of being human and the sensation of being one with others is rarely found in developed countries.

This experience has brought about significant emotions. This trip showed me that we do not have the power to bring in the cement ourselves, but rather we can come with time and devotion to repair the cracks. In the end however, repairing as we see fit may not be the solution as our understanding of a decent society does not necessarily leave room to let the light in. The solution to their pain is found within the people of Pacifico de Villa. All we can provide is solidarity, 

– Patty Hoyeck



University of Waterloo Students in Pacifico de Villa, July 2012