It has been a whirl wind experience of highs and lows, growth and change. It is finally time to say goodbye to Peru and each other so that we can return to Canada and our regular routines. For many of the participants this trip has been a completely new experience that has helped them to better understand how diverse the world is and what poverty looks like.
When I attended my first Solidarity in Action trip in August 2011, I had never travelled outside of North America so I had little understanding of how drastically different the rest of the world can be from North America. It was a shock for me to see how the large populations of poor people lived and to see the different state of the infrastructure. It was an eye-opening experience for me that was truly transformative but it made it very hard for me to come back home and return to my old routine. What I am trying to say is in my experience the culture shock that participants experience during the trip is most severe when returning home.
When I went on my first trip I experienced quite extreme culture shock upon my return to Canada. I was very emotional and I began to withdraw from hanging out with friends and family. I think this was due to the lack of understanding that friends and family had about the experience. I didn´t realise at the time that they had not experienced what I had so therefore it would be impossible for them to be as passionate as I was or truly understand what I was feeling. It is important for participants to remember that family and friends are there for them and they are trying to help them with the reintegration process but they have not experienced what the participants have so they can not be expected to ask all the ¨right¨ questions that participants may want them to. On the side of friends and family of participants they must be patient and cognizant of the process that the participants are undergoing. It is a good idea to research more into understanding culture shock because it affects everyone differently and lasts for different durations of time.
Things for participants to remember… you have a huge support system of 30 plus people to talk to if you are having any issues. Make sure to try to maintain the friendships that you created in Peru because they will be very rewarding relationships.
Yesterday the participants experienced one of the most amazing man-made creations, Machu Picchu. It is located in the lush mountains just outside the small village of Aguas Calientes. It is such a remote place that there is little road access to this area so it was necessary to take a train. The ride in was picturesque. The train had large windows along the sides and many windows along the roof. It was a great opportunity for participants to relax and enjoy their last big group activity together. Jess Manente shared, “it was a beautiful train ride it definitely contributed to an overall amazing day. It was an incredible experience seeing Machu Picchu! It is like nothing I have ever seen before. I can`t imagine how humans managed to create such an imposing and magnificent settlement with no modern assistance and in such a remote area.“
Many friendship have been forged over the last week and a half. I think many of them will prosper and grow well after this trip is over. An unlikely group of individuals were brought together over an interest in bettering themselves, the world they live in and to better understand it. Due to the large size of our group I think it really helped to debut a broad range of viewpoints and backgrounds which contributed to diverse responses to evening discussion questions.
For the majority of participants it was their first time attending a trip like Solidarity in Action or seeing severe and widespread poverty. I think there were many challenges that were successfully overcome and much personal growth has occurred. I think many of the changes won´t be noticeable until after returning to Canada.
Sarah Szabo had no previous experience working with people who have disabilities but this week she decided to take this opportunity to try working with children who have disabilities. She attended the Laura Alva placement which is a school for children with disabilities. By the end of the week you could see that after visiting this placement a couple of times Sarah´s confidence in her ability to work with children who have special needs has already grown immensely. I think her experience will translate into an increased interest in seeking out opportunities to work with children who have disabilities once she returns to Canada.
The overall experience of this trip has been amazing. This is the third Solidarity in Action trip that I have attended in three years and by far the group of participants that we had this year was the most friendly, loving and cohesive. I am excited to see what kind of changes and growth this trip has inspired in the participants when they get back to Canada. I am expecting great things from this group of inspired individuals. As participant Mansi Parasher philosophized, “The more you let go, the more you find yourself.“ These are words that I feel are very appropriate to describe many of the participants who came to the program with an open mind, gave there all,were willing entertain a variety of different views and therefore received a lot of personal growth in return.
It was the last day of placements today which was very emotional. It has been a great week of placements and I think everyone has learned and grown from the experience. Here are some quotes from participants about their experience this past week.
“I made a strong connection with Mistro, the leader of construction. Its amazing how you could not speak a word of Spanish and still understand what he wants. Its a unreal experience that you can be from two different places in the world and still have a connection like no other.”
“It was an indescribable feeling seeing these kids who have disabilities and have the ability to make you smile without a cause.”
“I think it was a really good experience because we have gotten to connect with people who have the same values as us. We all want to help people who are in need. It has been really enlightening because we come from wealthy places and to see the poverty in Pacifico De Villa and surrounding areas.”
Today I returned to Laura Alva, a special needs school and Cristo Rey, a private school. The majority of the people who volunteered today had no previous experience working with people who have disabilities. This made for a very interesting and enlightening experience. Amy De Silva shared that, “It was my favourite placement. I loved playing outside with the students. They were full of enthusiasm and excitement. Everyone was so kind, it was such a heartwarming experience!” Nicole Filipek said that her experience at “Laura Alva definitely put me out of my comfort zone but as the day went on I found myself discovering what made each child so amazing. Such a heartwarming and special experience.” It has been great to see the changes in participants throughout the week. I think the most poignant change has been in the case of Laura Alva. At the beginning of the week it was a huge struggle to get people to attend the Laura Alva placement but I am happy to report that everyone who attended it has loved it so much so that almost 50% of the participants want to do back tomorrow for their last day of placements. It is so great to see the change in the participants feelings toward Laura Alva and to see that so many people now have experience working with people who have disabilities.
In the afternoon we attended Cristo Rey and helped to work on the students English. Brian Holland stated “I especially loved it because how appreciative the students were. What they said on the way out and the look on their face of overall gratitude. It was nice feeling that we were really appreciated and wanted.”
This evening we had members from Pacifico De Villa, students from Cristo Rey and members of the SIA Peru team come to the retreat house for dinner and some great conversation. It turned out to be an emotional experience for some participants who felt overwhelmed with gratitude toward all the aforementioned people and about the transformational experience that is SIA Peru May 2013.
Tomorrow is our last day of placements so it will be a sad day but also joyous because the finishing touches will be put on the room that has been built as an addition at the daycare in Pacifico De Villa and there will be many Mother’s Day celebrations. Mother’s Day is a hugely celebrated in Peru so all the placements will be presenting something, in celebration. I think this has been an unforgettable experience for all participants and many have expressed sadness about having to leave the placements but Machu Picchu and Cuzco are just around the corner and they will offer entirely different but great experiences.