Iona in Mission: Peru Reflection
Jasmin Bayla, Class of 2015
This past winter break, a team of Iona students and faculty members embarked on a mission trip to Peru. I'm pretty sure most of the team would agree that we didn't know what to expect before the trip, but we kept an open mind.
When we first landed in Peru, we were welcomed by Brother Juan, the Christian Brother who led our trip. We stayed in Canto Grande in Lima, Peru, and when we pulled into the school we were living at, some of us were shocked and others excited about how we were going to live for the next two weeks. The chapel at the school was used as the female living quarters and we slept comfortably on mats on the ground, while the men were living in the dining room. We had to get used to a routine schedule from day 1- we broke up into groups and alternated cooking and cleaning duties. We also had to be cautious throughout the trip about hygiene and staying healthy. The most difficult part was not being able to drink the water there. We had to filter the water before we could drink it or brush our teeth.
This was all simple living. Within a couple of days, we got used to the routine and living conditions, and eventually the school literally felt like our home. Everyone kept a positive mindset and wasn't fazed by the simple lifestyle.
We weren't given much time to settle though. We went to work right away. We spent most of the first day getting used to the area. Lima is surrounded by vast mountains and hills, and we spent that first day going up and down hundreds of steps throughout the hills.
The first afternoon was when we met the kids. Around 3 o'clock, we went up the hills to pick up the children from their houses and bring them back to the school. The kids knew we were coming, and we didn't have to go knocking on each individual house for the kids to follow us. We always somehow brought around 40-60 kids back to the school each day to play. The first day was difficult for some of us because of the language barrier. I knew only a few simple words and phrases, and some of us found ourselves frequently going to Caroline and Albert, the Spanish speakers of our team, for help translating. I was personally a bit frustrated because I couldn't communicate with the kids as well as I hoped to. The next time we met the kids, though, I was eased of this frustration. Within a day, they were calling us by our names and asking us to play. Within a week, they were running to us, embracing us, laughing with us, and saying "I love you" as if we were a part of their family. These kids were strangers to us just a week before, and now we were already attached. We also brought toys and gifts for the kids, and seeing them with a new soccer ball or painted nails for the first time was priceless. They were so appreciative of everything we had to offer.
When we weren't playing with the kids, we were up in the hills building a new house. We worked as a team to knock over the old structures, carry the new panels up flights of stairs, spray the panels with insecticide, drill the panels together, and then eventually paint the panels with the color the homeowner wanted. It was a long and tiring process, but seeing the finished product and how happy the family was to move into their new home made it all worthwhile.
Usually in the early afternoon if we had time before we picked up the kids, we would go to a family's house and bejewel or bean- some of us would assist women in bejeweling clothes to be resold, and others would help families unpeel hundreds of beans, also to be resold. It was monotonous, but this routine work was supposed to give us a better understanding of how these people have lived their whole lives and how they work just to feed their families.
These were the routine activities we did during the trip. On one specific day, we went to Via Salvador to visit an orphanage. It was an orphanage for abandoned children found in garbage cans and on streets. Volunteers and Christian sisters were taking care of these helpless children until they were adopted. The place was like an oasis, and just hearing the stories of these babies made us realize how important it was to educate the poor in these parts of the world.
Overall, it was easy to immerse ourselves in the culture and gain a real understanding of how these people live day to day. Especially through our routine schedule, we learned about genuine compassion during the trip through the connections we made, and realized that it wasn't really what we were doing that was important, but why we were doing it.
When we first arrived in Canto Grande, Peru, it seemed as if we had landed on a different planet. Everything was so different. The air smelt different, the roads were dirt, the buildings were bunched up together, and there were stray dogs on almost every corner. It was not until the morning when we went on a tour of the hills of Canto Grande that we witnessed the poverty first hand. During the tour we saw five year Hugo, who we all became very close to throughout the trip. He was looking through garbages to collect bottle caps in order to help support his family. This was extremely difficult to observe and to accept. As the days went by Canto Grande no longer felt so foreign. We became comfortable with our surroundings through the interactions we were having with these people. Everyone we met was so welcoming and family oriented, which is what provided me with the compassion to want to help them. By day 7 I had immersed myself within this culture. These people felt like family and these dirt hills felt like home. Everyone of those kids and parents looked at us as a sign of hope. Therefore, I felt selfish leaving Peru because I still had so much to give. Every undergrad at Iona should experience a mission trip before they graduate. A way to truly appreciate what you have is to immerge yourself within the lifestyles of those suffering in poverty. In conclusion, presence, compassion, liberation; meant nothing to me prior to my experience in Peru, but now these three words are the foundation of how I plan on living the rest of my life.