Last summer (August 2016), I spent two weeks volunteering in Lima, Peru. This is an experience that I would recommend to all of you for many reasons which I will develop in this article.
First of all, volunteering is an unforgettable human experience that will definitely change you and the way you think. You will have the opportunity to discover and learn so much about the living conditions as well as the culture in developing countries such as Peru.
In my particular case, I knew, before landing in Lima, that misery and poverty were omnipresent in such a country. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop me from being surprised and completely disorientated when I arrived. Hence, I don’t think that you can have an actual idea of what daily life looks like in those countries until you see it with your own eyes.
Moreover, volunteering will give you the chance to help people that actually need it and to plunge into the heart of the prominent issues that characterize the country you’re volunteering in. Regarding my own experience, I picked the Childcare program (among other choices such as construction and renovation, medical or teaching English). Once I arrived, they directly assigned me to an orphanage where underage teenagers, either pregnant or with a baby already, were placed. The youngest girl was 11 and her baby was 1 year old. As you might already know, abortion in Peru is illegal under any circumstances, so most of the girls I worked with had been sexually abused or abandoned by their boyfriend/family. Thus, the goal of this institution was to teach those young mothers how to take care of their babies and how to cook, draw, do craft work and other little activities to make sure that, when they turn 18, and they want to leave the institution, they can easily find a small paid-job and provide for their family.
As volunteers, our job was to organize some activities such as spa day, jewelry making, movie day, English lessons or talk/listen to them so that, for a brief moment, they get to take a step back from their maternal responsibility.
Although it can be tough to handle at first as you’re confronted to real pauperism in a country where laws are quite different, it is by far one of the most enriching experiences that exist.
Additionally, outside the volunteering experience, you get the chance to meet amazing people from all over the world. By those people, I mean other volunteers, the families that offer their houses, the people in the institutions and the program coordinators.
All of those people are gathered for the same goal and passion: making improvements in a society where things are not always easy and forming a community solely dedicated to help and to share love.
Finally, I think it is one of the best ways to travel because you actually see all sides of the country. Indeed, when I travel with my family, I generally go to touristic places that are kind of Europeanized. The thing is, it’s not representative of the country you’re visiting. During this humanitarian trip, I was staying in San Miguel (district of Lima) which is considered as a middle class neighborhood where tourists don’t usually go. Thus, I was really in touch with the local people/shops and the Peruvian culture.
To my mind, this is what travelling is all about.
To briefly sum up, don’t be scared to go out of your comfort zone, be aware that there’s a different world outside and dare to make an impact.