Why You Won’t Regret It
I have one week left in Lima. I have learned more about myself in these last 2 months than I have after years of college. Going abroad alone is an experience that forces you to be vulnerable, encourages you to be independent, and pushes you to new boundaries you didn’t think you were capable of. Working abroad, specifically with an organization as selfless and impactful as MEDLIFE, is truly humbling.
At my first community meeting, the 11 Volunteer Affairs Interns, SeÃ±or Carlos, and George took two combis and a moto taxi to the pueblos jovenes. The mototaxi was absolutely terrifying. We were off-roading in what felt like a motorized tricycle. Stray, angry dogs chased us up the mountain side. We got to the top and saw the pueblos jovenes lit up below. The overcast skies of Lima revealed no stars. The only lights were the faded orange lamps that lined the dirt roads, casting just enough light to dodge dogs but not to dodge the dog feces.
We made it to the meeting, and everyone stood at the bottom of the stairs. On one side there were the American interns–11 of us. On the other side stood about 30 concerned Peruvians, men and women of all ages. Carlos began to speak.
He thanked them for having us here. He introduced the interns. He explained our goal to build a staircase in their community and apologized for the 2 year wait, from our lack of funds. He asked if any organization has ever reached out to them, has ever asked if they needed help, has ever asked for their input. “Nunca,” they murmured in unison.
He continued to discuss the importance of education. He asked how many women have gotten pap smears and clinical breast exams. He called out three women and asked each one if they knew why it was important. They didn’t. They were embarrassed. But it captured everyone’s attention. He asked the men to raise their hands if they were over 40. They didn’t, so he called them out. He asked if they’ve gotten prostate exams before–only one person had. He briefly discussed safe sex practices. He covered a lot in the hour we were there. He ended with a talk about unity. MEDLIFE works together WITH the community. Carlos ended his speech by saying “manos que trabajan juntos son mÃ¡s fuertes.” Hands working together are stronger. Some community members spoke and expressed their gratitude.
Then we hiked. In the dark, in the cold, we climbed the mountain side. It was a trek for the interns, but a common path for the community members. Someone slipped. I pictured it raining, and all of us slipping off the mountain side. I wondered how young children made this trek. We used the lights from our iphones. We were told that the trek we made was where the stairs were to be built.
I felt the beauty of childhood within me–the excitement and wonder of seeing things for the first time. Before this trip, I had never seen so many homes packed onto a hillside. I had never seen a hospital with beds outside because the emergency room was over capacity. I had never seen an NGO working hand-in-hand with a community to build a cement rooftop. I had never seen nurses trek up a mountainside to hunt for a patient’s home, with no GPS, in order to provide follow-up care. I had never seen a doctor buy an entire community breakfast and proceed to give them an educational talk on nutrition.
I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by the most inspirational, loving, and beautiful group of interns. Whether it was an issue of cultural sensitivity, the safety of children at a daycare, respecting a community by obtaining their consent, or working to influence others through a documentary, these interns persistently took action and inspired others to do the same.
Traveling opens up your mind as you meet people beyond the boundaries of your family, friends, and hometown. I am leaving with part of Peru in me–I am keeping part of Lima in my heart. Everyone I’ve met, as well as the kind souls I never crossed paths with, are a small piece of me as I carry their stories. I came into this internship with a plan, and left with much more than a list of goals could ever create. I hope to use my experience to inspire others to not only volunteer for MEDLIFE, but also to travel. This experience was so much more than working for a non-profit. It was a chapter of a story that can be told after my death; that my children can tell their children I took part in.
When you believe that one person cannot change the world, you are ignoring the power that comes with sharing stories. A passionate person acts as the first domino in a row of billions–a person is as powerful as their experiences, and these experiences are meant to be shared with others.
Whether it is a spontaneous decision, or a decision planned out years in advance, going abroad with MEDLIFE will be life-changing, and it is well worth taking a break from your life to experience someone else’s reality.