Imagine waking up each morning, crawling out of your mosquito net to go outside and see the morning mist settling around the hills of the Amazon rainforest.
Then spending the day chopping down trees with a machete to build a shelter, collecting rocks by the river to build a bridge or even hiking up into the Amazon jungle to shower in a waterfall.
And finally, spending your evening with some of the kindest and most welcoming children that you will ever have the chance to meet and the privilege to help.
Thanks to a recent school trip to Peru, for me, all this was reality.
On Monday, June 9, myself, along with 10 other Earlston High School students and 12 from Whitburn Academy – aged between 16 and 18 – headed off on our two-week adventure, along with four teachers.
Our trip was made possible by the Vine Trust, with its staff accompanying us as we visited three of the boys’ centres the charity supports, run by the Girasoles programme of Union Biblical del Peru. The homes are set up to house boys aged from babies to 18-year-olds, who, because of poverty and neglect, among other reasons, have ended up living on the streets and need a home and someone to take care of them.
We spent most of our trip in Kimo, just outside La Merced, in the Amazon jungle. This was where the real work took place and we took on three projects: to build shelters by the side of the road so that the boys can stay dry while waiting for the school bus during the rainy season; digging a new septic tank; and starting the construction of a bridge between the valley connecting the boys’ centre and the road.
We were able to spend a lot of time with the boys, playing games, such as sack races and relay, colouring in and, thanks to the current World Cup, football became something of an everyday occurrence – not that I am very skilled in that area.
We brought some footballs, toys and colouring books to give them, which were all gratefully received.
The jungle was probably the most beautiful place that I have ever visited, but certainly had its challenges. For example, by the time we were leaving to come home, each of us had perfect polka-dot legs from all the bug bites.
We also visited homes in the city of Ica, in the desert region of Peru, and in Urabamba, near Cusco. While there, we spent most of our time with the boys, including our meals.
This proved slightly challenging considering that none of us spoke much Spanish and the boys spoke little English. However, you would be amazed at how much you can communicate without words, and it is certainly true that we all laugh in the same language.
While in Ica, we accompanied a water truck as it provided free water to those living in a shanty town on the outskirts of the city. Each of us agreed that it was the most severe poverty that we had ever witnessed, and what shocked me the most was that all it costs to provide an entire truck of free water to these people is £25. I know that I will never take turning on the tap when I’m thirsty for granted again.
At each of these places we met the most incredible people who showed so much love and kindness that it touched us all deeply. Each of the centres had a couple who were known as the “house parents” and had devoted their lives to the care of these boys.
In the many farewell speeches, we were told by them: “God bless you and your family”, “The door will always be open” and “Never forget that there are people in Peru who love you”.
These are the words that really stuck in my mind. We all formed our own attachments to the children that we met and there wasn’t a dry eye as we had to part and say goodbye. I can only imagine what some of these boys must have been through in the past, but despite that they were so welcoming and hospitable, and for that I am so grateful.
Finally, it would be impossible to sum up the trip without mentioning the wonderful group that I was with and friends I have made. Some of us strangers – and some of us having known each other for years, we all formed a strong bond during our time away and I know that I wouldn’t have had such a good time if it hadn’t been for the support of every one of the members of our team. I would like to give a massive thank you to Vine Trust, Union Biblical del Peru and the life-long friends that I made.
Despite having now returned to the comfort of my own home, I can safely say that Peru 2014 – the people I met and the places I visited – is something I will remember for my entire life.