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Perspectives from Peru

The Urban Systems Foundation is into its third year of partnership with Developing World Connections (DWC), an organization that coordinates volunteer trips to help communities around the globe. Urban Systems employees are currently considering the opportunity to volunteer in Peru this coming November along with a dozen or so of their colleagues.

Staff who spent time in Peru last November 2018 have been sharing their stories companywide at the various branches since March this year. Their perspectives on what it’s like to be volunteering on the ground in Peru with the Urban Systems Foundation provides helpful information to those considering participation in this international initiative.

The previous group of volunteers included Lisa Bruvold, her husband (Troy) and her dad (Peter). They arrived a week earlier so that they could explore the Cusco and Machu Picchu area of Peru. While staying in Lima, they toured the historic art centre, and ventured to the beach for some surfing.

As fun as that was, the highlight of the trip was the week they spent volunteering at San Jose Obrero school in the district of Villa Maria del Triunfo.

Lisa explains that the countless population of this entire community, which continues to expand in this region of the Andes, is basically “squatting”.

“Peruvians come to Lima from all over the country looking for a better life,” says Lisa. “Many end up in Villa Maria del Triunfo where they claim a tiny space with a dirt or cement floor, put up tarp walls, and may have a family of eight people living there.”

The water situation is dire; 34% have no access to clean drinking water.

“They pay for tanks to get filled about every two weeks, and homes might have a hose for basic uses, like hygiene and to water the occasional ‘spindly’ tomato or radish plant,” says Lisa.

“It’s about a 1.5 to 2 km walk up a hill to get to a corner store for a bottle of water,” says Lisa. “At the school, pop is cheaper than water, so children are drinking pop all day long.”

The Foundation supports a nutrition program at the school, which provides iron and fortified foods for 50 children. Their nutrition levels and school performance is evaluated at the beginning and end of the school year.

“They are teaching kids about the nutritional content of foods,” says Lisa. “They talk about the best and worst choices, sugar content, and pop versus water. The Prominats program also tries to promote healthier options with their baked goods, like granola bars.”

One of the things Lisa liked best about her trip to Peru is the bonds developed within the group during the time they spent together sharing all of these new experiences and witnessing the impacts of their presence in the community.

“We make a difference in Peru,” states Lisa. “The last day was pretty emotional. The moms were so grateful that we care about their kids. They even bought us gifts! We’re all like, ‘Wow! You don’t need to be thanking us, it’s not expected at all. We’re here to help you.’ But they were so thankful and wanted to show their appreciation.”

The volunteers also had plenty of laughs: playing soccer and spinning tops with the kids; watching their faces as they spotted the ‘UFO’ – a drone – flying overhead; and after a day of volunteering, enjoying dinner and evenings out at fountain displays and a cultural show.

It was helpful to have Elias Hernandez and Nic Abarca along, as they both speak Spanish. In fact, this was Elias’s second time volunteering, so he already knew quite a few of the staff and children.

“Our yearly visits give the community a sense that ‘these guys are staying’ – that our staff truly care about them, and are committed to ‘giving them a hand up’ through our Foundation,” says Lisa.

Perspectives from past volunteers

Nicolas Abarca: “Volunteering in Peru was a very personal experience for me. It was as close as I’ve gotten to giving back to my home country of Colombia, which I decided to leave some 15 years ago. Growing up in Colombia, I got to experience a lot of the poverty and need that we see in the area where the Foundation is doing the work, but never seemed to be able to do anything about it. Peru opened my eyes to the possibilities of what we can actually accomplish with the program, and all the difference we can make in the lives of these kids and their families.”

Natasha Elliott: “I valued opportunities to interact with the children, be part of their cooking classes, and talk to them about life in Canada, as well as playing soccer with them. It was an awesome experience. It was eye-opening, life-changing, and I’d definitely go back in a heartbeat!”

Joel Short: “Meeting the people, understanding their needs, what they’re going through, all the help that they need… it really opened my eyes to some of the challenges they’re facing, and how we can help them. In some ways I think that the way we help them is by showing that we care.”

Elias Hernandez: “I had a really impactful experience, because I could see that some of the planning completed on the first trip were put into place on our second trip. We were able to identify some stability and continue to plan for the future.”

Terry-Jo Jardine: “It was very humbling and rewarding to see the impact our Foundation is making in the community. The volunteer experience far surpassed our expectations; it reminded us that true joy comes from seeing a child’s smile, hearing laughter in a playground and giving back to others.”

Lee Giddens: “I liked meeting the families and the kids in the community that we got to directly influence and help. Seeing a legacy built – especially letting Urban be a part of that – was very awesome!”

Ken Oliver: “The kids at the school were a highlight, especially their exuberance and friendliness against the backdrop of poverty and hardship they and their families face. A week in Peru certainly impressed upon me how fortunate we in Canada are, with our wealth and opportunity. I never want to hear another Canadian complain about lousy Wi-Fi or the shortcomings of two ply toilet paper.”

Lisa Bruvold: “I always knew I wanted to travel. This whole trip was life-changing. These memories will be with me forever!”

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