“Arrived safely. It’s cold!”
This was the first message I sent to my family when my plane landed in Cusco, Peru. My friend Moala and I had just flown from New Zealand to participate in an ADRA Connections adventure. It was the 2019 winter there, and at the altitude of 11,000 feet (about 3,350 meters), Cusco felt freezing!
Outside the airport, Moala and I boarded a bus with a large group of volunteers whom we’d be camping with and working alongside for two weeks. More than 70 of us had traveled from around the globe to build new classrooms for an elementary school in a mountain community.
Our bus wound its way through the Andes Mountains until it reached Camp Chuquicahuana. The camp, run by ADRA Peru, serves as a hub for a variety of humanitarian projects in the area. When we arrived, Moala and I were delighted to be given soft alpaca sweaters to keep us warm on chilly nights.
Morning came all too early for us weary, jetlagged travelers, but at 6:30 a.m. sharp, we enjoyed an inspiring worship time followed by a hearty breakfast. Then we boarded the bus to travel to the job site.
When we arrived, we met a team of local men who would be working alongside us and guiding us through the construction process. We put on hard hats, protective glasses, and work gloves and joined them in digging, mixing cement, and carting water and other materials. By the end of the first week, we were comparing blisters as badges of honor for our labor.
The work was tiring, but the excitement of being in a new place and knowing that we were making it possible for more children to get an education and have better opportunities in the future made each day meaningful and rewarding.
Andreas was one of the workers of the local crew. He told me that he had four children who had graduated from the school and one more, named Susana, who was still attending. He had no professional training and needed to work multiple jobs to provide for his family.
Being able to work on the school was special for Andreas. He shared that while the hours were long and the work was draining, it was worth it all knowing that his daughter’s life will be better because she has an education.
Susana is 10 years old and enjoys playing with her friends. I had the opportunity to sit beside her in her classroom and listen to her read. “I am a very fast runner,” she told me, “and my favorite subject is communications.” Susana is very proud of her father, who is helping to improve her school.
For Susana, the new classrooms mean that she and her friends will be able to learn together. She believes that if she studies hard, she will be able to fulfill her dream of becoming a police officer. “That way, I’ll be able to keep my community safe,” she told me.
When I returned home from Peru, I told my family all about my adventures. I shared with them the warmth I felt being in the room with Susana and Andreas and learning the ways they wanted to serve those around them.
This was a life-changing trip for my friends and me. As we spent time together in service and developed a deeper connection with the community, we were reminded of our call to bring what we have together and use it to serve others with love.
Andreas and Susana were examples of what happens when we look beyond ourselves. Andreas continues to serve his family, and Susana continues her education in hopes of one day serving her community.
A Maori proverb in New Zealand says, “Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi,” which means, “With your basket and my basket, the people will thrive.” When we bring what we each have and use it together, we truly can make the world a better place.