By Michael Atlas, Team Peru Participant
Imagine a place where clusters of huts dot the picturesque mountainside. The communities are small and humble, but constantly striving to improve, growing bigger and better day-by-day. Everywhere you look, and in everyone you meet, you see hope; hope for good health, hope for community improvement, hope for a better life. This was my experience in Peru. Team Peru’s study tour into Ayacucho was nothing short of spectacular. I speak for all of us on the team when I say that this trip was touching, inspirational, and most importantly life-changing. It gave me a new take on not only poverty, but the entire way I view life, God, and myself.
While we were in Peru, we all got to see firsthand how World Vision helps those in need around the world. They do so much for the communities they’re involved in, supporting education, promoting hygiene, teaching nutrition; everything people need in order to live a substantial life. World Vision doesn’t just feed the hungry and leave; they provide communities with the basic essentials for progress, so that eventually they can move past the poverty line and become self-sufficient. I witnessed the impact of all this with my own eyes, and it was amazing. One community we visited had a guinea pig project from World Vision’s donations and teachings, and their progress was clearly evident, and quite amazing. Seeing all of the work that World Vision does overwhelmed me, and without their help I think the communities we visited would be in much worse shape.
Visiting the communities themselves was a surreal experience. It’s hard to turn everything I felt from the visits into words. Each community we visited treated us as if we were celebrities, throwing flowers at us, taking thousands of pictures, feeding us piles upon piles of food; it was so humbling. The only thing that I could think was that I don’t deserve this, that we were here to help them, not be honored. It was obvious that our arrival was as big a deal to them as it was for us, who knows how long they had been preparing for our visit; their excitement for us being there was almost greater than our own. One thing that I know I will remember for a very long time is all the children that we met. At the end of each visit, we all handed out gifts to the kids. Their eyes would grow wide with excitement, as they all swarmed and reached their hands out asking for anything we could give. I wish we could’ve given every kid we met an entire toy chest, but it still made my heart so happy just to see them all play with the little things we brought.
I went into this trip expecting to see lots of sadness amidst the poverty; I thought I would encounter illness and disease and all sorts of terrible things. I was wrong though: instead I saw pride, joy, and met people who had a better outlook on life than I did myself. Sure, we did see some people who were sick or hurt, but there was an air of hope around them versus one of depression. As people showed us their homes and their kitchens, they weren’t sad because they were poor; instead they were proud of what they had, and proud to improve their lives with the help of World Vision. This set an example for me, to not be ungrateful for what I own. I learned that it’s OK to desire more (that’s just human nature), but to remember to feel blessed for all that you have, that’s the perspective of the Peruvians we met.
Another thing I saw from the communities was an extreme generosity: when we showed up they gave us everything they had, despite the fact that they had so little. Each one of us was individually fed enough for five people! They knew we wouldn’t be able to eat it all, but they gave it us any way, as a sign of hospitality. I can only imagine what they would give if they had as much as we do. It was almost as if they would’ve given us the shirts off their backs, like Jesus taught. I found God in everyone I met, not just because these people were deeply religious (which they are), but they simply acted with the same kindness that Jesus constantly embodied.
It’s a shame that people as genuine and nice as these Peruvians are struggling just to survive and feed their children; but World Vision is changing that. I was so blessed to be able to see all of this, to meet all of these people, to even travel to Peru in the first place. I know I said this in my previous blog post, but this wonderful experience wouldn’t have been the same without the rest of Team Peru, we all bonded so close during the week, and leaving them was just as hard as it was to leave each community at the end of the day. I’m really going to miss Peru, this experience was undoubtedly the journey of a lifetime, and everything I saw and felt will be forever in my heart and in my mind.