The first time I went to Peru was on a volunteer trip with my university and an organization called Solidarity Experiences Abroad. Their mission is to “To promote solidarity through projects and programs that bridge Canadian people with communities in need locally and around the world. Our focus is to develop sustainable initiatives in education, healthcare, construction, environmental sustainability, and spiritual formation.” They partner with local grass-roots organizations to ensure that what we come to do, is actually what that community needs doing at the time.
We worked in a shanty town in Lima and a large portion of our work was clearing the way for, and building, a set of stairs. This was to help the residents of this town traverse the rocky and steep hills of the desert on which it is built.
It was hot, dirty, and dusty – but an amazing experience. Very few of us had any construction or labour skills, so it took longer than a skilled crew could do it, but it got done.
So how does volunteering with Solidarity Experiences Abroad work?
Mine was primarily organized through my university, but you can sign up for a trip on their website. Basically, you’d choose the type of trip you’d like to go on, pay the fees, do the orientation, and off you go.
But why would I pay to volunteer?
This is an incredibly valid question and a common one. Frankly, it isn’t something I’d do too often, but something I’m glad I did at the time. And honestly, I haven’t done it since, but still happy I did.
Firstly, ALOT of things are included in the trip. All of your accommodation and food and transportation. Those things add up. Secondly, the organization surrounding such a large group of people and logistics to get everyone what they need and to where they need takes time, energy, and people. And those people have salaries. Sure, you could do all the things that were involved yourself, but you wouldn’t meet the same amount of people, it would significantly less organized, and you may not get the same opportunities.
Also, because of the nature of the trip, it is possible to get some of it funded. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not the greatest at fundraising, but there are TONS of resources out there to help you do it. Even some of the initial info sessions before the trip were about them.
So what do you do on these trips?
The main task was the stairs as mentioned above, but e also did a few other things. Including working in the preschools assisting the teachers, playing with the children and taking them out to playgrounds, conducting a health seminar that focused on dental hygiene and head lice. A random combination, I know, but it was what as an issue at the time. And that is was Solidarity Experiences is all about – helping with the issues at the time.
During my time there I met amazing people, both the people I was working with, the organizations of the group, and the people who lived in this town. One little girl, I fell absolutely in love with, her name is Amanda.
It wasn’t all work either. We were also able to go on some side trips and experience Peru. We ate some funky food (including guinea pig!) and saw and did some amazing things. Whilst here I attempted surfing (and utterly failed), did some hiking, shopping, and general exploring. The most memorable excursion from this trip was, of course, visiting Machu Picchu.