Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Highlight Reel

With a little less than a week left in Huánuco, I can’t help but think over my time here in Peru. About how much I have changed, how much I have learned, the challenges I faced, the challenges I have overcome, and the challenges I continue to work on. I think about the wonderful friendships I have made, all the new things I have tried, and all the blessings I have been given. In order to fully celebrate my time here, I thought I would make a list of all the highlights and wonderful experiences I’ve had:

-I improved my Spanish by a mile
-I attended a wedding, a funeral, and a college graduation
- I ate guinea pig and alligator
- I visited Machu Picchu with my family
-I completed the Inca Trail with Sean and Mary
-I did a bike tour through Lima
-I learned how to drive a motorcycle (Don’t tell mom!)
-I visited “The best beaches in Peru” (Mancora, Peru)
-I attended the biggest Holy Week celebration in all of Peru
-I climbed waterfalls
- I lived in “The best climate in the world”
- I visited one of the highest cities in the world (Cerro de Pasco, 14,000 feet above sea level)
- I boated across the highest navigable lake in the world (Lake Titicaca)
-I illegally crossed over into Ecuador…oops!
-I practiced physical therapy
-I saw the first smile a girl had in months
-I helped teach a girl how to read
-I had a baby named after me
-I fell in love with a culture and a country

And of course so much more! 

I carry your heart I carry it in my heart
 -E. E. Cummings

Monday, July 2, 2012

To Give Light

  • To say give birth in Spanish, you say “Ella da luz,” which translates to she gave light

 The last two weeks in June have been especially busy for everyone in the Paz y Esperanza office. Just the other week we received a group from the River Community Church in San Jose, California. They come from all different professions and take a week out of their busy schedules to help out in Huánuco. My main job throughout the week was to translate for an art student, Michael, who provided drawing lessons for my kids therapy group as well as for the adolescent girls. Both groups really love to draw, so they enjoyed learning how to draw different animals, faces, and even sceneries. The rest of the week I spent translating in different areas or just running around to make sure the group had everything they need. While it ended up being a very tiring week, the group brought some wonderful ideas/work to the Huánuco community and Paz y Esperanza team.

                                                   Learning to draw

Now this past week I spent planning the final therapy group with the kids. We had decided that since Friday was a national holiday and everyone had off school and work, we would take the kids on a field trip to the shelter. Bright and early Friday morning we boarded 15 little ones into a small mini van and made our way to Tomaquichwa. All morning we played different types of tag, had potato sack races and balloon tosses. We then ate lunch as a group and spent about an hour in the afternoon drawing and doing crafts. It was a very busy, stressful, and tiring day for myself and Lisbeth, the psychology intern, but the kids had a wonderful time, and the children at the shelter really enjoyed having visitors and meeting new faces. All in all it was a perfect way to wrap up my therapy sessions with the kids that I have come to love over the past five months.

Last Wednesday at the shelter, I was able to see the four-day-old newborn of one of the girls there. While gushing over how adorable the small little one was, I asked her 14-year-old mother what her name was. She told me it was Hannah. Now up until that day she had not decided on a name, and I don’t know for sure if she will actually keep Hannah as the name. But it was a huge compliment that the mother was even considering naming the baby after me. It made me think about how I only spend one day a week there, and though we sometimes have deep conversations, I don’t spend ever minute with this young girl. But at the very least, I do always make sure to give her a hug and a kiss and ask her how the baby is doing. It made me think that maybe it isn’t always the quantity of time you spend with a person, but the quality. I thank God that I was given the opportunity to give this new 14 year old mom love each Wednesday, and I wish her nothing but the best with her new light of the world. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Save The Children

June has been a busy month for me. We have been preparing for a group to come from the States, while also preparing for and putting on workshops each Friday. The workshops are about protecting the children in our communities, and my main job is to prepare all the materials. Even though, I sometimes find the 5-hour workshops to be long and a bit boring, I think they are incredibly important. They are presented to men and women of the community, from all different professions: teachers, nurses, and even stay at home mothers. The main topic covered is sexual abuse: what it is, what it can look like, how to prevent it, how to stop it.

Just to give an example of why these workshops are so important, one of the girls I work with is 9 years old. Her stepfather began abusing her when she was just 5 years old. When she told her mother, she was told to stop being ridiculous. For 3 years she suffered in silence, until her teacher started to notice that her behavior was off. When she asked the young girl what was wrong, the girl confessed for the first time to someone outside of her family. Luckily her teacher not only believed her, but also took the appropriate measures to make sure that this girl was given the treatment and care she needed.

She, and other children I work with are the reason I feel so strongly about these workshops. With the percentages as high as they are, it is possible that each one of the people coming to the workshops know at least one child who has been or is being sexually abused. Though we would like to believe that their parents would immediately get them help, it unfortunately isn’t always the case. Therefore, it is important for these people to understand exactly what sexual abuse is, what it looks like, and the appropriate steps to take if encountered. I thank God that this teacher decided to think twice about the young girl’s behavior, and that she followed through. I pray that through this workshop we can help other young children who are suffering. I pray that if these participants encounter an abusive situation, that they have enough strength to follow through. And until then we shall continue to pray for the little ones that suffer in silence.

                     Beky, one of the psychologists, explaining sexual abuse

"Every person I work with knows something better than me. My job is to listen long enough to find it and use it."

Jack Nichols

Thursday, May 24, 2012

May You Always Laugh, And Laugh Often

As some of you know, I spend all of my Wednesday’s at the shelter run by Paz y Esperanza. The shelter is called Casa de Buen Trato (The house of good treatment) Hovde, and it does a number of wonderful things. Two of its main focuses are providing a place for victims of sexual abuse, whose abusers are usually in their own family, and a refugee house for women that are victims of domestic violence. The shelter is about 30 minutes out of town, so I don’t get to go out there as much as I would like, but I always cherish my time there.

                                                          The Shelter

Each Wednesday, I wake up early in order to catch a 7:30 am bus that takes me out to Tomayquichua. There I meet the people who work at the shelter in another bus that takes us to the shelter. Every time I walk through the doors, at least one of the little ones runs up and greets me with a hug and a kiss. It’s literally the best part of my entire week. One of my favorite things about the shelter is that if I ever sit down, one of the little ones always climbs up in my lap, and if that one leaves another one will usually crawl right in.

In the mornings I usually spend time with the adolescent girls that don’t have classes till the afternoon. We work on homework, talk, listen to music, and they love to play with my hair. I also watch the babies or little ones that are too young for kindergarden. It’s always an adventure with them, but I am constantly amazed with their imagination. I can usually just say these sticks are a motorcycle, let'sgo for a trip, and the next thing I know it's three hours later and they are still riding their imaginary bikes.

The afternoons tend to be a bit crazier. My job is to help Esther watch all the little ones while their moms are taking classes. We have to help them with their homework, and then we usually try to take them to the farm, but only if they behave well. At the farm there is a pond with fishes, a giant turtle, cows, guinea pigs, rabbits, and the coolest playground ever. Needless to say, the kids love going there. 

                                                     Some of the cows!

Whenever I’m about to leave, I have to sit near the office so that they can let me know when the bus is going to head out. At least two of the girls always come and sit by me, and of course my lap is always full with one of the little ones. Last week I was sitting there with two of the newer girls. Both were on the brink of tears, telling me about how much they miss their families and how they want to go home. I sat and listened to them express their fears and concerns, and then I told them that I too wanted to go home. I told them that I hadn’t seen my mother in almost 6 months, and I knew how hard it was to be away from your friends and family. But I also told them that like me, they have wonderful people around them who are supporting them and trying to help them through every step of this hard process.

To change to a lighter subject I started practicing the little Quechua I know because both of these girls speak Quechua as their first language. The girls started laughing at my terrible attempts, but when I finally said Tupananchis Caman correctly, they yelled and hugged me tight. It was then that I realized that was the first time I had seen one of the girls laugh.

Some days at the shelter are just plain crazy. Some days I feel like all I do is chase around little kids saying, “No don’t throw that,” “No don’t hit her,” “You need to share the leggos.” Some days I go home covered in dirt, orange juice, and snot. But I usually end up leaving with a heart full of love for each and everyone of them.

In just two short months, I will leave the girls and little ones, but every day I pray for them. I pray that they grow up to be beautiful, strong, independent women/men. I pray that they are happy, but most of all I pray that they continue to laugh, and laugh often. 

"Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty." -Mother Teresa

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tupananchis Caman

Thing we learned about Inca/Quechua culture:
-They believe in three worlds: The world above- Hanan Pacha, the world now- Kay Pacha, and the world below- Uka Pacha
-There is a ceremonial way to chew coca leaves that includes making a wish in them
- It would have taken the Incas about a week and a half to run (yes, run) a message from Cusco to Lima
-Tupanachis Caman is Quechua for I will see you in another life

This past week was honestly one of the best weeks of my life. Mary, Sean, and I made the most of our week vacation by completing the 4-day Inca trail! We headed to Cusco on Saturday and spent two days eating pizza and bagels and enjoying the beautiful city.

                                  The girls getting excited over bagels and fresh juice! 

Monday morning bright and early, we were picked up by our trekking company Peru Treks. It actually started a bit stressful because I was picked up alone, meaning that I was in a different group than the girls. While sitting on the bus alone for those first two hours, I simply prayed that God would allow us to all be together, or that I would be given a really fun group that I could bond with on my own. I was lucky enough to have both of them come true. Not only were the girls put in my group, but we also had wonderful guides, and an amazing group as well!

                                 Our amazing group and our amazing porters! 

So we finally began the trek, together, and had a wonderful first day! We had decided long before that we were gong to be strong, independent women that carried their own bags. This sounds all well and good until about 6 hours later when the only thing you can think of is taking off your pack. Throughout the first day, a lot of the scenery was very similar to what Mary and I see daily, but even though I see it daily, it still takes my breath away. While looking at those mountains, I had to ask myself how I am going to leave them. It is strange how after 8-9 months they become a comfort, something you rely on to always be there. 

After spending the night at the campsite and two delicious meals later (the food was super super good!) We woke up early to coca tea being delivered to our tent. I whispered Mary a happy birthday because I knew she didn’t want too many people to know, and we set off! Now let’s go back a few weeks when a friend of mine, Juan, was giving me tips on the trek and told me that on the second day you will, in his words, “Go just a little bit up.” Now what Juan actually meant by a “little” bit up was 6 hours straight UP hill. Sure we took our breaks every couple of hours, but getting up Dead Woman’s Pass was not easy, especially with all of our stuff. BUT we did it, we rocked it, and we had so much fun talking, laughing, and helping each other along the way. 

                                             The Inca trail drawn out

                        We had started that down allll the way at the bottom! 

Now day three is the longest day, which sounds fine until you wake up and realize that your muscles are so sore that just getting down to the bathroom sounds hard. But after a little bit of breakfast and a spike in adrenaline, we were off once again! The third day was honestly one of the most beautiful because you pass into jungle territory, so it’s very lush and green. We spent the majority of the day just trying to take it slow and enjoy everything around us.

                                          Just one of our amazing views 

So I mentioned before that Mary didn’t want anyone to know about her birthday, but during one of the breaks on day three, the guides asked her when her birthday was. She seemed a little concerned that they now knew that her birthday was the day before, so I tried to reassure her by saying, “Mary it’s okay, it’s not like they are going to bake you a cake, we are in the middle of the Inca trail.” Oh but was I ever so wrong. That night, after dinner, they served us a beautiful birthday cake for Mary, which also became a celebration of our last dinner together. We still have no idea how the cake turned out so amazing. The guides say it was magic… I say there was a bakery around the street they didn’t tell us about, we shall never know!

The fourth day started early so that our wonderful porters could make their train home, and so that we could get to Machu Picchu before the sun rose over it. So we hiked a short hour to the sun gate, spent about half an hour admiring the view, and then spent the rest of the day walking around Machu Picchu. We were then able to all eat lunch together in Aguas Calientes, and then take the train back to Cusco.

                                        Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

One of the things that I really loved about this trip was that our guides were shocked that Mary, Sean and I had only known each other for 9 months. The also told us that we were the “craziest” girls they had ever met. And while that sounds a little bad, it really just means that they had never seen three girls continuously laughing, singing, and enjoying each others company. We may have only known each other for less than a year, but we are already like sisters, something I’m so proud of. I was also proud that our group was known as the “noisy” group because we always clapped for each other, our porters, and our porters always clapped for us. It may have been annoying to other groups, but we had an unforgettable time because of it.

                                                      We made it!!

Now, I’m back in Huánuco and looking forward to spending my last couple months with my family and friends here. As always, sending so much love to everyone!

“I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it's the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It's probably the most important thing in a person.”

Friday, April 27, 2012


It seems like daily I am learning something new, or trying a new activity. Not all of them are super exciting such as learning how to bind books, but if it’s there to learn, why not learn it? That is why I try to say Sí (yes) to almost every opportunity presented. So when my boss asked me if I wanted to help a victim of domestic abuse, from a physical therapy standpoint, I said yes, even though I was a bit nervous. Technically I’m not a physical therapist, but I have spent many hours watching physical therapists work and discussing ideas or treatment plans for patients. Why not give it a shot, right? I began by making my own evaluation form because technically everything I do has to be reported back to Paz y Esperanza. The evaluation form included a body in which she got to circle where her pain was, and asked all sorts of questions from what time of day is the pain the worst to does it hurt when people touch you. I then got to meet with her and talk about how she was feeling and what my plan was. I expected it to be a short 30 minute session, but I ended up sitting with her for awhile because she told me all about herself and her life after her husband. I didn’t understand absolutely everything, but it didn’t really matter because she didn’t need me to respond, she just needed me to listen.

After my initial evaluation, you could call it, with her. I set to work, finding exercises and stretches that would give her some relief. Then I met with her again this past week to go over all the exercises and talk about how she was feeling. When I handed her the papers, saying she could keep them, she began to cry and kept thanking me for taking the time to help her. It is amazing to me that at first I found it to be not a big deal, just a bit scary, yet she thinks it is the biggest gift in the world. They are right when they say it’s the little things that matter, and little does she know that I really do enjoy playing physical therapist, so really she is helping me also.

This past weekend I also said “Yes” when Esther asked me if I wanted to plan a day trip to Huánuco Pampa, also known as the Old Huánuco. This old Huánuco was built by the Incas and was one of their many cities from Ecuador to Chile. The thing about Huánuco Pampa is that it is hard to get to. It’s about a 4-5 hour drive from Huánuco (the new Huánuco), which consists mainly of twists and turns through mountains and mud streets. It also sits about 3,600 km above sea level, which basically means that it is really high, high enough that you can feel the lack of air when breathing. Esther and I went with some friends of the family that own a tour agency, so we were able to get a full tour, and also learn a bit about the history. It was a fun way to aprovechar (take advantage of) the weekend, as the Peruvians would say.

                      Esther and I with our tour guide Juan at Huánuco Pampa

            Esther and I in front of the Inca crown (a huge rock in the shape of a crown)

Now this next week I will be staying at La Granja (the farm) to help translate for a group coming from the states that will be helping at the shelter. And then I’m off to Lima, and then off to Cuzco to walk the Inca trail with Mary and Sean! Hope all is well at home, so much love

“Because if grace is water, then the church should be an ocean. It’s not a museum for the good people, it’s a hospital for the broken.” –Jefferson Bethke

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Books I have been reading:
-The Hunger Games trilogy - Suzanne Collins
-A Stolen Innocence –Elisa Wall
-Love Wins: A book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived –Rob Bell
-Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith –Anne Lamott

While sitting on the beach in Mancora about a month or so ago, I had a conversation with Mary, a fellow YAV. We were talking about perspective, about looking at every troubling or difficult situation in a different light. Mary gave me the example of how we don’t necessarily enjoy riding in crowded buses for long periods of time in order to get around. She then continued to say that maybe instead of being frustrated or annoyed we should think of the hypothetical woman that rides the bus two hours to work each morning and then two hours home. She does this because she found a better job in a nicer district, however, she can’t move because she can’t afford to live in that district. So she can’t move, yet she has to work in order to provide for her son. We get annoyed because the bus is hot and crowded, yet this woman is losing four hours each day that she could be spending with her son, all because she needs to provide for him. Maybe our bus rides aren’t so bad after all.

Since that conversation, I have tried to give myself some perspective whenever I am frustrated or slightly annoyed. For example I tend to be cranky when I wake up at 5:30 am to run before work (who wouldn’t right?) But as soon as I leave my house to meet Bani Diego (my awesome running partner) I see the many women and men that clean the streets each morning before sunrise. I have no idea what time they actually start working, but I would guess it to be around 3 or 4 am. As you can imagine, this job isn’t glamorous and isn’t a choice for these people, but rather a necessity in order to provide for their families. So yes, I want to secretly crawl back in to bed and tell Bani we will run another day, but I continually remind myself that if these women and men can wake up super early to clean the streets with a smile on their faces, I can get up and run (a choice) with a good attitude. Another example is when I don’t think I could possible eat another plate of chicken and rice. It’s then that I try to think of the families that can’t afford rice, let alone chicken, and will once again be eating potatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is in these moments that I thank God for how incredibly blessed I am, and pray for strength and support for all those who are not as fortunate. 

Another thing I am always trying to find perspective for is the kids therapy group, and I’m starting to realize that it’s worth getting a bit stressed out in order to see the kids laugh and just be kids. Last week during the therapy group we talked about family. We read the story of The Prodigal Son and talked about some of the emotions we can have within our own families including happy, sad, jealous, and mad. We explained that we aren’t always incredibly happy with our families, but we need to communicate and forgive because we love each other. We then had the kids draw their families and explain who was in the drawing. The last project was to have all the kids write down one thing that they do really well at home such as: help out my mother, wash the dishes, take care of my little siblings etc. on a piece of paper. On another paper we had them write one thing that they needed and wanted to work on such as: listening, eating more, or sharing toys. Both of the pieces of paper were then put into balloons, blown up and taken home to help them remember what they wrote. And even though I felt like a crazy person that needed a nap, all the kids left with a smile, that’s enough perspective for me.

Now it’s off to plan more therapy groups for the kids. Hoping all is well at home. Much love to all!

                                      The group in front of the lookout in Ayacucho