Though I went to Peru with very limited development experience, I did have a few expectations. I expected to work hard, create relationships, acquire a better understanding of the hardships faced by the Global South, and have amazing cultural experiences. Though all were absolutely fulfilled, what I walked away with greatly surpassed these expectations. In addition, I had anticipated a crazy culture shock upon my arrival in Belen but it was a much slower and gradual process than I expected. It was during the situations that intimately displayed their day to day lives that I was most affected.
Throughout everything that I experienced during my time in Peru, I gained so much information and insight- some of which I’m still trying to process. Working with an amazing organization like La Restinga, and seeing some of the struggles that they endured, was extremely beneficial for my understanding of development work. I learned more about how difficult it can be to work with grants and other external funds, and how greatly it can impact progress when those sources are cut off. I was also given a closer look at how difficult successful development can be to achieve. Working with the communities is such a delicate process, and maintaining feelings of equality and respect requires a humble and careful approach. Spending time with the youth of Belen was also very enlightening and seeing some of the obstacles that they must overcome made their optimism and determination that much more inspiring. Their capacity and willingness for love was so touching and made us feel extremely comfortable and welcome. I intended on establishing close relationships with the people I met, but I could never have anticipated how much I would end up loving them. My desire to make connections would only have gotten me so far; it was their warmth, acceptance and openness that allowed me to care for them so tremendously. Such openness also extended to their excitement to learn. They didn’t take education for granted in any way, no matter how it was delivered. Whether they were practicing words in English, asking for help with math equations, or learning a bit about our culture, their enthusiasm was genuine and refreshing. The kids of Belen truly taught me how to love and learn in a way I had not previously experienced.
When I left Belen, the idea that I was not going to be returning in the foreseeable future had not settled. But recently that fact has set in, and I have focused more on how I can continue my involvement from Canada. We established such strong emotional ties to the area, and now we have the opportunity to continue supporting our southern community and family.