By: Allison Hartman, Sophomore
This past December I experienced sadness and happiness intertwining at the same time. I experienced poverty, danger, community, love. I experienced a type of life that I never thought twice about. This past December I flew down south to La Florida, Peru.
I was told to not have any expectations, to walk off the plane with an open mind and open heart. The 11 of us girls took on an adventure that changed all of our outlooks on life, happiness and community. This trip dug up things deep inside me, tore out feelings I forgot about. I cried and laughed.
When landing in Lima, Peru we were greeted by our leader Zenon, one of the Fuller Center For Housing employees. Zenon would be our lifeline for the next week-planning our days out, along with transportation and other adventures. Showing us the true Peru he loves, not the one you see in travel brochures. He had so much to teach us about Peru and the culture in so little time. It felt like he never stopped talking. We all tried to absorb as much as we could.
These brick homes would give these families a whole new life, somewhere stable to live and create a home in. Peru is a third-world country where most of the population is living in reed homes with no running water or electricity. Much different than the way we define poverty in America.
We did get a day to explore Peru, experience the culture and nature. We went to the poor man’s Galapagos Islands: Islas Ballestas. This protected island is full of wildlife… I did get to see my first penguin. We went white water rafting, floated in-between mountains and crashed over rocks. Got stuck couple times, surroundings you don’t get in America. These things were amazing, but not the most memorable. The thing I miss most about Peru is not the adventure of going to new places, but the adventure of meeting new people and experiencing the culture through them.
At the end of each day the 11 of us sat, and talked about the the day before we went to bed. We talked about things that shocked us. What is hard for us. We also learned about each other.
The most talked about concept on the trip was the idea of happiness. We thought about the things that made us happy. What it means to be truly happy. Going through the week we met so many people, and every single person had joy, they greeted us with wide smiles and open arms. I re-evaluated what happiness was to me the moment I met those people. Living with so little and being so happy was something I had to wrap my brain around.
What made me happy? I asked myself this and I couldn’t define happiness on my own terms. As the week flew by, I realized that I don’t need success, money or superficial things to be happy. All I needed was people who love me. Just like the many people I met in Peru. Living in the U.S., materialistic things overshadow what truly means happiness to us.
We get caught up in the value of an Instagram “like”. Then forget about the people who like us in real life. That the value of happiness is something we can only find within ourselves. It’s more than telling yourself to be happy, it’s connecting with people and pushing yourself towards joy, reaching out and grabbing those people who make you feel grounded and blissful. That’s true happiness.
The importance of community hit me hard while away. Having that group of people behind you and rooting for you is stronger than just rooting for yourself. They say many hands make for light work. It is true.
In Peru, the sense of community in La Florida was eye-opening. When building homes, others in the community would show support and come by to help every so often, just out of kindness. It authenticated the true meaning of community for me. It’s the random acts of kindness, and the not-so-random. It’s opening the door for someone. Showing support for a local family in need. It’s those things that build a strong community. It’s the simple things. It’s standing behind your friends and family and not expecting anything in return.
Going into the trip I knew two out of the 11 girls going. Now I know 11 different life stories, the ups, and downs of every girl on the trip. And I know they will always be my little community. I try to carry these lessons around with me everyday. Hand out that kindness and community, because if Peru wanted me to take anything with me, it would be that.