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Seven students, including Zoe Holder '08 (top, center) and Consuelo Gonzales ’08 (center), traveled to Chuso, Peru this summer to volunteer at a local elementary school.
Posted 07.11. 07

Service Club Lends Helping Hands to Peruvian Community

Zoe Holder ’08 returned from a Peruvian trip this summer with knowledge of a new culture, and well-callused hands from jabbing rocky ground with a pick-ax.

She and six other Wesleyan students volunteered to go to Chuso, Peru June 1-17 to help the small village with a community identified need. They are members of Wesleyan Without Borders, a group dedicated to doing volunteer work in developing countries, and keeping the Wesleyan community informed about work they do.

Their mission in Peru was to help construct a baño – or bathroom - for Chuso’s local elementary school. Under direction of a group construction leader and madres y padres de la comunidad – or mothers and fathers of the community – the students laboriously dug trenches, mixed mud and cement, hauled adobe bricks, axed through compacted soils and chopped down trees. The temperature averaged 90 degrees during the day.

“I’m not going to say that it wasn’t hard work,” Holder says. “It was completely overwhelming sometimes, but we kept up our enthusiasm and did whatever we could do to help. The locals were wonderful people and very appreciative of us being there.”

Wesleyan Without Borders teamed up with Pro World Peru, a service corps focused on developing relationships with communities. The students lived at the organization’s headquarters in Urubamba or “the land of plentiful mud and worms” and bussed into Chuso, a village located 10,000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains, for their service work.

The small school already had one bathroom, however it was unisex and overused. By pick-axing and shoveling through the dense earth, the students were able to excavate a 4-foot wide by 8-foot deep trench to place a septic system. Uphill from the trench, the students helped build an adobe structure, although they had to take a few lessons from the locals.

“It was so amazing to see how the Peruvians worked,” Holder says. “Building with adobe is so foreign to us, and it seems here in the modernized western world, we’re losing our manual labor skills. For Peruvians this comes so natural to them. It’s in their instinct.”

Holder was accompanied by Deanne Dworski-Riggs ’07, Felicia Appenteng ‘07, Consuelo Gonzales ’08, Kayla Bennett ‘10, Ashley Castro ‘10 and Kimberly Greenberg ’07. Greenberg is co-founder of Wesleyan Without Borders.

Dworski-Riggs, Appenteng and Gonzales had knowledge of the Spanish language and were able speak to the villagers in Spanish. They also helped translate for the others.

In addition to building the bathroom, Wesleyan Without Borders taught local children about proper health and hygiene using songs, plays and colorings. They spoke to the children’s parents about parasites and anemia, and suggested ways parents could protect their children’s health.

And for fun, the Wesleyan students played soccer with the children and introduced them to digital photography.

“We witnessed people living in poverty, but we also saw people living and laughing,” Holder explains. “In Chuso, it’s just a different existence and way of living from ours here in the U.S.”

During the last workday, the Peruvian women shared their own special recipe with the Wesleyan students by preparing a traditional guinea pig dish called cuy.

Greenberg says she will never forget the experience.

“The cultural exchange throughout our two-week stay was genuine and remarkable,” Greenberg says. “The kids loved to have their photos taken and watch us work as we dug our ditches; all of us eagerly waited for the soccer matches and rematches and our Peruvian leaders taught us customs and slang while we taught them about our hometowns in the U.S.”

Last year, a group of nine Wesleyan Without Borders members, including Greenberg, pictured at left, made their first development trip with ProWorld Mexico, where they helped construct clean-burning stoves in the village of Teotitlan in Oaxaca, Mexico. Next year, the group is hoping to tackle projects in Belize or Africa.

Holder, says the experience has opened her eyes to new parts of the world. Already fluent in French, Holder says there are pockets of Africa she could potentially work, but since the Peruvian experience, she’s exploring job options in Central and South American countries.

“I want to live life in a global sense by seeing and knowing everyone,” Holder says. “I want to become a citizen of the world. Peru was just one more step towards this, and I cannot wait to participate in next year’s experience.”

In the fall, Wesleyan Without Borders will present a slideshow on their service in Peru.

Wesleyan Without Borders was supported by several Wesleyan academic departments, Broad Street Books and several Middletown businesses. The group Wesleyan Without Borders is already fund-raising for next year’s trip. To make a donation or to acquire more information, e-mail Zoe Holder at zholder@wesleyan.edu.
 
By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor. Photos contributed by Zoe Holder.