“So how was your trip?” is a common question friends and family ask volunteers upon their return from a service program. How do you summarize in a few words – or even a few sentences – what waging peace through people-to-people service means? Anticipating this question near the end of his Peru service program, Mike, a retiree from Wisconsin, composed his answer. He’s graciously shared it here with us:
Today, like each day this week, had its challenges and its rewards, its frustrations and its joys, more or less in equal measure. There is really no typical day here—each day is a beautiful adventure unto itself. Routines are established, relationships within the team and with the children and staff at Sagrada Familia are forged, and assignments continue to be dutifully completed. But most of all, its an opportunity to learn, to serve, and to appreciate the wonder of childhood.
“How can I explain to someone who wasn’t here the experience of being warmly greeted and hugged everywhere I went by young people who didn’t even know me?“
As I near the end of this experience at Sagrada Familia, I am already thinking ahead about how I will answer the inevitable questions when I return.
Friends and family will ask: “So how was your trip?” How can I answer that? How can I explain to someone who didn’t experience of being warmly greeted and hugged everywhere I went by young people who didn’t even know me? How can I describe the beauty and joy in the dark laughing eyes of the children at the daycare center?
What words could I ever use to share the experience of dining in the commissary– the long tables and narrow benches, the simple meals prepared on wood fired stoves in pots the size of small bathtubs, served to more than 1,000 students each day from a kitchen staff that has no certainty about where the food for tomorrow’s meal will come from?
How do I tell them about this oasis in a desert, this place of such fullness and vibrancy and love that is surrounded on all sides by such abject poverty? How would I ever explain how this dusty plot of land, that was so worthless that no one even bothered to protest when it was first settled, has now become a place of hope and promise for so many young people?
I want to describe this community in a way that does it justice, that respects its resiliency, that honors its people and its history, that expresses the struggles it has overcome and the struggles it continues to face. I guess there are no simple answers to the question “How was your trip?” and I suspect that most who ask it will not have the time or patience for the details and nuance that an honest answer would require.
“I will stand again in the current of that river of children that flows through there, and try to remember all the sights and sounds and smells of the place—the color, and the movement, the energy and the love. And I will be forever grateful for this time spent in the warm embrace of this generous community.”
So perhaps I will just keep this part of my Peru trip to myself, in a special place in my heart and memory, to be shared only with those, like my teammates, who had the opportunity to experience it. Tomorrow, I will go to Sagrada Familia one last time. I will stand again in the current of that river of children that flows through there, and try to remember all the sights and sounds and smells of the place—the color, and the movement, the energy and the love. And I will be forever grateful for this time spent in the warm embrace of this generous community. I guess you had to be there…