Here’s one couple’s story of how they fell in love on one of their service vacations with Global Volunteers – and not fell in love with each other, but instead with three little Peruvian sisters. Told by Jim, two-time Global Volunteer.
Let me be honest. When my wife Connie and I decided to visit Peru, my goal was adventure — not falling in love.
In the summer of 2016, we signed up with Global Volunteers, a Minnesota nonprofit organization, to do volunteer work in Peru in March 2017. We would help out at an orphanage in Lima, the nation’s capital. And then we would hike in the Andes. I’ve been interested in going to Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas, for more than 30 years. It’s been on my bucket list and now that I’m retired, I’m trying to fulfill as many of these life goals as possible.
Connie and I enjoy going on “service vacations.” In 2014, I flew to Nepal to help build two houses in the Himalayas as part of a Habitat for Humanity team. In 2015, Connie and I helped build a house together in Argentina as part of another Habitat team. And last year, we taught English and worked on other projects in Cuba with Global Volunteers.
We feel good about these efforts because we are using our time and energy to work on worthwhile humanitarian projects while also getting to know the countries in which we are serving. I’m convinced that we learn far more about the people of other nations by working shoulder to shoulder with them. It’s never been important to me to stay at luxury hotels or eat at fancy restaurants.
Which brings me to our most recent trip to Peru. We volunteered at the PPA, a large sprawling state orphanage overlooking the Pacific Ocean. More than 250 children ranging from infants to 17-year-olds live there. Connie and I were assigned to work with three sisters who had only recently been sent to live there. We would participate in ”sibling playtime” with them.
When we arrived at the PPA, we were sent to meet the oldest of the three sisters we were going to work with. We walked with her to pick up her two younger sisters. Within minutes of being reunited with her siblings, the oldest sister’s demeanor changed from sadness to joy. She smiled and laughed and all three little girls hugged each other. We took them to a playground and for the next two hours, we pushed them on swings, helped them climb up play structures and ran around. We had a great time.
For me, it was love at first sight. The three sisters are dark-eyed, beautiful little girls. The oldest sister, 8, is a street-smart, independent-minded girl who has never been to school. She is clever and can be rebellious. She is intensely protective of her sisters.
The middle sister, 4, is a real beauty. She is a charmer and talks in a tiny, little voice. I became her surrogate Dad, or perhaps her grandfather, and she jumped into my arms every chance that she could.
The youngest sister, 2, is a strong, feisty little girl. She loves to climb and run around. She is a natural athlete. I’m convinced that she has the ability to accomplish anything she sets out to do.
Each afternoon for the next two weeks, we assembled the three girls and played together. We chased each other, rode on the teeter totters, crayoned in coloring books, made bracelets, read, and played board games together. One afternoon, we took the girls to the Lima Zoo. They had only seen animals, such as a giraffe, lion and tiger, in picture books and on TV before going to there. The girls loved eating ice cream and frolicking on a McDonald’s-like play structure together.
In a large institution like the PPA, the children are segregated by age and sex. Brothers and sisters don’t get to play with one another whenever they want. That’s why the “sibling playtime” program run by Global Volunteers is so important.
In addition to playing with the three sisters, we also interacted with other infants and toddlers and worked with them at physical therapy sessions. A loving physical therapist, Maria, worked with them to develop their social and physical skills.
At the end of two weeks, it was hard to say goodbye to the three little sisters. They are beautiful children. We will write to them, and I hope that we might someday see them again.
I should add that Connie and I did visit Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas high up in the Andes. They were magnificent. But the highlight of our Peruvian adventure was our Global Volunteers’ visit to the PPA orphanage…
It’s where we fell in love with three little girls.
Learn more about service trips in Peru
Interested in working with children at the PPA with Global Volunteers? Visit our Peru page to learn more about service opportunities in Lima.