Student volunteer Josh Elkin describes his experience serving at Sagrada Familia in Peru while learning about himself and from local people. At the age of 18, he sought out a volunteer experience that would present him with challenges and help him to achieve a perspective beyond that of his home and normal routine. Here, he reflects on what he learned about selflessness in Peru.
By Josh Elkin
I first signed up for a trip with Global Volunteers on a sort of impulse, I’ve been interested in anthropology ever since I could remember and through recent interests I was led to Peru for its deep-rooted culture. I also wanted to gain a perspective which normally isn’t available through the most common of tourist activities, while working to achieve something outside of my normal routine. Overall, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I had the support of my parents to ensure I had all I needed, which eased anxiety and added to the anticipation.
Landing in Lima around 11:00 p.m., I was surprised to see the vitality of the city to be so lively for a time which would have my hometown quite asleep. All along the route to Ancón it seemed as if the night meant nothing for productivity and excitement, even the dogs had something to do and somewhere to be. Arriving at the hotel, we were given accommodations and slept in anticipation to get started on our project at Sagrada Familia, an orphanage and public-school home to hundreds of children and shared by over a thousand students, teachers, and parents all working for a brighter tomorrow.
We were all given different assignments based on our individual expertise and interests. I personally had the opportunity to work in construction during the morning hours and assisted in the English classes during the afternoon. Although laying bricks was hard work, I had a newfound respect for the tedious practice of teaching and it was continually inspiring to hear from the teachers, some raised in Sagrada Familia themselves, returning daily to give back what they can.
Josh (left) gathers cement as Kurt (right) installs bricks. Volunteers and Peruvians work together to build new pre-K areas.
The feeling was almost psychedelic as I awoke each day to a constantly changing experience, for this trip meant it was time to face challenges I know weren’t as accessible in the comfortable routine I call home. To learn about myself, in the hope that selflessness may thrive whenever I may be.
“To learn about myself, in the hope that selflessness may thrive whenever I may be.”– Josh Elkin, age 18
Case in point, I see Liz, a former student and resident at Sagrada Familia, now an English teacher leading by example to give hundreds of children a light at the end of the tunnel, back where it all started. All in all I’d say I’ve learned about a people, and although each of us own our own uniqueness, we all live as one.
“An orphanage is usually considered dreary and uninviting; Sagrada Familia couldn’t have been farther from that assumption. I have never seen so many motivated and cheerful faces in one place, everyday was an oasis of exuberance while working with the Familia.”– Josh Elkin
In the States, an orphanage is usually considered dreary and uninviting; Sagrada Familia couldn’t have been farther from that assumption. I have never seen so many motivated and cheerful faces in one place, everyday was an oasis of exuberance while working with the Familia. Alongside those from Sagrada Familia, the people in the neighboring shanty towns were evermore delightful. With markets bustling, we would occasionally stop by for anticucho (a traditional Peruvian meat dish), fruits, and freshly made juices and coffee. Everywhere we went in Peru, you could see an unmatched work ethic and optimism, no matter the time of day nor the weather, the people of Peru are working to bring about a brighter future, evidently not just for the individual but for the community and all of Peru.
“Everywhere we went in Peru, you could see an unmatched work ethic and optimism, no matter the time of day nor the weather, the people of Peru are working to bring about a brighter future, evidently not just for the individual but for the community and all of Peru.”– Josh Elkin
“Going on this trip was the best decision I have ever made.”– Josh Elkin
Overall, it’s impossible to describe what this experience has meant to me, although I can say that going on this trip was the best decision I have ever made. It may be cliché, but I felt as if I was meant to be there. In a selfish way, my only hope is that my brief time with Sagrada Familia, might have left the sort of significance that I am so lucky to take home with me. In the end I had only one thing to say as I left Peru:
Until next time,
Viva La Familia
(Long live Sagrada Familia)