In 2013, I had the amazing privilege of taking a great group of 12 students to Peru as part of an exposure trip. The entire trip started when I first started a small social justice group in which the members decided to compete for a $1000 technology grant to put into a good cause. We did all the requirements such as identifying a cause, incorporate technology in our presentation, and put together a simple website to showcase our use of the money.  To our surprise, we were awarded with the technology grant, and with that snowballed into something special.  The cause that we chose was the “Helping Hands Cusco” http://cuscovolunteerwork.com/ in which the organization emphasizes the involvement of community and education of its children.  The school is located on a hillside in a small community that was established to help underprivileged children in the area as there are very little public school in the region. Furthermore, not many parents of the children can provide the homework and financial support due to illiteracy rate and working odd jobs here and there. The school accepts these children, and provide them with the proper education, basic hygienic health care, and emotional support. All in all, this school was perfect in our small group of eager students in provide support thousands of km away from home.

After winning the technology grant, we decided to do more, and develop a relationship with this school. We wanted to bring awareness and fundraise for the school which we did for the next two years. We sold locally made goods that were shipped to us at school, and donated all of the money to the school in help of their construction and expansion of the school. After the 2nd year, we made a brazen decision to plan for a trip to the school. Our students added additional hours to their summer jobs, and fundraised from their friends and family to finally making a trip to Cusco, Peru. Our trip was indeed different than any other. Not only did we go there with a purpose, we had developed a relationship with this school. It was like visiting a old friend after years of communication.

School trips aren’t always the easiest to plan. Many people think that teachers have it the greatest since we get to go on a trip for free. But little do people know, the planning process is quite tedious. Papers, permission forms, parent meetings, to convincing enough students to come came down to the the 11th hour. It was more challenging to convince students to come on a trip where they are expected to volunteer by working on their holiday, while paying an enormous amount when they could have been visiting other metropolitans such as Paris, London, or even Tokyo. After all, we were roughing it out in a developing nation.  Furthermore, our trip was different than other school planned trips because we had the volunteer component, and our component was not the preplanned volunteer component found in some school traveling companies, we needed the help from the company but with enough distance away from our group that we can focus on our volunteer piece. Thus, our second week of the trip, we were on our own. We rented an entire hostel all to ourselves in the small town of Cusco, went to the local outdoor market, and planned meals for a group of 14. We cooked meals together in a harmonious way that some students did the dishes, while some provided with the entertainment (music).   That was indeed the most memorable experience of the trip. We were immersed in the culture, communicated in Spanish, and ‘worked’ during the day.

To think that this entire trip started with the seed of an idea, the opportunity, and the audacity of hoping that something great would come out from it.  That is why building relationships and immersing oneself in another’s culture are key successors to change.