Hometown: Greenville, SC
Majors: Religion & Spanish
Why did you apply for this particular internship?
As a Spanish major, I have a long-standing interest in Latin American affairs, particularly economic development, regional politics, and the ethics of North American mission work and volunteerism. Before the Shepherd Alliance's Barron fund helped me to realize this dream, I had not traveled to the region, and I am glad to have done so as and intern under the auspices of Poverty 453.
How did your work apply to your studies at W&L?
The time that I spent in Cusco with my fellow W&L interns functioned as the field component of Poverty 101: an experience that breathed life into classroom discussions of the economics, philosophy, and politics of poverty policy. Importantly, the international component of the internship provided a fascinating contrast to endemic poverty in the United States, which I have worked with firsthand as a Volunteer Venture leader in Washington, DC.
What was the most unexpected aspect of your Shepherd Alliance experience?
Two poignant moments stand out: first, hearing that the children at La Casa de Acogida would not be read to outside of the few afternoons we spent with them; and second, a client's joy at receiving a printed picture of herself from one of the volunteers, the first and only she ever possessed. Those moments completely floored me--my fondest childhood memories are reading with my parents and siblings, and the Facebook age allows us instant access to hundreds of tagged pictures--and made me realize just how much we take for granted in the United States.
Post-Graduation Plans: Graduate school in law, international politics or religion
Favorite W&L Memory: Spring Term swims up the Maury River
Favorite W&L Event: Midnight Breakfast
Favorite Campus and Lexington Landmarks: Hillel House's E. Café, the porch atop the Elrod Commons, Nikko's Grille and Woods Creek Trail
At the end of our internship in Peru, I felt both relieved and wistful--glad to be heading back to my life back home, but already somewhat nostalgic for the great encounters, exchanges, and lessons of Peru. After two months of feeling like an outsider --the stares and calls of "gringo, gringo!" had never subsided--I could not wait to be back with my family, friends and potato-free lifestyle. But as we entered the final week in Cusco, I began to realize just how much I would miss eating breakfast with my host mother, who made sure I was never without bread and mate de coca, the ubiquitous coca tea of the Andes, and my times with a host of other people and places I had encountered in the country.
Traveling has the tendency to free the spirit and engage the senses, and for me, Peru was particularly poignant in this regard, whether it was the faded glory of Cusco's cobblestone streets, the views from Machu Picchu, the warm smiles of the women at the Casa, or on the darker side, the automobile exhaust that polluted the skies of the Sacred Valley, the terrified look on the faces of the women of the shelter recalling abuse at the hand of a loved one, or workers struggling to find employment to feed their families. Peru had challenged my assumptions about poverty, religion, society and myself, and had freed me to consider a plethora of career or volunteer options that I would have never before considered.
Ashna, Marcus, and I largely spent the final two weeks of our internships in Cusco soaking in everything that we could before leaving the country. I spent more than a few sleepless nights in my room trying to make sense of the sights, sounds, smells and experiences that had so shocked my system a few weeks before. A Western traveler looking for a bit of home in Cusco would be hard-pressed to find anything remotely pedestrian outside of the tourist nucleus of central Cusco, and as someone who came to Peru with vague expectations that I could continue my information-based lifestyle in the working-class districts of South America, I was to be taken by surprise. Nothing I had seen during volunteer work in the economically depressed areas of Washington, D.C., could have prepared me for the glorious and chaotic part of humanity that I witnessed in San Sebastián: elderly women of Incan blood working, sitting and chatting in their traditional hats while stray dogs, the city's default trash pickup system, ran by, closely pursued by children, not in school for one of the city's numerous local or national festivals. For me, this mix of fierce cultural pride, friendly and welcoming people and stubborn resistance to change came to define my experience in Cusco.
The hospitable and conservative culture led to me to love the people of Cusco and the time that we volunteers spent with them, and like many of my fellow-workers, I began to feel an affinity for the place--a feeling that lead me to consider further work in the economically disadvantaged parts of Latin America. This boon came from my frustration with the lack of economic and educational opportunities in Peru. While poverty anywhere is a complicated issue, and while those living in poverty in the United States have an incredible number of obstacles and setbacks to overcome before they can find a decent school, job or health care provider, those among the Peruvian impoverished with dreams of upward mobility or personal enrichment find it nearly impossible to find a resource that remotely resembles those in the United States. Economic exploitation in the gas fields near Cusco is inhuman, the capacity for enrollment in secondary education or university is dangerously low and the health and transportation infrastructure in Cusco is practically nonexistent or dangerously unregulated for thousands of citizens.
Hearing about these issues before arriving in South America would not have shocked me, but seeing them firsthand appalled me, whether it was the woman who could not pay the police's bribe to lock away her abuser, the young people my age who wanted a university education but who, despite high marks, could not find the space or money to make this dream a reality, or the worker who could not afford the very gas he mined from the earth because of his country's economic agreements and policies with the West. At the Casa, the afternoons that we spent reading and playing with the children were rewarding if not poignant--even though I loved reading with the children and watching their faces light up during craft time, I could not shake the thought that their short stay at the shelter might be the only time in their young lives that they lived peacefully, safely and with educational opportunities. Similarly, doing chores and projects with the women of the Casa opened my eyes to the great disparity between personal opportunity in the United States and the harsh experiences of the Peruvian women, some of whom were my age or slightly older. To think that a woman in her mid-twenties could be so profoundly affected by receiving the one and only photo she ever saw of herself opened my eyes to a radically different world. Her response to the gift--"Soy bella" ("I am beautiful")--made me realize that this woman, a recent friend of mine, had hardly been reminded that she was cherished, unique or loved.
I am indebted to the Shepherd Alliance, Peru 109, and the people of Cusco for their patronage and hospitality along this journey. During the last two weeks in Cusco, the time I spent with my family, whether at home or at Independence Day celebrations, meant that I had unprecedented access to their thoughts and opinions on education, poverty, politics, commerce and most importantly, the welcoming nature of Peruvian culture. As my host dad said, Peru may have a long way to go to increase opportunity and lessen injustice, but exchanges such as our own are the driving force for friendship, dialogue and peace.