Considering the many experiences I have had to date, I can only express this as the most humbling, inspirational and awe-inspiring journey I have taken. I would highly recommend that all persons seeking inspiration and self-growth consider participating in a volunteer vacation. Although the roller-coaster of emotions was sometimes stressful, growth is not achieved without inner turmoil. The wondrous joy felt with the genuine and continuous love expressed by the children erased all moments of fear, sadness or homesickness. As a volunteer, it is inevitable that all manner of emotions surface as a result of being away from home, where the language and customs are unfamiliar, but what a superb learning opportunity! I feel I have emerged with a new and more positive outlook on life. I have gained a higher degree of appreciation for the many blessings I have been given.
I owe this newfound knowledge to the children in the orphanage who have so little in comparison to what my children have known. Firstly, they are not able to experience the love of their parents on a daily basis. For many reasons unknown to us, the children had to be placed in care, not because their parents did not love them, but because their needs could best be met at the hogar. They may only see their parents once or twice per year. This alone was heart wrenching, without mentioning the cramped quarters, sparse clothing, inadequate care due to limited funding, too few caregivers, insufficient physical contact, lack of proper hygiene and education, and most distressing the lack of freedom to come and go. The children are locked behind the walls of the hogar twenty-four hours per day. Yet still they were cheerful, caring, loving and appreciative of any attention or small gift bestowed upon them. They brighten the lives of everyone they touch. The staff of the hogar is to be commended for the care and affection they provide for the children under such trying conditions.
Also, building the stoves was invaluable. As with the children in the hogar, the families we worked with to build the stoves have incredible stamina, and boundless love and appreciation for the assistance we provided them. They have so little in terms of material wealth, but the love they have for their children, family, community, nature and spirituality make up for the great many possessions that are visibly missing.
The experience of presenting the wheelchairs was most humbling. The families that received the wheelchairs for their loved ones were so filled with gratitude we were overwhelmed with emotions. As a result, it is my hope that when I return to Cusco with my daughter and husband, one of our projects will be to build additional wheelchairs and give them to families in need.
As I look at my last journal entry before leaving, I recall how rewarding it was to be told that I have a 'Corazon Mas Grande.' Personally, I feel the people and children of Cusco are the ones with the 'Big Hearts' and welcoming arms. I miss them on a daily basis.
I will treasure my time in Peru forever and continue to maintain contact with the amazing volunteers I did service with. I look forward to returning in 2006.