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Service Programs

IRFF Discover True Friendship Service Tour in Peru

San Juan del Alto, Peru - In a farming community of just over 3,000 residents, located in a remote part of the largely desert province of Arequipa in southern Peru, residents live simple lives, most without running water, sewage systems, or electricity. Many struggle to feed their families while working on land that belongs to others. In July of 2008, however, this community, San Juan del Alto, hosted young men and women from three continents who came to help improve village life while learning about the challenges faced by its residents.

The Discover True Friendship Service Tour of the International Relief Friendship Foundation (IRFF) began on July 6th, when 14 participants from across the United States, one from England, one from Brazil, and one from Peru met to begin their two-week journey together. They spent the first week working with residents to build a center that can host local government meetings, a community kitchen, and trainings and workshops run by community organizations. In addition, they restored and improved a playground. The second week was spent meeting with government agencies and organizations as well as visiting cultural, natural, and historical sites.

Through the entire experience, the group experienced life in a developing country firsthand. They saw the everyday challenges faced by the residents of San Juan and had opportunities to talk to families about their needs. From government officials they heard about the challenges faced by their jurisdiction. They also learned from nonprofit organizations what was being done to address such challenges and what still needed to be done. “Seeing such immense poverty has really opened my eyes to the reality of life away from America,” Emily Reuter said. “I feel changed from this project, and I like that change.”

These friendship and service tours are one aspect of IRFF's focus on finding practical solutions to the global problems of poverty, suffering and disease while promoting opportunities for long-term sustainable development for people in need.

On their first full day together, the 16 participants spent some time getting to know each other and learning about what awaited them. After lunch, they left the town of Pedregal, where they were staying, and made their first of many trips to San Juan where they were welcomed by the village’s president, mayor, and governor, as well as by some of the residents. They then met with the architect and lead builders of the community center who had prepared for the group’s arrival by laying the foundation and putting in the supporting pillars. They received an overview of the project and some training in necessary skills and soon were divided into teams to begin their work.

For the next eight days, the group labored for long hours under the strong Peruvian sun to build the community center and restore the playground. They mixed heavy sand, rock and cement – at times by hand, at times with the help of a mixer. Bucket by bucket they poured the floor of the building and the sidewalk around it and laid the bricks for the walls of the octagonal structure. They spent countless hours sanding old paint and rust off the playground equipment and then painted it anew. They outlined the new playground with large stones, spread dirt, and laid down thousands of pieces of sod to make a grassy park. They dug a trench for an irrigation pipe to bring water to the park and did countless other tasks.

During these eight days, the group visited schools and talked with the students. At a university agricultural program they learned about the local farming. They met with the local and national media (and were later featured on two national news programs), as well as with the mayor and legislators of the district of Majes, of which San Juan is a part. The group was honored to be invited into the homes of some of the residents.

At the closing celebration, the community expressed their gratitude for their work. While some work remained, the group did more than had been expected, and the building was left in the good hands of the lead builders and the people of San Juan.

The group left for the historical city of Cusco, where they met with Bartolome de las Casas, an organization dedicated to the protection of the rights of Peru’s indigenous populations. The former mayor of Cusco, who now works with the organization, described challenges facing indigenous peoples and what his organization is doing to help them. On a horseback tour, they saw the Incan ruins of Saqsaywaman and explored the network of tunnels and caves the Inca built in the hills to hide from the Spanish conquistadors.

After a scenic train ride to Machu Picchu, they learned from their guide about the history and the hypothetical purposes of the mysterious city. They walked in the footsteps of the Incan priests who lived there over 500 years ago and marveled at its architecture.

In Lima, the group was met by representatives of the Universal Peace Federation, one of IRFF’s partner organizations whose Peruvian chapter is based there. They had arranged a meeting with a Congresswoman, who thanked the group warmly for their work and spoke to them about the importance of what they had done. From there, the group was given a tour of the Congress building and then spent the evening visiting some of the other historical sites in Lima. They visited the Children’s Hospital, where they learned about some of the common health problems and spent time with patients. From there, they traveled to a community kitchen that provides meals at very low cost to needy families. After exploring tourist areas of the city, they met for dinner with UPF representatives and were presented with certificates as “Young Ambassadors for Peace.”

Throughout their time in Peru, the participants were struck by the warmth and the resilience of the Peruvian people. They were amazed by the simple lives that they led and the kindness that they showed. They realized that their actions can make a tangible change. “Peru has not only changed me as a person, but it will change the rest of the decisions I make in my lifetime,” Ali Brundrett said. “This experience has made me aware…that I need to dedicate my life to others.”

Realizing that their lives are connected to those of the people they came to serve, the young people came to understand that the differences of race, nationality and language that separate people are not as strong as the commonality that we all share and the love and respect that we can hold for each other. “Continuing to find ways to empower, serve and befriend others is vital for my own growth,” concluded Sonia Eberly.

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