The collection of entries below is supplementary to my previous blog post, A Stairway from Kamloops to Lima.
Team Cedar, checking in! Here we are in Lima, a 13 member group of Ced
ar Dental Centre employees along with family, friends, and significant others. It’s been a couple days now since the bulk of us left Kamloops for our South American destination. After about 14 hours of flights, shuttles and airport lines, we finally arrived in Lima. One night to regain the sleep we lost in transit, a whirlwind tour of the city most of us have never seen before, and another slumber brought us to this morning.
Today was the beginning of our hands-on volunteer excursion with Developing World Connections, and what an amazing experience it has been already! At 8am or so we boarded our bus, which carried us to our orientation with host partner IFEJANT. From there, we rode on beyond the limits of pavement to dirt roads rising to the hills of San José Obrero, the destination of our whole reason for being here in Peru. Upon arriving we were guided through the local school, a budding hub of education built partially with the assistance of past groups like our own, and one that we are here to further improve upon. We spent the remainder of the morning getting introduced to teachers, parents, and the vibrant smiling children that filled each classroom.
After introductions were finished, the work began. Our assigned project was to construct a set of concrete steps from the main school building to the dining hall on the hill behind it, a path currently rendered more or less inaccessible by the muddy slopes in winter months. We approached our mission with enthusiasm, cooperating with local workers and parents of the school children to pack the wooden frame of the stairwell with rocks, and then mix cement to be carried bucket by bucket and poured on top. Between loads we had time to interact with some of the kids, a great pleasure to us all. We learned that high-fives and certain clapping rhymes are truly universal.
By the end of the afternoon we had nearly every step filled with concrete and leveled off. We wiped our sweaty dirt-covered brows with exhaustion, a feeling neutralized by the sense of satisfaction we felt in being part of an effort to assist in a community that we had already grown to adore and feel welcome in.
An end of day question from one of the locals about our cerveza preference was answered with a unanimous “Cold!”, prompting laughter all around from us and our new companions. We left the school with waves and grins, already looking forward to our next day on site.
Dia dos terminado! This was a full day of hard work by all of us, and we are certainly feeling tired tonight.
This time we headed straight to the work site, after a brief stop to pick up uno serrucho, and once we got there we continued right where we left off the day before. Working alongside local construction buffs “Big Boss” Abdias and Miguel the concrete mixmaster, we continued work on the stairway to the school’s dining hall.
Oh yes, let me make an amendment! In my blog of yesterday, I falsely reported that we had filled and leveled nearly every step of the stairwell we are building. What I meant to say was that we had nearly HALF the steps completed. Today we tackled the rest, working our way upwards which meant increasingly high climbs with buckets of concrete. On top of that, we began digging a trench to form the basis of a walkway alongside the dining hall. Hence tonight’s exhaustion!
Throughout the day we also practiced several newly learned Spanish words and phrases, managing fragments of friendly conversation with the other workers and school children. The end of the day was one big photo fest, all of us posing and jesting with the kids. Their enthusiasm makes our aching muscles totally worth the effort.
Time now to rest. Hasta mañana!
I almost miss snow. Us Kamloopsians are used to scorching summers, but coming to Lima from the lingering winter weather we’ve been recently used to was quite an adjustment of climates. By day three of working, many of us were burnt and blistered from the powerful sun.
Despite the relentless heat, our determination to contribute never waned. We dug, hauled rocks, mixed concrete, and built wooden frames for yet more stairs. The school children certainly helped to keep our spirits high during it all, marching out to sing and present us with posters they had made.
After lunch, we reciprocated with a presentation of our own. Having a dentist, three hygienists, and a dental receptionist in our group, we spent the afternoon visiting each classroom to promote dental health to the kids. The Cedar Dental Centre members demonstrated proper ways of brushing and flossing to the children. Some of the rest of us were dubbed honorary dental staff members for the afternoon and distributed toothbrushes, floss, and toothpaste to every child.
We hope they will continue to take good care of their teeth, because those kids sure love to smile!
Physically it feels like we’ve been toiling away for weeks, yet otherwise it seems like we only just arrived in Lima. Now, to our great regret, it is over.
Day four at the school was a continuation of the first few weeks. More mixing of cement, more stacking of boulders, and plenty more sweat. Add to that the digging of holes for poles to support the railings of the stairs. That same day we also brought a translation dictionary for Abdias, who was as eager to speak English phrases as we were to learn Spanish.
In the afternoon, we wound down with games of soccer and volleyball with the kids, which tested our skills and showed that we may be better at heaving loads of concrete than we are at sports. Apparently the athleticism of a group of Canadian adults and teenagers is no match against a bunch of energetic Peruvian children!
The next day was our last, and so we really made it worth our while. We pushed through from morning until mid afternoon with hardly a break, determined to finish our project before our time there was done. By the final hour, the rock wall base along the dining hall had expanded, and railings were put in place to line the brand new set of stairs leading up to it.
To celebrate the completion of our stint at the school, a party was held in one of the classrooms, attended by children from several grades. They showed their gratitude to us with speeches, musical presentations, gifts, and a round of dancing that some of us couldn’t resist joining in on. At the end of it all, I think it was we who were left the most grateful for the way each one of them had touched our souls and been so welcoming to all of us. After a heart-wrenching frenzy hugs and goodbyes, we boarded our bus knowing that we had made a meaningful connection with this community and its people that would stay with us forever.
Thank you to Abdias, Miguel, and the rest of the work crew, to the school staff and parents of San José Obrero, and to Developing World Connections and IFEJANT, for joining together to make this such a memorable and rewarding experience. Most of all, thank you to the wonderful children, who have shown us firsthand that projects like this one can truly affect the lives of budding generations, as well as our own. While I’ll be happy not to hear the words “Mas cemento!” again for quite some time, it is awfully sad to have to leave so soon.
Team Cedar, checking out!
– Cory Stumpf