Ever since I was first introduced to the concept of community service in grade 7, I have attempted to draw a closer connection to why students were asked to allocate 15 hours minimum every year to help their community. With so many community service opportunities available to students, as well as such a busy extra-curricular life, it seemed to me that students often felt unattached to the reasons behind their efforts. When I was told that as part of my Duke of Edinburgh Gold trip I would have to complete four days of grueling community service in a small community named Las Palmas, I had no way of predicting that this experience would mark me and radically force me to rethink my preconceived notion of what it meant to help another.
The day after our arrival in Peru, we met students from Markham College, in Lima, who had volunteered their time to help us perform our community service, building a set of stairs upon a steep hill, which would allow the members of said community to reach their houses and get around with ease. It all seemed like a valiant effort on our parts. The arrival of the Canadians would improve the lives of the people in need. Little did we know that the next fours days would probably have a larger effect on our lives than of those people in Las Palmas. Upon our arrival at the work sight, we debriefed, talked about the needs of the community and what we expected to gain from our experience and, very soon after, we commenced what I’m sure was the most grueling work any of us had ever undertaken.
Our stay in Las Palmas challenged us to reconsider our reasoning behind why we chose to take part in this project. Working alongside the locals who took pride in the work that we were to accomplish in the next few days, we gathered sand and stone, carried enormous bags of cement up steep, sandy hills, made concrete and poured it into molds that we had previously created for the stair, prepared the platform for the stairs, etc. I can honestly say that this was the most demanding work that we had ever undertaken and although many of us questioned why we had accepted to perform such exhausting work, there was a single moment that for many of us, made it all worthwhile. After the first series of steps were built and dried, the students from the nearby school, all under the age of 10 years, joined us to relish in our accomplishments. Amazed by our work they began to run up and down the stairs with a look of sheer joy plastered on their faces.
I am sure that all of the students lucky enough to go on this trip will never forget their experience and how much they were affected by the chance to help a community in need. The work was not pretty nor was it prestigious, but never have I taken part in something so gratifying. It was so evident to us how much the community had appreciated our work and although our time was limited, how much our relationships with the people we encountered will sculpt our upcoming years.
Looking upon those steps on the last days, I could not help but feel a sense of pride, not only in our work, but in our attempt to learn about a new culture, to unquestioningly be prepared to undertake any of the work that needed to be completed, but most importantly, I was proud in our readiness to leave all comfort zones aside in the effort to create something so much bigger that a few flights of stairs in a small community in Peru. –Noah Schouela ’11