A group of Kaiser Permanente employees arrived in the village of Cerro Blanco, Peru on Saturday, August 16th, after more than eight hours in flights and a two-hour bus ride. Our group was met by Chris from Courts for Kids, and a few Peace Corps volunteers, led by Kristen Jackson. We stepped off the bus and were greeted by the people of the town, who were lined up waiting for us, with big hugs and even kisses on the cheek. No one in the town spoke English. The Courts for Kids group would be relying heavily on a few volunteers from the group and the Peace Corps Volunteers to translate any communication that took place all week long.
We were well fed all week long. The village didn’t have a lot of funds to put towards the court, so much of their contribution came in the form of feeding our group and providing a lot of manual labor. Most of the food I believe, especially the meat, was raised right on the farm where we stayed. We ate meat almost every meal, which was not common in very rural areas of developing countries like Peru. On one of the days, our volunteers Kathy and Angelica pitched in and made ceviche, a seafood dish with its origins in Peru.
The morning following our arrival, the volunteers were up and ready to work. After a minor setback—not having gasoline for the cement-mixer—the group finally started moving cement at about 10:30 and by noon we had finished the first square. The 20×30 meter court consisted of approximately 65 squares. At the pace we started out at, it looked like we might get ten squares done by the end of the week.
Halfway through the week we found out that the contractor, the people of the village and almost anyone who lived in the immediate area and knew about the court didn’t believe that a group of volunteers would ever finish a court in a week. I never had a doubt. I have done many volunteer projects with Kaiser Permanente employees and I know that they always show up and give everything they have and then a little bit more. This group was no different.
By the end of Monday we had completed 17 more squares. After two half days of work, the group was nearly halfway done with the whole court. The energy at the end of the day was high and the group bragged about its work. We talked about the idea of being able to maybe finish by mid-week.
On Wednesday, I was totally bummed because I contracted some sort of a stomach bug. However, thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, by late Thursday morning I was back up on my feet again. I even jumped in and helped the group as we began to fill the last few squares. I found out quickly though that whatever bacteria I contracted, I was pretty well wiped out still. After about an hour of tough manual labor I stepped aside and let the healthier volunteers do the work.
The court was completed by Friday. Not only did we finish a court that was about one-quarter bigger than it was supposed to be, but we did it in only two and a half days’ time. Well, really five half-days. For most of the volunteers, it was the hardest week of manual labor they have ever worked.
The court was only one of the things that could have a big impact on the village. The new court might help generate some money to bring much needed improvements to the village. It could also attract others to come and live there, building a bigger community. It will definitely be a great place for the kids to play safely and for the community to hold events.
What came to me as I thought about what else might change the village was the story about a group of volunteers who showed up from thousands of miles away and gave themselves selflessly to a cause, asking for nothing in return. (Written by Tony Fernandez, Kaiser Permanente Group Leader)
“This was my very first volunteer trip of any kind and I must say I’ve learned I truly do feel a balance in my life when I help others. My job consist of helping others but there is nothing in this world like actually paying out of your own pocket to help others and in return receive smiles, hugs, laughter, joy.” – Denise Dorado, Kaiser Permanente volunteer
“This trip incited my passion for altruism and, thus, I have decided with my family, that every vacation will be merged with a service project, as social needs exist almost anywhere at different scales.” – Ly P. Rivera, Kaiser Permanente volunteer
“I teach a class at the Huacapongo school and 2 of my students live in Cerro Blanco, they were telling me yesterday that the court is always packed with kids! They said they are starting a futbol and volleyball league! They wanted me to tell you guys how happy and thankful they are! You made a difference in those kids lives!” – Lorena Rivera, Peace Corps Volunteer in Huacapongo, Peru