University of Washington Student Athletes Do “The Work” with Peruvians in Santa Isabel

“Asi es la chamba!” was shouted across the wet strips of pavement, usually followed by a smile or a laugh, as student-athletes and Peruvian locals shoveled and poured gravel and sand.

“Asi es la chamba,” meaning, “this is the work,” reminded us that through setbacks and frustration, this is what our trip was all about. In a joint effort, we were able to build a sport court that would leave a lasting, positive impact on a deserving community and change our own perspectives, as we quickly learned that sometimes all that it takes to break down barriers is a little bit of hard work and homemade cement.  

On June 9th, twenty-three student athletes and administration staff from the University of Washington departed from Seattle to Santa Isabel, Peru. We were greeted by a group of excited kids and adults with signs that said they were ready to play. It was instantly apparent how welcoming this small community was and how important this experience would be for everyone involved. Throughout our stay in Santa Isabel, we were constantly reminded of how grateful the community was to share this experience with us and how important our presence was for the locals and other nearby communities. Despite a language barrier, we became quick friends with the locals in the community through play and sport, creating one of the most unique relationships that I have ever known.

On day one, after our first breakfast of chicken and uka (similar to a potato), we got straight to work, placing rocks in the area that the locals had already cleared for the court before our arrival. We knew that our court’s construction was already a little behind schedule before we had even started, as it would take two full days of work before we could pour any cement. However, that didn’t hinder anyone’s enthusiasm. We spent all of our work days conversing with members of the community and trying our best to keep up with the kids, who had seemingly endless energy.  

On each day, the locals would bring out a midday snack for us, including delicious mangos, coconuts, bananas and sugarcane. Food is a very important part of the culture in Santa Isabel, and we were provided with a variety of Peruvian meals from families in the community throughout our stay, ranging from simple rice, potatoes and chicken soup, to bull stomach and a particular Peruvian favorite, Guinea Pig.

On the second day of work, we realized that we had not properly leveled the court and needed to move the rocks and dirt from the higher end of the court to the lower leveled areas on the opposite side. Without hesitation, the locals were already tearing up the previously finished surface, even though it wasn’t exciting to think about redoing what we had already done, that was the work, and this exceptional group of people re-leveled the court, and had fun while doing so.

The next three days were the most challenging, as we were pouring cement. One of the popular debates among our group was how we should position the mixer for the pour. We could either place the mixer on the side of the strip and roll the mixer as we poured, or place it in the confines of the strip and lift it as a group as we made our way to the other side of the court. It was interesting to see the different ideas of how we were going to get this job done, but after a compromise about how we would use the mixer, we developed an efficient system. We had four groups in rotation:  moving from sand to gravel, then water, and then a break. The teams on break usually took control of the music, played with the kids and took in the beautiful mountainous views.

The last two days on the court were long, as we managed to pour four more strips of concrete to finish the court. After an afternoon of rest, we got to play on the brand new court during our last day in the community. We got to watch the Peruvian soccer team compete in the world cup before spending the rest of the afternoon and evening competing in volleyball and soccer with the locals. The locals wanted to compete against us at first, but we eventually began to play together on teams that consisted of locals and our own athletes, which was special to be a part of.

After a story in the local newspaper about the ‘wonder court’ being built in Santa Isabel, people from other towns wanted to come and see what we were all about. During our last evening, dozens of people gathered in the community for a celebration including a dance and music.

We were reminded once again of the importance of this court. After a week of hard work, we celebrated an amazing accomplishment that will touch this community for generations to come. For many of us from the UW, this was our first international trip. This court took a lot of work, and I will always remember how much fun I had with my fellow Huskies and all that we were able to experience in this community and beautiful country. The culture was amazing, the work was challenging, and the views were sweeping, but the most impactful part of this trip was the people.

Asi es la chamba! – Written by Mikelle, UW Student

“I learned so many things, but some of the biggest things I learned from them was that compassion, thankfulness, and selflessness crosses any language barrier.  No matter where you live, what you do or do not have, those core values can be given with open arms.” – Jaqulyn

“I was truly impressed with the willingness of the community to give up their homes for us, their communal space, their food, and their time.  It is hard to imagine an American community doing such a thing except in a time of extreme emergency.

“I also loved having the opportunity to see not only a new part of the world, but to do it in a way that never would have happened if I had planned the trip on my own.  The opportunity to live among a community that lives simply and depends on a network of ‘faces’ (vs. ‘faceless’) for supplies, food, etc., was one that will stay with me and I will carry back to my urban world.” – Nina

“My favorite memory from this trip was helping a family prepare lunch.  I was welcomed into their home so openly and easily, and for a few hours, I felt like I was a part of their family as well.  I learned that no matter how uncomfortable and out of place I may feel at first, I can overcome physical, mental, and social barriers by simply enduring that first moment of ‘culture shock.’  I learned that life can be lived through so many ways with different cultures and norms, but that doesn’t mean that one way of life is ‘better’ than the other.” – Lauren

“Although there were many differences between the culture in Santa Isabel and in the United States, there are core similarities.  Family, friendship, food, music, and sports can bring everyone together. In the end, the people of the world are all more similar than we are different.” – Amanda

“The community of Santa Isabel taught me the true meaning of hard work.  The manual labor was by no means easy, yet they were out there every morning lifting 80 lb concrete bags and moving buckets left and right.  It’s amazing that manual labor is the type of work they do day in and day out. It’s safe to say I was extremely humbled.” – Brittany

“I learned that the world is a much bigger place than any of us understand, and there are countless individuals living complex and beautiful lives outside of our understanding.” – Carter

“If you love and care for one another, nothing else really matters.  You can have luxury, yet still feel alone or abuse what you have.” – Emmy

“This community showed me how to work together, even with a language barrier.  They also taught me many variances in culture/norms compared to that of the United States.  I learned that those people truly, truly care about absolutely everyone in the community, and it was very neat to see how they took our group in and showed such love and compassion from the moment we stepped into Santa Isabel.” – Madison