Advantages of Traveling Abroad

Travel tends to be enlightening, but nothing widens your scope like lending a hand. Last December, 16-year-old Olivia Edmonds from Toronto did just that.

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BY Olivia Edmonds as told to Nicola Six

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Most school trips involve a day at the museum. If you’re really lucky, your graduating class might take a trip out-of-province. But sometimes, just sometimes, a school trip can change your life.

That’s what happened last December when I visited Peru with two teachers and five fellow students from Appleby College in Oakville, Ont. We saw the sights and soaked in the culture, but our trip also had a deeper purpose. We had a job to do.
It wasn’t until our second day that the enormity of that job became clear. As our bus left the comfort of Lima, Peru’s capital, squalor and poverty began to take over. Piles of garbage gave way to unfinished homes. Finally, thousands of shacks spread out towards the horizon in every direction. We had arrived in the slums for our first day of community service.

Our job was to help the locals move an overwhelming number of rocks so they could build a soccer field for the kids in the area. Up to that point, they didn’t have much to do but play in the dirt. That, along with all the malnourished dogs, was what hit the hardest.
 The work was arduous, but it went well. Not even the language barrier – no one spoke a word of English, and it didn’t help that my Spanish was limited – could slow us down. The people were thrilled to have our help, and playing with the children during breaks lifted our spirits. By the end of the week, it was hard to imagine doing anything other than moving rocks, but there was more to be done elsewhere.
We travelled to Cajamarca, a city in the mountains, where we were awaited by hot showers, cable TV and a computer—small miracles at the time, however short-lived they were. The next morning we had a 9-hour commute to the village of Cadmarka, followed by what seemed like cruel and unusual punishment: an endless trudge up a steep hill to our guest house. It was made all the more cruel and unusual by my 35-pound backpack.
Finally, we made it to the house. I’ve never been so happy to hear the word ‘dinner,’ and we immediately burned a path to the kitchen to indulge in the abundance of beef, rice, veggies, tea and biscuits that were set on the table. Not a word other than “May you please pass the” left my mouth. As soon as I was done, I slipped into my sleeping bag and dosed off. 

Our objective in Cadmarka was to build five stoves—four for nearby families and another one for the local elementary school. We split into groups of two or three and got to work. I’d never met people like these locals before, people whose livelihoods depended so directly on the land and animals they owned. After welcoming us with coffee and a snack not unlike popcorn, we started flattening the ribbed metal sheets that would eventually be bolted together and used as a chimney.
It was hard work, and I’m proud to say we finished the job. What I’m most proud of, though, is making it back up to our hotel after our first day of work. It was like walking up a double-diamond ski hill, and although I was sure I’d never make it, encouragement from my group pushed me forward. I realized then that I had to be positive, not just for myself, but for those around me—especially the people we came to help.
I realized something else, too. The things we do now determine the future. It’s like a chain of dominoes: if one falls, the others follow. If we want the world to be a better place, it’s up to us to create change, no matter how small.