For Good

One year ago, I was anxiously awaiting a response from the Omprakash Foundation about the status of my grant application. In 24 hours, I’ll be in a taxi on my way to the airport to catch my flight to the US, after nine months of living and working in Peru.

A couple of nights ago, in a motor-taxi ride back home after programming at the community center, Ana María and I reminisced about all of my time abroad. She began mentioning the volunteers that I worked with, from the ones who lived in the same house as us to the study abroad students who worked at the center a couple of times a week. She continued with the programs I was involved in, the trips we went on with the kids, the clavicle incident, the neighbors, all of the participants, the people at the market, the communities of Lomo de Corvina and Oasis, and everything in Villa el Salvador. Beforehand, I had a general awareness of all of the things I would be missing upon going back to the US. But as Ana María listed every single component that made up my entire life in Peru, I couldn’t help but feel grateful that it was dark and that my attempts at wiping away my tears might have looked like I was just really tired.

Earlier this week, I was overwhelmed with the fact that once Thursday comes, in a matter of hours the people, places and experiences of my day-to-day for the past several months will be absent. This past year has been crucial to the development of my ideas about the world and my place within it. While I did briefly get caught up in the anxieties that I was forewarned about from fellow volunteers and colleagues who have experienced the back and forth that comes with living abroad, I realized that stressing over things that are out of my control weren’t honoring all of the opportunities that I am so thankful to have experienced. So while processing how much I’ll miss all of the aforementioned people and places (and I’ll miss them terribly), I also have been reflecting on how blessed I am to have gotten to know all of them and to have shared really special moments and memories.

On the same night as the motor-taxi ride, once I got home I put iTunes on shuffle and in the most apropos of moments, “For Good” from the Broadway musical, Wicked came on. Of course after listening to the first two lyrics my tears could not be contained. If one thing about my life has remained, it is that Broadway can always help ease any and all of my emotionally taxing situations and “For Good” really fit the bill this time around. I mean, the lyrics are pretty spot-on…

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend…

Anyway, I digress.

The past year has been a transformative, challenging, intellectually engaging and incredibly special year that I consider to be the paramount learning experience of my life. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am for all of the individuals who have supported me throughout my time abroad and I’m looking forward to what the next year will have in store.


What’s Next

I’ve been a little distracted lately. Big things have been happening and I haven’t had the energy to turn those experiences into blog posts, so I will save time by simply bullet-pointing some highlights.

  • I helped plan a vocational retreat for Voices of Youth.
  • I was a judge for Colegio Peruano Japones’s school-wide singing competition. (Because I am clearly appropriate for such a position.)
  • I got into college.
  • I decided where to go to college.
  • Then proceeded to make goal map of where I want to go in life.

Essentially all of the things on that list were inspired by events that occurred during the vocational retreat. (Being a judge at CPJ’s singing competition was not on my newly procured goal map and I am fairly certain it shouldn’t be on anyone’s.) Earlier this month, the Building Dignity team organized a weekend retreat focused on vocational activities as well as first aid training, which was organized and led two medical students from UCLA.

The retreat was exclusively for the older group of participants (ages 15-18+). This weekend long event was a way of re-energizing the older group and to help them definite themselves from the younger kids who up until a few months ago, were the grand majority of consistent participants. It was a really fun weekend, filled with activities that creatively expressed personal interests via life roadmaps, we discussed identifying stereotypes that influence how we perceive our professional abilities, and everyone (even BD volunteers) participated in workshops that taught important emergency medical skills. Moreover, within the 48 hour retreat, new friendships were formed, old ones were strengthened and I believe that the group found a new and strong identity.

I think that the retreat was a great way of introducing how personal interests can be developed into potential career ideas. Obviously, all of the activities and workshops were designed to support the participants, but I can safely say that I came away with much more clarity about my own career and general life goals. I’ve been thinking very thoroughly about where my life is going after my time of working in Peru, especially while I was receiving responses from colleges. Although I know there is only so much one can do regarding long-term planning, I now feel like I have a very clear understanding of just how to get to the places I want to go, while also being aware that life can throw a myriad of changes my way in between any given event.

But while I can say I have a better handle on my long-term goals, the same cannot be said about what will happen in the interim. Here’s one sentence that pretty much sums up everything that sends my short-term goals into a tailspin: I have less than two months left of being in Peru.

To emphasize how affecting that sentence is, I’d like to share this screenshot of a handy-dandy spreadsheet that lets my Omprakash Grant Mentor know what’s up while I’m working with Building Dignity.

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Can we just take a moment to look at how many months that is???? (And not the way that my blogging frequency has also declined on my Omprakash blog…)

Just one more time. With arrows.

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Thinking about how long I’ve been here in my head is something entirely different to seeing a visual representation of just how my experience has played out.

With that being said, the train of thought related to my impending departure quickly raises some pedagogically complex questions about what it (meaning my time here) all means. For example: What am I doing here? What entitled me to think I had/have anything to offer? How does one foster programming with good intentions, without inflicting harmful unintended consequences? How sustainable is the work I personally contribute to the organization I work with? The list goes on. They are questions that I was cognizant of before coming here, but I didn’t have the context or experience to fully understand their weight and importance.

Although all of those weighty questions are somewhat overwhelming, I’m glad they are being asked of me at this time in my life. Instead of feeling weighed down by the complexities of these questions, I feel excited about them. The sheer element of intellectual engagement that is being asked of those questions is fueling a yearning to go back to school, to learn, find connections and build an foundation that will support my academic and professional pursuits for years to come.

I do know that in this moment, President Jed Bartlet, or otherwise known as the world’s best fictional US President, saying “What’s next?” comes to mind. Although the context may be somewhat off because when he says it, he’s really saying “[he’s] ready to move on the the next thing,” and I know that in a few days or a few weeks, I may not feel like I’m ready to move on. But I’ve realized that’s ok. I’ll be sad to say goodbye to the people I’ve come to love so much and it’ll be scary to start a new, unfamiliar part of my life. But in this moment, while writing this long, long blog post in an attempt to make up for earlier times, I can say that I’m ready for what’s next.

Good Ol’ Horas Públicas

For three seconds, heading out of the community center to go home felt like it had the dozens of times I had done it during my first months here. That fleeting moment to feel like an entire period of time and it wasn’t the first time that’s happened lately. Nostalgia is in the air these days. At least for me.

Perhaps I’ve been feeling rather sentimental because we’ve begun a new program cycle – one that brings us back to programming with a greater educational focus. It is a similar beginning to the one that spring boarded my experiences with Building Dignity. Now that the kids are in school, Horas Públicas, an oldie but goodie, is back and tonight it came with full force. For many volunteers, it’s probably the least enjoyable and most stressful program, but for some reason (one that I am still trying to figure out) I’m somewhat fond of it.

Exactly 36 kids passed through the community center this afternoon to receive help with their school assignments and or, to have a space to work. With only four people, including myself as tutors for the afternoon, it was undoubtedly a big challenge.

I feel fortunate to be able to reflect on how I’ve grown since my first Horas Públicas seven months ago. Can we just take a moment to think about how that was seven months ago?  At that point, I was three days in and I still felt like I had just stepped off of the airplane, eyes red from little sleep and a mind that tired from racing to catch up to everything that was happening around me. Sure, engaging with the kids and putting in the elbow grease on balancing mathematical equations (as told by one of my first blog posts) turned out to be more transformative than originally thought, but in the moment it was pretty stressful.

Nonetheless, this afternoon didn’t feel overwhelming. Several months ago, I would have emphasized how challenging it was to have to work with such a myriad of homework levels that was scattered upon several different people. But tonight, the hardest part was trying to help three elementary school kids with their homework assignment that told them to draw human behavior. Horas Públicas can be somewhat hard to navigate (figuratively and sometimes literally – making ones way through a room of studying young people can be surprisingly difficult) but I’m proud to say that it isn’t as overwhelming for me as it once was. I think that’s something that can be said for many aspects of my life here.

Peruvian Cooking 101

March madness, indeed. Throughout the past month, I’ve had a very hard time feeling grounded (not keeping up with the blog surely didn’t help) – between receiving college decisions and thinking about what direction my life is heading in the coming months, I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed. But as I know well, there’s nothing better to keep: food.

This afternoon, I had a wonderful day with my host family and fellow housemates. Sundays are volunteers’ collective day off and the same goes for all the members of our host family. With that said, Sundays are more often than not, a grand day of rest and food and today was no exception.

Left to right: Allie, Hannah, Herald, Naomi

Left to right: Allie (back of her head), Hannah, Herald, Naomi

For those who don’t know, I live with the most amazing host family one could ever have the honor of living with. For the past seven months, Herald, Nancy and their son Andrés have invited me into their home and become really like a second family to me.

When Herald grew up, one of his family’s traditions was that they would eat ceviche together every Sunday for almuerzo (lunch). Ceviche is a specialty for the costal region of Peru and the juice of limón and aroma/flavor from ají amarillo make it especially distinct. This afternoon, all of us CEDED volunteers who are living in the house crowded into the kitchen to learn how to make the incredibly delicious dish.

Ceviche is a dish which is made by “cooking” seafood by marinating it in the juice rom citrus fruits i.e. lemon or lime juice. Depending on the type of seafood, the fish can be ready within five minutes, as was the type we made this afternoon. There are many different variations of ceviche, depending on geographical region and such. The ceviche we learned how to make today is a mix of fish, limón, garlic, cliantro, ground celery, pepper, ginger, ají amarillo and salt. After it marinates, it is placed on a lettuce leaf and accompanied by one or two slices of boiled sweet potato. We also had sides of white beans and a type of popcorn.

Needless to say, it was really amazing.


Later that afternoon, we had a second round of Peruvian cooking 101, when Nancy showed us how to make a classic dish: arroz con pollo. Sadly, I do not have any pictures of it, although I wouldn’t say that pictures of food will be ending any time soon. Arroz con pollo is essentially what its name says: rice and chicken. However, the arroz con pollo that was made today is made by flavoring the rice and chicken with a flavorful base consisting of cilantro (it makes the rice green), onion, garlic, choclo (Peruvian corn), ají amarillo and peas (or other vegetables like carrots or bell peppers). The chicken is first cooked in the sauce of cilantro and spices and once ready, taken out so that the rice can cook in its flavorful broth. In the end, all of it is combined and then eaten and it’s really really great. The chicken is always incredibly moist and flavorful and with a little bit of ají and fresh cut onion, it’s pretty perfect. Arroz con pollo is probably my second favorite dish – first being lomo saltado, but that could be worthy of it’s own post.

Between our morning of learning how to make ceviche and afternoon lesson in all things arroz con pollo, it was a day filled with fun conversation and really good food. What was almost even better, was that between all the cooking and eating, I was also able to finally check some major things off of a myriad of my to-do lists (I have many different lists) and feel better about the basic organization of my life. (Always a good thing.)

All in all, today was the perfect way of helping me remember that in times of stress, spending time with friends and family can be the best remedy. But more importantly, food. Always.

Sunrises with Rotary

Generally speaking, I consider myself a morning person. I like experiencing the progression of morning, afternoon and night and waking up has never been very arduous, as non-morning people presumedly experience. However, waking up at 5:00am is not something that is an entirely welcome idea – there are very few things that I would do that require waking up that early. Really there are just two: going for a run (it’s what I’ve been doing lately because of the grueling heat that blankets all of Lima beginning at 8:00am) and going to Rotary meetings.

When I would attend Rotary meetings during the school year (specifically the one that sponsored my home Interact club) I would wake up at approximately 5:00am, catch the sunrise as my mom drove down Highway 1, arrive around 10-15 minutes early for the 7:15am meeting (Shout out to Santa Cruz Sunrise Rotary!) and I would still have enough time to speed my way to school in time for my first period class. It was a routine that required a little extra effort in the morning, but was always so worth it.

For those who don’t know, during the latter half of high school I became really involved with Interact Club. Interact is a youth program of Rotary International, an international service organization that fosters collaboration between business and professional leaders to promote goodwill and peace throughout the world. During my involvement in Interact, I attained a plethora of leadership, networking and public speaking skills that I continue to utilize. Regarding my time and work in Peru, I have received unwavering support from the friends and mentors that I have met via Rotary. With all of that said, researching the Rotary clubs in Peru seemed like a no-brainer and deciding to visit at least one was a definite must. This was how I found myself waking up at 5:00am on Thursday morning to go visit the Rotary Club of Lima Sunrise.

After an hour bus ride and a short detour through San Isidro in a taxi, I finally arrived at the meeting place of Lima Sunrise. With about five minutes to spare before their 7:30am meeting time, I did a quick cell-phone-turned-mirror hair check and then knocked on the door. Upon entering, I clumsily introduced myself in some sort of combination of Spanish and English because I wasn’t sure which I was supposed to use, considering I read they were one (if not the only) English-speaking Rotary club in Lima. Nevertheless, introductions were made and after awkwardly figuring out how to socialize and internally remembering that I had handled moving to a foreign country with some form of ease and therefore, I could definitely handle meeting a few Rotarians of all people, I felt more comfortable. It was a small meeting of about eight members with one of them being the speaker for that day. Of the people in attendance, it was about a fifty-fifty split between Peruvians and expatriates. Everyone spoke English throughout the meeting, with an occasional phrase or two in Spanish.

One of my favorite moments was at the end, when the entire club recited the 4-Way Test together as a way of closing the meeting and I couldn’t help but join in. That moment as well as my visit as a whole, reminded me of how much I respect and enjoy the company of Rotarians and just how special it was be able to experience Rotary’s influential spirit while abroad.

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One of the activities planned by that morning’s speaker, Dario, was centered around his presentation about experiential learning. The challenge: create a tower as tall as possible with a bag of marshmallows and spaghetti, in under 15 minutes. (A winner was not announced, but I think that we won.)

Although it may seem like I went to visit Lima Sunrise just for funsies, I did go with more professional intentions. The purposes for my visit were to learn more about Rotary in Peru and to share my experiences regarding of youth international service, a theme that I will be addressing as a speaker at Santa Cruz Sunrise Rotary when I return to California. Throughout my time in Peru and even beforehand, I’ve learned how important it is to build a network of connections that can help you in the future. Visiting Lima Sunrise was a big first step for me in my mission of learning how to navigate the expansive and important skill of networking. Tomorrow morning I will be waking up to my alarm once again at that ever-special time of 5:00am so that I can attend a leadership workshop that is being hosted by Rotary and Rotaract representatives. Undoubtedly it’ll be an adventure and I will be sure to share it with everyone as soon as I am able. Until then, I should probably get some sleep.

Rewinding of My Summer in Peru

This summer was like running a 5k – it’s a short race (3.1 miles) so it doesn’t seem that hard, right? This summer’s eight-week programming received a similar response from myself and a few friends. Eight weeks? Workshops that are only a couple of hours long, a few days a week? What will I do with myself? Little did I know that like running a 5k, it is not advisable to go into summer programming without having any sort of mental preparation (let alone physical), eight weeks is actually pretty long, and most importantly, hydration is key. (Thank you, 80-90 degree weather and humidity levels upwards of 60%.) And despite it’s “shortness” this summer has proven to be anything but uneventful.

Undoubtedly, the most meaningful part of my summer with Building Dignity was the music program. As mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been in charge of the program since early January and it’s been full of challenges and successes that continue to motivate me to improve and expand the program. Recent developments have led to conversations about continuing music workshops in the community of Oasis, when we originally had intended on only offering workshops like music, English lessons and art for the summer. It’ll mean teaching in two communities (La Encantada and Oasis) and continuing the grand migration of instruments to and from the two locations, but I’m 100% committed. Because the music program is currently dependent on me being here, I’ve also started to compile an archive of all the materials, lesson plans and activities associated with the program, so that whoever comes after me can have a solid foundation of what the program has done and what level the kids are at.

Even though this summer has had its fair share of challenges, I am a little bit sad that it’s come to an end. When I compared the summer programming to the school year’s, I used to focus on how less tired I was at the end of the day or I would think of the all the ways that summer has been more intense. But as the summer wound down, I started to realize that the school year had it’s own set of challenges i.e. learning how to play guitar in Spanish, trying to remember how to do geometry when I barely even got it while I was in school, helping pre-teens with trigonometry…  I focused on how much I missed getting on a more personal level with the kids I helped tutor during the school year, as opposed to the less personal dynamic that was applicable to many of this summer’s programs. On the flipside, the school year is academically intense. I’ll still have music as a respite from helping research Peru’s legislative bodies and studying mathematical terms in Spanish, but the fun and free atmosphere of the summer will most definitely be missed. If anything, I’ve learned that some times ideas can change drastically depending on the perspective. By having experienced two different cycles, I’ve grown to appreciate things that I hadn’t really considered before and however stress-inducing this summer has been, I’m grateful for it.

It’s been a busy two months, with daily programming in two locations, visitors from the United States, welcoming new volunteers as well as saying goodbye to volunteers who I had known for as long as I’ve been here.  If anything, crossing the finish line (we’re back to the running analogy) that in this case, was March 1st was pretty satisfying. A pancake breakfast has not been included, but I think we can make that happen at some point.

Little Reminders

As mentioned in previous posts, a continual goal of mine is to always be aware. That can be sort of broad, but it’s the bare bones of the idea. Essentially, I want to do my best to find ways of challenging myself and continually think about how to efficiently and effectively do the best work I can. However, trying to continually think critically about how to improve programming or even find the time to be in the moment, is difficult. Nevertheless, sometimes the most random moments provide the best reminders of being in said moments. One came this afternoon, as I carried four guitars and a violin across Villa el Salvador.

This is not the first time I’ve done this. (Well, first time with a violin added to the mix.) In the past, I’ve had the help of one or two other people, but many a time I have made the grand pilgrimage from the Center for Development with Dignity (CEDED) to the location in the neighboring community of Oasis, to enlighten the youth with the power of music. I love going to Oasis and working with the kids there – it’s honestly one of my favorite workshops to do. But as I walked (or trudged) up the sandy hill to catch a moto taxi, with two full sized guitars, two little guitars and a violin, I had to take a moment and think, “You are hauling five instruments across Villa el Salvador.” Across Villa el Salvador is somewhat of a hyperbole, but I guess I was feeling a little dramatic and in need of an NBC camera on my side to capture the blank stare on my face that everyone was supposed to know translated to what I said above. Nevertheless, my 5-seconds of being Jim Halpert were over very quickly. I got a grip (literally and figuratively, the guitars started slipping) and realized that yes, carry this instruments I will because I really love doing this workshop, no matter how inconspicuous I may look doing it.

What I think is significant about the little reminder I just shared is that I hadn’t really taken a pause like that for almost the entire summer – let alone, a pause that wasn’t involving any sort of worry. The workshop that took place this afternoon was the seventh one and being a weekly class, it also marks the seventh week of music this summer. When I became the in charge of the program, I was scared. My anxiety was the motivator for overly-elaborate lesson plans and overall self doubt. However, as time went by and I learned more about what worked and what didn’t, I got more comfortable. Now leading the workshop by myself harbors no anxieties as it in the past and coming to that realization was pretty revelational. My summer has been hallmarked by my involvement with the music program and now I take a lot of pride in that.

My mission of being in the moment while also thinking ahead is a continuing challenge and it can also be said that it will be for long after I leave Peru. But as I think about how this goal will affect me in the future, I also really have to eat dinner right now. Gotta stay in the moment.

Coming Soon This June: Michelle at SFO

So, it’s been two weeks since I last posted anything and that’s pretty embarrassing. I don’t want to make excuses (I’m just about to) but this summer’s programming has been keeping my nose the the grindstone and I haven’t gotten around to posting as often as I’d like.

Among the many things that have happened in the past two weeks, a few key points have been when I helped cook pizzas in solar ovens, rappelled down a waterfall (or more accurately, slowly-lowered-myself-as-I-dangled-in-the-air-down-a-waterfall), lead an English class for the first time, had to say goodbye to a fellow long-term volunteer who was also one of my closest friends, and bought my plane ticket home.

I’m tempted to write a reflection about the challenges and successes of this summer because next week is the last week of this particular schedule, but that very point also appeals to the procrastinator in me which believes that it will be even more apropos to write a reflection when the summer ends! I think we all know who the winner is.

More importantly, one of the more momentous moments of the past two weeks was when I decided on my return date for coming home.  With a speaking engagement in mid-June, my return date was automatically moved to no later than the second week of the month. After weeks of receiving flight price alerts from a plethora of travel sites, I finally decided to take advantage of the lowest rate that I had been seeing throughout that time and finally put the plan into stone. I bought my plane ticket and really made my return date official by adding it to my calendar in all its color coded and tagged glory.

Finally knowing an exact date (even hour) of when I’ll be leaving Peru is equal parts exciting as it is poignant. I’m really looking forward to seeing my friends without having their faces freeze in a pixilated blob on Skype, hugging my mom after getting off of my plane at SFO, breathing in the briny sea breeze while going on a run along West Cliff and most importantly, eating greek yogurt. But while writing that brings on a small ache akin to homesickness along with a twinge of nostalgia, there’s a similar sort of feeling when thinking about leaving Peru. I didn’t even know if it was possible to miss a place before even leaving, but after having gone down this particular slippery slope of emotion a few times, I think I can say it’s entirely plausible. The fact of the matter is that I have never experienced such challenges and growth as I have while being abroad and it continues to be one of the most special periods of my life. To think about leaving the places and people with whom I’ve experienced said time with is complicated to say the least. But with less than four months until it’s time to get on that plane to San Francisco, I’ve decided to forgo the premature I’m-leaving-Peru downheartedness and do my best to continue doing the very best work I can do.

On that note, I’d like to mention again that I’m continuing to fundraise for the living expenses that will allow me to continue my work with Building Dignity until June. The purchase of my plane ticket home was made possible by generous donations from people like you and I couldn’t be more grateful. Now with that expense taken care of, I am focusing on funding the costs of travel, food and rent that will be allocated throughout the next three months.

With this little two-week summary all squared away, I should probably start writing something to post for tomorrow…


Los Martincitos

Even though I kept it on the DL (most of the time), I had been really excited about this field trip for a while. Not too long ago, I heard about the plan of having Voices of Youth refocus on the community service aspect of the program. Community service hasn’t been emphasized as much due to the goal of fortifying the social and individual dynamics of the group i.e. self esteem, confidence, etc. When I heard that we would be going to Los Martincitos (a center for the elderly) and serving breakfast/lunch and putting on a little performance, I was immediately on board.

Los Martincitos is a senior citizen center in Villa el Salvador where more than one hundred elderly can receive breakfast and lunch, as well as participate in the center’s various programs. Participants have families that live too far away to care for them, live alone or have very little to no support. With that said, the atmosphere at Martincitos is welcoming, incredibly friendly and genuinely supportive, so that participants can feel like their quality of life may be little bit better. With that in mind, the kids prepared a program with performances and activities for their special day of service.

Waking up especially early on Wednesday morning was reminiscent of the early mornings I spent getting ready for past community service events like beach clean ups, door knocking for canned food and preparing for benefit races. We met the kids at the location where our workshops in Oasis take place and soon enough we were on our way to Martincitos!

The kids were incredible. Understandably, they were a little shy when introducing themselves to everyone, table by table in small groups, but no more than five minutes later, I looked around the room and saw many kids leaning into those who they were talking with and engaging in conversation. One of my favorite moments was after we all met in an area after introducing ourselves and one girl told me that she thought the abuelos were really cool – they are!

After helping clean dishes from breakfast, the kids presented plays and jokes, all of which went very well – they really quite hilarious. After the presentation of the plays and jokes, the kids had various activities to do with the abuelos and abuelas. There were the choices of drawing, playing board games and or getting their fingernails painted. My group helped facilitate the drawing activity and while it took a minute for the kids to get engaged, the end result was priceless. Some helped draw, others simply engaged in jovial conversation. I spent a lot of my time talking to a man who had been participating with Martincitos for the past four years. He showed me a small photo album that was filled with pictures of him with past and current volunteers who work at the center as well as pictures of his family. When we finished looking through the pictures, he asked me if I had a picture of myself. Because I didn’t, I suggested that we take a picture together and that if he liked, I could bring it to him during the next time we visited. And we did just that.


The couple of hours we spent at Martincitos were really fun and what made it even better was how enthusiastic the kids were. We weren’t even half way through our time there when many started asking when we were going to come back! I don’t know if/when Voices of Youth from Oasis will be going back, but in March, Voices of Youth from La Encantada will be doing a similar visit. Until then, I’ll be waiting to give José our picture and looking forward to what I’m sure will be another great experience.

To see photos from the visit, check out Building Dignity on Facebook and don’t forget to “Like” us!

Sick Day Blues

And a touch of introspection for good measure!

One of the first pieces of advices I was given pre-departure to Peru, was to be prepared for the inevitable conflict between the food and my digestive system. I’m glad I can report that I have been affected by no such illness. I just broke my clavicle. Ah, jokes. But really, I haven’t gotten sick – at all. Well, until Thursday.

Every day during last week I had felt a little unfocused and generally unmotivated. It was definitely frustrating. It all snowballed into an immense wave of exhaustion that hit right around 7pm on Thursday, which soon lead to me trying to keep down a fever and not fall over from walking as slow as a snail. The reasons for my continual struggle to keep motivated throughout the week suddenly became more clear as I lay in bed, re-watched The West Wing and “read” an embarrassingly high amount of BuzzFeed articles while trying to imagine what life was like without headaches, a fever and overall lethargy. I don’t think I had ever been so disappointed about having to take a sick day in…well a really long time.

The day that I missed was definitely not the most ideal of all the others in the week. Fridays are music in Oasis and it’s one of my favorite workshops. (That and music in La Encantada.) I’ve always been enthusiastic about being involved in the music program but the past few weeks have somewhat tested that, as I’ve taken a lot more of a leading role in their planning and instruction. More often than not, I’ve been worrying that the lesson plans I write won’t be successful or that no one will show up – and at the beginning those anxieties outweighed the enthusiasm I once associated with the workshop. But as of the past few weeks, I’ve started to relax a little bit and the experience is getting a lot more enjoyable.

On Saturday afternoon I taught music in La Encantada and I think it was one of my favorite workshops to-date. The evening went so well, I was afraid I would jinx it while on my way back home. One may scoff at the fact that only three kids came, but I was perfectly happy with it. It’s hard to teach guitar to a large group of people, let alone when you don’t have experience teaching guitar in the first place. (On a side note: my personal experiences with music classes in large numbers have only been in orchestras, which is a very different atmosphere and set up than the small guitar classes I’ve been in previously.) But this afternoon’s little group was just perfect. Quality about quantity, right?

On that note, I’ve also realized that planning and running the workshop didn’t have to be as stressful as I was making it out to be. The lesson plans I’ve written during this summer cycle have been chalk-full of definitions, exercises and activities with the intention of having the most comprehensive and fun two hours of music a person could have. However, figuring all of that out was stressful and the quantity of information packed into each workshop in conjunction with the once-a-week nature of the class was not very effective. So with that said, today I decided to keep it simple and keep it basic. I started us out by practicing a simple warm-up exercise, playing the strings fret by fret and going back down, with the kids playing along with me to a particular rhythm. The next thing was learning three basic chords – two ways because the group was so small and focused. After that, I wrote out a simple chord progression that we all practiced together. All that and a small snack at the end made for a very successful afternoon.

In reflection, I could have never imagined the progression of my involvement in with music at Building Dignity. In the earliest stages of planning how I would be involved with the various programs, music was definitely not as high a priority as it is now, for me. I envisioned a much greater emphasis on Voices of Youth, the youth leadership group. But as I am taught time and time again, everything is subject to change – in ways that are very small or very grand. After that, it comes down to how you adapt and collaborate with the people and resources around you. Pretty simple, right?