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?