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.

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.

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…


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?

Fundraising 2.0

I enjoy the enjoyable nostalgia and sentimentality that traditions and anniversaries can bring, no matter how trivial the occasion may be. That being said, I thought it very appropriate to write about today’s blog post on this particular day. Today marks my fifth month of living in Peru. It can also be said that it is my midpoint regarding my gap year/time living in Peru. For those who have been reading from the very beginning of this little blog and the friends and family who have supported me from the very start of this experience, it may be confusing to hear that five months is a midpoint, when considering my original timeline. However, said plans have changed.

The original timeline for my gap year was to stay in Peru from September to early April, so that I could have time to come back to the US and visit any colleges I might have had the opportunity to visit. As I went through the application process this past fall and the list of colleges to which I made application narrowed, I realized that it would be a challenge to visit the majority of them due to finances, let alone surpass the difficulty of even receiving admission in the first place. So that plan was 86’d. More so, I felt that living and working here was (and is) incredibly fulfilling and special, and that cutting it short would result in cutting myself short from experiencing this unique time of my life. At that point, my seven month stay turned into eight. Not a big deal. However, as earlier implied, my once seven month stay has changed to a ten month stay (with a return date no later than the second week of June). The decision to stay longer was not an easy one – the main factor being finances.

Essentially, my work with Building Dignity is not being funded by my personal finances. Last year, I received an Omprakash Ambassador Travel Grant which pays for travel and living expenses. (Read more about Omprakash here). When I was applying for the grant and figuring out the logistics of taking a gap year to work with Building Dignity, I wrote a budget that accommodated for a seven month stay, not knowing that I would end up staying for an additional three. Additionally, soon after I received the grant, I learned that I would be living in an arrangement that for me, was significantly more than what I was anticipating and had planned for. That hiccup has resulted in a shift in budget and subsequently, bigger shift in money needed to support more time here. Understandably, I will not be able to receive additional grant money, so I am looking to you; friends, family and supporters.

I am aiming to raise an additional $1,500 which will be take care of my flight back home and the living and travel expenses for my extended stay. Earlier in my gap year journey, I began a fundraiser on YouCaring and I have decided to continue using that platform for this fundraiser. To make a donation and or check out the site click here.

But why stay longer if it’s causing so much trouble regarding such a difficult and sensitive topic? I asked myself the same thing, but after introspection and some serious study of my budget excel spreadsheets, I realized that I would simply do whatever it took. If  that means fundraising online and tutoring here in Peru, then so be it. I’m not sure if I will propose I take on the cup of noodles/ramen diet to save change, but if it gets to that point, I will make the sacrifice. (Although I’m fairly certain there are more economic ways of feeding oneself, without the excessive sodium…)

Recent developments and responsibilities that have been delegated to me have also influenced my decision to stay. As of last week, the man who was teaching the music workshops had to leave the CEDED volunteer family due to a work opportunity outside of the city. Subsequently, I am now in charge of the music program. It’s still hard to believe and sounds strange when I read the previous sentence out loud. Nevertheless, extending the amount of time I stay will be beneficial to the fortification and growth of the music program.


To put it plainly, I love what I’m doing. The reality that I have to come home and go to college was and is ever-present and I don’t resent it at all – I’m quite excited about it really – but at the same time, it makes me want to stay for as long as I possibly can before then. (I already have a feeling that I will very much rue the day when I have to get on a plane back to San Francisco, so selfishly I’m also sort of trying to delay that whole situation.) But more than that, I want to stay because I love the work I’m doing, the family I live with, the volunteers I have befriended and community I have gotten to know over the past five months.

It’s difficult for me to ask for such a personal gift in the most impersonal way (aka via blog post), but I hope that my sincerity transcends the digital wall of the interweb and into your hearts. Aw. But honestly, I am incredibly thankful for everyone’s support and as a small token of my gratitude, I will be glad to bring back a little gift from Peru to any and all donors that support this fundraising effort. I will even really, really, be more diligent about my blog posts and share more pictures. I mean serious business.

If you have any questions, feel free to email, Facebook message and the like. So until next time, thanks for reading!

Beats and Rests

During the last cycle of programs, Voices of Youth was also being brought to a neighboring community called Oasis. In an effort to strengthen our relationship with the kids who participated in Voices of Youth, this summer we have started doing other workshops as well. Every day (except for Sunday) there is a workshop. In the past, I rarely went to Oasis due to conflicts in schedules, but with the new summer programming I’ve been going a couple of times a week. Said conflict was the fact that I had music in La Encantada while Voices of Youth in Oasis ran at the same time. That still holds true today, but now I get to go to Oasis on Fridays for their music workshop.

Last Friday was the first class of this summer and it went really well. Emily, Niko and me were there as well as the twenty-seven kids who came. It was a big group, especially compared to the groups in La Encantada of usually no more than ten. We split into three groups, guitar, cajon and violin. The violin group  consisted of older kids who specifically asked for violin, and the rest of the group was divided between Niko and I, for cajon and guitar, respectively. It went pretty smooth and everyone enjoyed that week’s lesson about how to read music.

This week was a little different. With Emily traveling on business and Niko having left to continue with his travels, I thought it was going to be just me. But luckily, Andy, who has been teaching guitar in La Encantada was available to help out. Even after doing a myriad of workshops with Interact, class presentations in school and even more recently, helping a little with lesson plans for Voices of Youth, I had never doing anything like write a lesson plan essentially from scratch for this two-hour class. It was challenging, but I found a lot of help from reflecting on what types of activities I did in school. For example, one review activity I had the kids do was inspired by a game my Calculus teacher taught me last year.

Today’s lesson was about beats and rests. The main activity was a make-your-own song type thing. Each small group got a long strip of poster paper with a music staff that had five measures on it. With the small packet of cut out notes and rests, each team had to create their own song so that each measure had the correct number of beats in each one. Each correct measure was five points and each error was minus one. I even threw in some bonus points for having a title for their song and or if they could play it! These kids love competition therefore, the game was automatically more interesting. One mistake I had made was not practicing what it sounds like for each different type of note (whole note, half note, quarter note, etc) for enough time, so the lesson might not have sunk in as well as it could have. Nonetheless, the kids caught on and they had a good time.

The past few weeks have consisted of many days that started early in the morning and ended late at night and sometimes work was brought home (i.e. music in Oasis). But even so, I think that they have been some of the most successful weeks of programming that I’ve participated in since I arrived. It may sound really self-indulgent, but really honestly every night on the short bus ride home, I think about how much I really enjoy what I’m doing and how much I will rue the day I have to go home. More often than not, that train of thought segues into something that makes me stressed out in the end because I’ve been here for almost five months and I just know that the next five will pass by even faster and how am I supposed to encourage genuine community building when I know I have to leave at some point and I don’t know if I’ll be able to visit again and then I get so caught up that I end up having to walk half a block more because I forgot to get off at the right place.

In summary, things are most definitely in full swing these days and I am trying not think about when I have to go home. (Although for curious minds, I will be coming back before the second week of June. More explanation to come soon.)


My posts have been lacking in photos lately, so I figured I’d add this one. Yesterday, Voices of Youth went on a small visit to EcoRec, a local green house/recycling organization that is helping us plant vegetables in our garden. Fun fact: EcoRec is right across the street from my house! Really, I can see almost all their plants from outside my window.

Wrapping up 2013

After 9pm tonight, CEDED will say goodbye to the schedule we’ve been running for the past few months and be on vacation until early January. It’s hard to believe that we’re already at that time of the year, but here we are.

The past week has been a flurry of end-of-the-year activities and our plans for the last Voices of Youth meeting was no exception. With kids finishing their final exams, getting out of school for summer and all the holiday excitement in the air, it was fitting to have this Thursday’s meeting be a fun and relaxing. (For the volunteers, it was almost like an all-day Christmas party; preparing the food in the morning, listening to Radio Magica’s oldies Christmas music and drawing an ear-less Santa. Almost.) We played games, listened to Christmas music and ate food – all things that make for a good Christmas party.

We played two games: holiday themed pictionary and pin the beard on Papa Noel, aka Santa Claus. I was very enthusiastic about the whole idea because the one those games involved making a poster and I am all about the posters. All in all, it was extremely successful. The kids were really into pin the beard on Papa Noel. Voices were projected quite well to say the least. The most notable part was when a girl just simply screamed out of excitement/energy, I’m still unsure. It was good time.


Everyone knows that a good party has to involve some good food and we made sure of that. Hannah made chocolate fudge (which we have learned is not so much of a thing here), I made snickerdoodles and we prepared hot chocolate. Despite it’s lesser popularity with the volunteers, we also bought a panetón. Panetón is a festive holiday desert bread that is really, really, really popular here. Oh the lengths we go to for the kids… All joking aside, it really doesn’t taste that bad. It’s like a less dense and taller fruit cake. Unsurprisingly, once we distributed the food, the panetón was the first to go. (But the cookies and fudge were a close second.)



All in all, it’s been a very busy few weeks. It hasn’t left much time to really grasp how next Tuesday is Christmas Eve and that that weekend I’ll be leaving for Ecuador. With the time that I’ve had in between various other things (mainly the numerous trips on the Metropolitano to and from Centro de Lima), I’ve gotten to reflect a bit on my time in Peru so far and on the year as a whole.

I can remember quite clearly my thoughts about what the newly inaugurated 2013 would be like from last winter break. I said, “2013 is going to be so weird. I’m not superstitious, but maybe it’s the thirteen. I just think it’s going to be weird.” Hand me a crystal ball and call me Mystic Michelle. That was some pretty profound stuff. Essentially, my main idea was that all of the transitional changes that were to come i.e. high school graduation, starting college, etc. would just be different. Substitute “weird” for “different” and I think I called it pretty well. In any case, I think that this year I’ll keep my commentary on the more open-ended side of things.

Even though life is completely different than how I envisioned it would be one year ago (which totally fulfills my prediction if you do the substitution of “different” for “weird”), some things haven’t changed (or not). Like I was a year ago, I’m still churning out college applications with an anxiety familiar to someone who procrastinates as frequently as I do with things of such importance. I am hopeful that this doesn’t become some sort of pattern, even if it does put me in another country this same time next year. Applications really aren’t something to look forward to. But I digress. The fact of the matter is that despite the occasional feelings of ungrounded-ness from being abroad, at the moment I’m thinking very much about the months to come. It’s hard not to when the time has been flying as fast as it has been – it makes me think about how fast the next four will come and go. More than anything I feel grateful to have found this opportunity to volunteer with Building Dignity – an organization for which my fondness and respect grows every day I come into work. With or without a crystal ball, I don’t believe I could have ever anticipated or imagined how positive an experience I have been having.

With that said, let it be written in the books or literally, immortalized on the internet, that I simply say that I think 2014 will be eventful. (I think I’m pretty safe with that one.)

Guitar Time

To anyone who is unaware, I am currently experiencing the opposite seasonal changes to those in the US. Summer has finally come to Lima and it has it’s pros and cons. The combination of clouds, chill and humidity that I arrived to in Lima stayed for a while and spring never really showed itself except for maybe one week. Personally, I enjoy a nice cool, maybe even chilly day. Now, I believe we are amidst summer and the heat is something to get used to. As well as the combination of the heat and humidity. It’s nice to see the sun, but I forgot how exhausting it can be when it beats down on you for a couple of hours. Nonetheless, I should stop complaining and continue onto more interesting developments.

Clearly, I’ve been very lax with my postings lately. As always, with 100% honesty I will say that it’s been because I just haven’t had the time and I’ve had a difficult time reminding myself. At the community center, we’ve been wrapping up this year’s programming and even though programs like Horas Públicas have been very quiet, I’ve been busy coordinating the transport and participation of people to go to a chocolatada this Sunday. Although I’ve never been to one and can’t speak to specifics, a chocolatada is an event during which children receive free gifts, panetón, hot chocolate and participate in various other festive activities. Building Dignity has hosted them in the past, but because of various reasons, it didn’t pan out this year. Instead, we have accepted the invitation from another organization called Red Joven Sur, to participate and help with their chocolatada. The Voices of Youth kids wrapped little gifts that will be donated to the event and a group of them will be going to volunteer on the day of as well. It’ll be a nice way to celebrate the holidays and I’m looking forward to inviting the kids.

In other news, I bought a guitar. Despite the purchase’s original purpose, it’s become quite the distraction from the various other things that are going on right now i.e. submitting college applications, looking for scholarships, sleeping.  I bought the guitar because it was challenging to basically only be able to practice the day of music class and none of my past music teachers would agree that a system like that would correlate to any sort of meaningful development/skills – especially those that are needed to teach others. So the clear answer was to buy myself a guitar and donate it to Building Dignity once I go back to the US.

Buying the guitar was a little adventure in itself. Even though the guitars that currently reside in the community center are evidence enough to know that the one I will donate later won’t be perfect forever, I like to think that it’s better to start of with something nice instead of something sub-par. When I first went into the store, I saw the guitar I first bought, gave it a good look over and asked if I could try playing the one behind it. The man in the store said the one in front was better for students (I had told him the reason for why I was buying the guitar) and after giving this new one a good look over, I decided to get it. Once I got home and gave it a play, I realized that maybe I should have been more thorough. The strings were aligned not very well, there as the annoying buzz on one of the strings and an abundance of scratches on the body that I hadn’t noticed before. I decided to call the store and ask if I could come back and exchange the guitar for one of the same value. To my surprise, the man was really kind about the whole situation and said the equivalent of “Come on back!”.

Once I did, he showed me the same model but in a bit nicer shape. Instead of immediately doing the switch, my eyes started lingering on other acoustics that lined the walls and deep down I realized that I wouldn’t be taking the guitar I originally sought to exchange, home. After I practiced with a few and figured out prices, I decided to buy a completely different guitar, albeit a bit more expensive than the first one. I’m not a guitar expert, but I’m pretty confident that the extra money was worth it. My new guitar is (what I believe to be) a 3/4 size guitar, acoustic with nylon strings and has a cutaway. I do confess that one of the rationalizations that went through my head (and my mouth) when deciding on buying the guitar was that the neck was smoother and a little slimmer, therefore, playing it would be easier for the children’s small hands. Always for the children. The new guitar is really quite solid for the price (about $70) and I’m very happy with it.

Last Saturday was the last music class for this year and before our summer programming that will start in January. I’m hoping that this little vacation will provide an opportune time to practice up before music starts up again. As many a music teacher told me, “Practice, practice, practice and practice some more.”