“I guess I’m not in Edina anymore,” wrote Michaela Gee, a junior at Edina High School (EHS), on her very first day in Peru. She recalls seeing a young Peruvian girl with a wild monkey wrapped around her arm, and realized she was on the trip of a lifetime.
On February 19, Michaela and her father, David Gee, embarked on a nine-day trip to Lima, Peru, with a team of 37 others from Colonial Church in Edina and Wayzata Evangelical Free Church to run an immersive English camp for children who live in a slum just outside the city. “Nine million people in Peru subsist on less than two dollars a day, but the inhabitants of Flores de Villa don’t even have that much,” says David.
Each traveler brought their own luggage as well as one suitcase filled to the brim with donated materials, such as school supplies, books, clothing and even laptops and jump drives, for the people of Flores de Villa.
Day 3: The kids are amazing, and it reminds me I should be more appreciative of my educational opportunities. They sure are grateful for theirs. –MG
Children growing up in Flores de Villa are offered little in the way of education but are very eager to learn. Each morning, the volunteers met for breakfast to discuss the itinerary for the day and then hopped on a “bouncy old bus” to travel across town to get to the school, where nearly 600 children happily anticipated their arrival. A typical day consisted of morning lessons for two and a half hours, a home visit or lunch at the hotel, and a second lesson with a different class in the afternoon.
Day 5: Today the teaching was based around sports. Volleyball is a big sport here, which I didn’t know, so they got that right away. Soccer is also popular of course, although it’s football here. They kind of struggle with the word soccer, just like I have to work to roll my r’s. –MG
Despite the language barrier (translators were present in each classroom), they were able to find commonalities; when they couldn’t, they “talked with their hands.” Michaela was also able to test her Spanish skills, which she began when it was offered in grade school.
Day 6: Had a wonderful day in class! It’s fun to be able to use my Spanish as much as I have, and I’m actually doing pretty well. My Spanish teachers would be proud. –MG
Michaela was happy to learn conversational Spanish while in Peru, as it differed from the knowledge she has gleaned from classroom instruction at EHS.
Day 7: We have bonded so much with these kids it will be hard to say goodbye. On the last day of class, every one of them makes you promise to come back next year; we are told they expect us to keep our promises! There is one girl who waits outside the classroom for me all day long. Every time I peer out the door or window she is right there, looking, waving. I will always remember her. –MG
They were warned prior to arriving in Peru to prepare not to change the lives of the Peruvians, says David, but for the Peruvians to change theirs. The advice was spot-on, and both Michaela and David were struck by how simultaneously fascinating and heartbreaking it was to see the stark contrast of economical progress in Lima, home to one-third of Peru’s population. They say it’s almost like having two cities in one. “One is amazingly affluent, filled with verdant parks, beautiful buildings and beaches. The other is dirty, dusty and dense, filled with widespread, pervasive and abject poverty on a scale we simply cannot imagine,” says David. “To be able to experience it together was so special.
Despite their misfortune, the people of Flores de Villa remain loving and relational. “They are so respectful, engaged and hospitable; they gave back to us 10 times more than what we could give them,” reflects David.
Day 8: Today we said l-o-n-g goodbyes with lots of tears. I have never met anyone who was so grateful for so little. It is really special to have been here, and to have shared it with my dad. –MG
The pair looks forward to volunteering together in the future, perhaps in the Dominican Republic this fall, or one day fulfilling Michaela’s dream to participate in a mission trip to Africa.
Day 9: Home at last. Sweet dreams and lots of memories. –MG
Peruvian Partners is a cross-cultural ministry founded by David and Gina Stavros in 1987 in Lima, Peru. The organization aims to provide resources to and support the health, education and faith of South American families who are not privileged to the many conveniences of North American life.