By Ailan Holbrook (Carleton University)
I sit here reflecting on my time in Peru and tears start leaking from my eyes. I’m smiling, but I’m crying. I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be an intern representing Carleton University in Peru. I knew about the internship when I started my program but I never thought I would be chosen. Before going to Peru, I hadn’t really left Canada, and now… I can’t wait to leave again. My experience in Peru opened my eyes to many things, sometimes even when I thought they were open. Growing up with stories from family that has traveled and worked for various NGO’s, I thought I had some understanding of what life was life in poorer countries and of the difficulties they faced. I knew the way of life would be different in Peru and I thought I knew what to expect. I quickly learned that hearing about something, reading about something or researching something can never fully prepare you for the reality of living it and seeing it first hand.
It is more than safe to say that I changed from the start to the end of my time in Peru. Looking back, it’s funny how completely normal the “different” things were to me at the end of my short six weeks. At the beginning I looked at how some of the locals in Urubamba lived, in little houses with tin roofs, hand-washing clothes, only a little market, minimal hot water, so simplistically… and I didn’t think I could permanently live like that. I had trouble with not being about to drink the water and hated cold showers. I shamefully missed silly luxuries like that and sometimes wanted to go home. By the end of the trip… I really didn’t want to leave. I would have been more than happy owning and living in my own little one room sized house/apartment room in Peru, having only what I really needed. I realized how much of a materialistic life I live in Canadian society and I felt guilty for the way I lived and felt ridiculous that I missed it at the beginning. After a few weeks I didn’t mind the hot water issues or the non-potable tap water. Furthermore, I could care less if I ever had the foods I once missed again, and I realized that clothes and material goods should not have anything to do with real happiness. The people in Peru may run on “Peruvian time”, but they enjoy life! It is in others, in friends and families and making memories that happiness lies. In being thankful for what you have and sharing it with others. I find Canadians are so busy, always in a hurry, going from one thing to a next, too tired at the end of the day to anything but watch T.V. They often buy happiness. But happiness should not be bought, I saw the happiest people living life like it should be lived, and these people hardly had anything. It is something that has to be experienced to be fully understood and I am so thankful I got the chance to experience it.
The human rights research we conducted in the Cusco region made me realize how difficult it actually is to make a difference. The world has become so globalized, so innovated and connected yet poverty and discrimination are still very prevalent. When a large portion of a society holds one belief, such as that indigenous are lesser for example, it is very hard to change their view. Perhaps the best solution I saw was to start changing societal views by targeting the children who become the future generations. Nevertheless, many NGO’s do not have large resources and can only focus on promoting human rights and discouraging discrimination in one small town or village. I furthermore realized that processes of development are very complicated and take a lot of time to unfold. I wanted to be able go to Peru and to make a change but I realized it was not that easy. Knowing I possess human rights and knowing discrimination is very wrong is like knowing the sky is blue… it is just accepted and known to me. Therefore, I sometimes felt like I was trying to explain why the sky was blue, or that the sky was blue and why.
I fell in love with Peru. I love the culture, the music, the dancing, the people, the celebrations and the festivals. I love the mountains, the scenery, their way of life, and the happiness and the generosity I experienced. For me, Peru was unlike any place I had ever been. I realized how big the world is, and how there is so much left for me to discover. I know I can’t change the world, but I know I’m going to try my hardest to make the biggest difference I can. Peru was a life changing experience and I will be forever thankful and in its debt.