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Aileen Leyva with Vive Perú

This summer I spent 5 weeks in the beautiful country of Peru with the non-profit organization Vive Perú. Vive Perú fosters the understanding of Latin American culture and provides much needed aid to Peruvian communities through many ways depending on your interests. Aid is provided through medical campaigns, volunteering at hospitals that are understaffed, health education campaigns, English workshops, music enrichment programs and Internet installation projects. Having done a study abroad program before I thought I would embark on a volunteer adventure.

My first week in Peru was probably the same as any other tourist who visits Peru. I went to Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu along with other volunteers who came from all around the country (Stanford, Berkeley, Notre Dame, ASU, U of A, among others). Machu Picchu was breathtaking. From there I traveled to the city of Trujillo, La Libertad, Peru that would be my home for the next 4 weeks.

Thinking back I still can’t believe all the things that happened in only 4 weeks. Every day was an adventure. My weekdays consisted of volunteering in hospitals in impoverished areas. I got to shadow a pediatrician, gynecologist, ER doctor and at times got to do triage, physical exams, vaccines, and injections. One of the things that I will never forget was the day I got to scrub in for a brain tumor removal. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I definitely would not have been able to do many of the things I got to do in Peru but there is no comparison between our hospitals here in the U.S. and theirs. It was really sad to see the state of some of these facilities and working in these hospitals made me appreciate everything we have back home that we take for granted most of the time.

We also worked with families in impoverished areas of Trujillo, specifically El Progreso. We gave classes and workshops to both the children and parents on general health, hygiene and prevention. I can honestly say that the kids from El Progreso have forever changed me. I know that sounds cliché but I will never forget their happiness and how loving they were to complete strangers like me. They are honestly the happiest kids I have ever met. It still seems unreal to me how happy they are living in the conditions that they do. Their streets are filled with garbage, most of their homes consist of dirt floors, clean water is a luxury for them, 8 out of 10 kids are infected with parasites amongst other diseases and most of their parents did not even get to finish elementary school. It is still unreal to me how there are still people around the world who live like this. I found their smiles and innocence contagious and I couldn’t help but lose myself in their little world where all that mattered was that they had someone to play with and hug. I got to meet amazing people who I now consider my best friends, got to travel around Peru and immerse myself in their culture, and hopefully made a difference in a few people’s lives. It was not always easy but it was definitely one of the most rewarding summers of my life.