Goodbyes

As I sit here and write this I have fourteen days left here in Huanuco. Fourteen. It doesn’t even feel real when I type it. I know my blog has been lacking lately, and I apologize for that. It’s hard for me to reflect and put my feelings into a blog post sometimes because it’s hard for me to even explain or recognize the feelings that I’ve had while being here. So much has happened, I’ve had so many different emotions go through me, yet how do I explain that. The other volunteer that had been here for the past few months left just last Thursday and that’s when it really hit me. Seeing her say goodbye to all the girls at the shelter, all the women and men who work here, our host family; it hit me that that will be me in two weeks. Her last day of work was really emotional. It’s a different kind of goodbye when you don’t know if or when you’ll ever see that person again. And nowadays, we can say goodbye to someone and tell them things like “We’ll Facetime!” “Don’t worry! We’ll message each other every week updating one another on our lives!” “This isn’t a goodbye, it’s a see you later” “I can’t wait to see what you’re up to on your Instagram.” Those goodbye phrases aren’t used when it comes to saying goodbye here. The girls at the shelter don’t have access to internet, social media, international calls, or even cards. When you say goodbye to them, you’re saying goodbye. For good. If you do happen to come back and visit, most of the girls who are currently in the shelter, will be gone, off on the next part of their lives. You’ll most likely never hear from them again. That’s why saying goodbye here is so hard.

About a month ago, three fifteen year old girls who were living at the shelter ran away. They went to a school in a town nearby and didn’t show up to their next class. They were gone. No goodbye, no bags packed, no note. Just gone. This really hit me and Savanna hard. We thought they must be found in a week, two weeks tops. These were fifteen year old girls who had been in our care so we had to find them. The police searched for a bit (I’m not positive just how hard they searched), but they never were found. These girls who we had seen everyday, laughed with, hugged, were just gone. They decided they did not want to be living in the shelter and they made the decision to go. It was hard for Savanna and I to understand why the women we worked with were so nonchalant about it all. We discussed how in The States, if three fifteen year old girls ran away from a shelter where we had been taking care of them, the search would be extensive. I’m sure we would have found them. But here, it’s almost as if they had just accepted their decision to go and respected that decision. They might not have agreed with it, and they were definitely hurt and upset by it, but if that’s what the girls had wanted to do, there really was nothing the workers could have done to stop that. It took me awhile to understand and accept that. Even weeks after, I would continue to ask if there was any news about them and receive the shaking head “No.” After awhile, I realized that even though these girls chose to run away, eventually all the girls here would leave, either going to live with relatives or another shelter, and I wouldn’t have any control over what they decided to do in their lives. Nobody would. That’s the hard thing to accept about life. Sometimes we’ll never know how someone who we once cared about will end up living their lives. All we can do is keep them in our prayers and thoughts and hope for the best. But it’s also the beauty of life. People all around the world, are constantly living and dying, laughing and crying, loving and losing. That’s life. It’s better to accept that then try and fight against it. Leaving here will be one of the hardest things I’ve done. But it’s all a part of this crazy and beautiful life I’m living.

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Day in the Life

It’s April! Time has been flying by every since January. I’ve had a difficult time trying to find something specific to discuss on my blog recently. I’ve really gotten into a regular routine and it’s feeling like normal life so I guess I just found that hard to try and translate into a captivating blog post. But I know you all are interested in what’s happening here, even if it’s just hearing about my day to day life so here we go…I’m going to write a typical day in the life (with some added photos to try and give you all a visualization). Also if you notice I say “we” at some points, that’s because just last week, another volunteer came! Her name is Savanna and she’ll be here till July. She’s actually come to the shelter three times in the past four years on ten day mission trips through her school, Judson University. This place has held a special place in her heart and she’s always felt called to come and volunteer here for a longer period of time, so she’s finally doing it! It’s been amazing to have someone to talk to and do things with. She’s also just reminded me how wonderful and special Casa Del Buen Trato Hovde and Huanuco are, which sometimes I forget since it’s become just my normal life.

Here is a day in the life!

6:30am: On work days, I get up around 6:30am. I’m one of those people who will usually set a couple of alarms because I love that feeling of hitting snooze and sleeping another five minutes. But yes, I usually try and get out of bed by 6:30.

6:30-7:00: During this time I am doing normal getting ready stuff; getting changed, washing my face, brushing my hair, the works, and then by 7 breakfast is usually ready (my host mom Marina will wake up early and prepare breakfast every morning which is always so sweet and makes the whole morning routine a lot easier). We always have some sort of bread rolls with different things – scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, avocado, cheese, etc.

7:15am: We try and leave the house by 7:15 and catch a tuk tuk to our bus meeting spot which is about a 15 minute drive away. Once we get to the bus, all of us who work at the shelter drive about 45 minutes or an hour to a town outside of Huanuco where the shelter is. The commute is absolutely beautiful and probably one of my favorite parts of my days. It gives me time to just zone out and listen to music and take in the scenery.

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A view I see everyday on my commute
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A beautiful full rainbow that appeared one day on our commute

9:00-12:00: We usually arrive to the shelter around 9. On Mondays we all have a devotional where we will sing a couple of songs together, pray for the girls, and then just discuss how the girls have been the past week. After that or on days when we don’t have devotionals, we all start getting to work. School is back in session for the girls so the mornings are a bit quiet. Sometimes I am working preparing for a workshop in afternoon, filing, or helping out wherever is needed. I tend to do a lot of odd jobs here and there and spend most of my time hanging out with the girls. When I first got here, I got frustrated a lot because I often didn’t have much real work to do, but I’ve realized that making connections with the girls here is the most important thing about being here. Sometimes I will go and pick up the girls from school (it’s about a 15 minute walk). This is always a fun part of my day because I get to go out of the shelter and just walk around on the surrounding farms and take in the beauty of the place.

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Walking back from school with the girls & Savanna

 

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What we walk through to get to their school… never get tired of this view

12:00-1:00: We always have lunch together around 12. Lunch breaks are taken very seriously here and are a time to fully be away from work and enjoy each others company. We always take the full hour, even if we have finished eating and we will just hang out and talk to one another. A few times, people have rang the bell outside the shelter to try and talk to someone from the office during lunchtime and the women working here will just make them wait (sometimes for over half an hour) until lunch break is over (which always makes me feel a bit on edge), but that’s just how seriously lunch break is taken. It makes me sad to think how in The States, lunch time is rarely taken seriously and more often than not, people will eat and work at the same time. I’ve found it to be such a valuable time to reset and to learn more about all my coworkers.

1:00-5:00: For the last four hours of work, most of the girls have come back from school so I’m almost never alone, which can be a bit exhausting but also so amazing. I’ve gotten to know all of them personally, and have special memories with every single one of them, and that is something I will always cherish about my year here. Every Tuesday and Thursday, we have psychology workshops with the girls about different topics such as Self Esteem, Self-Care, How to Deal With Trauma, and much more. Just yesterday we had a workshop with the older girls surrounding the theme ‘If God Loves Us, Then Why Do We Suffer?’ The psychologist working here has a great book all about trauma and connecting it to God. It uses stories and bible verses to help the girls here recover from the trauma they’ve endured, and remind them that God is always there for them, no matter what they go through.

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The girls playing around one afternoon a couple of weeks ago

5:00-6:30: At 5:00 we head home! Usually this time is spent taking a nap after a long day, listening to more music or just looking out at the beautiful scenery again (I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it). We always walk home instead of taking a tuk tuk and sometimes will stop by our favorite ice cream place to treat ourselves.

6:30-10:30: Once home, we usually have dinner around 7:30ish, every day is different. Sometimes we’ll watch TV while eating. There is this hilarious reality game show that they love watching that I’ve started to really enjoy too. Mateo (my host sister’s baby) is usually up and walking around getting into mischief while we’re all eating, so that’s always fun to watch him and make funny faces at him. After dinner I usually try and do a little workout before I shower – not only does it warm me up for the cold shower but just makes me feel good to keep in shape a bit. Once I’m out of the shower I usually just hang out, take some time to chill, watch a show, listen to more music, play some guitar, talk to my friends, etc., and that’s about it!

My routine and everyday life has definitely changed a lot since being here but I’ve really come to enjoy my routine and enjoy my life here. I am trying to really take in as much as I can these last few months and be present.

As always, thank you all for your support!

Realizations & Vacations

Happy New Year everyone! A lot has happened in the past almost two months it has been since I’ve written my last blog post. I’ve gone through probably what I hope to be some of the hardest periods of transition – being here over the holidays – and have also gone on one of the best vacations of my life. I want to start off this post by sharing something I’ve realized about myself while being here, that is more on the personal side but important I think to share.

There is this thing that they do here that I’ve never really experienced before and every time it happens I always think to myself “Wow, why do I get so emotional doing this?” Whenever it is someones birthday at work, we get the person a cake, sit down, and all go around and say palabras (words) about that person. This seems like a simple thing, right? So did I… until I realized I’ve never in my life been forced to sit down, look someone in the eyes and tell them why I care about them in front of a group of people, especially a coworker. Of course I’ve told someone why I care about them before, but it’s never been something I’ve had to do, and at least for me, it tends to happen more so in writing than in person. I quickly realized during these birthday gatherings that I get emotional when telling someone something even as simple as “Thank you for welcoming me here, your passion at work really inspires me.” I didn’t understand why I started to tear up and because of that confusion, I caught myself trying to figure out why… why do I get emotional when I tell someone how I feel about them? It’s not something that should be hard to do, but it always has been something that’s hard for me. I don’t know if it is because of my Japanese background, personality, past experiences, or just a combination of it all, but it’s something I’ve realized about myself and become more aware of these past 4/5 months. I still don’t exactly know why, but I think one of the reasons I get emotional is because when I tell someone why I care about them, I’m exposing a part of myself I don’t usually show, and that’s difficult for me. It’s not something I think about on a daily basis; what about a person makes me love them. I know when someone is an important person to me, but to explain what exactly it is about them that makes me care for them is not something I usually think about, because I don’t necessarily have to, because I’m not forced to tell them. It’s made me think more about the people in my life, why they are in my life, and why it is I’m so grateful for them.

This whole story and realization is not something I necessarily feel comfortable sharing, but that’s what this year is about – not feeling comfortable – so I thought it was something I should share. It’s just one of the many things my time here has forced me to think about and realize I need to work on. I’m learning how important it is to tell others how you’re feeling, not only about them but about yourself and what you’re going through. Just being more open in general to people. There is only so little time that we get with people and get the chance to open up to them and I’m quickly learning that as the months pass by here.

On another note, we had a week long vacation from the 25th of December to the 1st of January and I took that time to visit Cusco! One of my oldest friends from high school, Rachel Gilmore, was able to come down and travel around with me and we had an amazing time. We visited Machu Picchu – such an incredible day – and explored the city of Cusco (I’ll add some photos at the end of the post). I hadn’t seen her in two years so it was really incredible to reunite in such a beautiful place and be able to catch up on each others lives. I feel so grateful to have shared that experience with her in a country that is becoming a big part of my life.

Thank you for reading my wandering thoughts of today, and thank you for your continuous support! Below are some photos from the past couple of months!

 

 

Some Photos :)

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Exploring the city of Huanuco
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The path I take to pick up the girls from school
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Me and my host mom! We took a day excursion to Tingo Maria, a town two hours away from Huanuco
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A beautiful sunset during my commute home one day
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Taking a walk with Megan and Alyson (other YAVs) while on our retreat in Oxapampa
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The views from where we were staying in Oxapampa
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Sunset in Oxapampa
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Finding some rocks to climb!
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Peru winning their soccer match against New Zealand, taking them to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years!
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Exploring Oxapampa

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Oxapampa

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Tres Meses

It has officially been three months (tres meses) since I arrived in Peru. It has definitely been a rollercoaster of emotions being here. Like I said in my last post, I have completely experienced the shock of leaving my comfort zone, and that still affects me. Spanish still continues to be a daily struggle for me, but I am learning, even though it’s hard to realize that at times. At the same time though, I’ve been able to start to find the comfort here, in Huanuco. I’ve found comfort in the girls at the shelter, who come and visit me at my desk everyday at work. I’ve found comfort in my host family, who are so patient and kind towards me. I’ve found comfort in the women I work with, who make me feel welcomed everyday and who have taught me how easy it is to laugh about things that don’t require a language to understand. I’ve found comfort in knowing there are four other girls here in Peru through the YAV program who are experiencing similar emotions as I am.

One of the girls who was at the shelter had to leave, out of nowhere one afternoon. She was the youngest girl there at six years old and although I had only known her for about a month, it made me realize how much I want to be here. Saying goodbye to her was sad of course, but what really touched me was the way that all the girls gathered around her as she left. While the girls are at the shelter, they become each other’s family. And I feel blessed to be a part of that this year.

This morning I came across a story that really touched me and kind of inspired me to write a blog post today. The story is the one of the Buddha and the Beggar. I won’t explain it all here, but if you want to read it fully here is a link. There are a few main points of the story. The first is that you have to be able to give something up to gain something, whether that be your comfort zone or shell (as the turtle in the story gave up). Another is that in order to find true love, we have to be become someone who is able to put others before ourselves. And the last is that it is easy to get in your head and think that your problems are so big, but when you compare your problems to others, it may make you realize your problems are actually small in comparison. I often get in my own head. My thoughts drift to the future and the past and I get frustrated. I focus on things and problems that don’t hold much significance and forget to be present in the moment that I am in. The story says, “If we’re willing to lend a hand to those who are struggling more than us, willing to help them, it may change the course of your life, your destiny. And the universe may repay you in such a way that you never would have imagined.” I don’t want to act high and mighty by saying I am coming here and doing so much to help others, because that is not necessarily why I am here or what I am doing. But this story helped remind me there’s a bigger reason why I am here and it’s important for me to stop focusing on my own struggles and be more present with the people I interact with.

 

The Choice to Leave My Comfort Zone

Hello everyone. This past month and a half has really flown by… it feels like just yesterday we were landing in Lima, taking in all the new scenery as we drove into the city from the airport. This past month and a half has been all about our transition into Peruvian culture through learning the language, the history and about the different organizations we are all going to be a part of. Learning the language has been a process…I did not know Spanish at all before arriving here, so that has been extremely difficult, more difficult than I could ever really imagine. We took four hour long classes five days a week and that allowed me to get a good introduction however, nothing could have prepared me for the full emersion once I arrived in Huanuco two weeks ago. But as they say, it’s getting better poca a poco (little by little). After our morning Spanish classes, we would have activities with Jenny and Jed (our amazing site coordinators) where we would visit different parts of the city, learn about the colonization of Peru, learn about the organizations we are going to be a part of here, have devotions and discuss how we have all been feeling. Our month long orientation in Lima did not really feel like much of a real transition to me. All of us girls were together constantly and we were not truly forced to leave our comfort zones. Many parts of Lima feel very familiar to the States, with cute small coffee shops, restaurants, stores, and tourists walking around. And since I hadn’t started work yet, it felt more like a trip more than a transition into a new country and culture. Now that I am here in Huanuco, I have realized that I never once was forced to really use the Spanish I had learned while there to try and communicate. I was surrounded by four other girls who spoke English and some who knew Spanish a bit better would be the ones we relied on to communicate with others. Once I arrived in Huanuco, that is when it really hit me. I am here for a year, by myself in this city, forced to use a language I do not know. It was overwhelming to say the least. I realized I had never in my life, even the years I spent growing up in Japan, never not been able to communicate. In Japan, I had always had people surrounding me who spoke English, or if I didn’t, I could easily use the Japanese I knew to get around until I was back in my English speaking bubble. I never had realized the privilege of it all until I got here and quickly realized the little amount of Spanish I had learned while in Lima was not going to get me very far. My host Mother, Marina, who is the sweetest and most patient women, picked me up from the airport on September 28th. There was so much I wanted to say to her, little things like “Wow, this is the street you live on? Have you lived here your whole life? I am so happy to finally meet you!” and I realized I didn’t know the words. I tried to make up for lack of enthusiasm in words with a bright expression on my face and a constant smile. And I made sure to have an extremely apologetic look on my face every time I had to say “lo siento, no entiendo”. It felt exhausting and still feels exhausting, the constant quick translation that goes off in my head every time someone talks to me, trying to pick up words I recognize to at least understand the gist of what they are saying. It is a long and difficult process of learning…and I knew it would be, but I didn’t really know what it would feel like till I got here and was forced into it. I know that these first few months are going to be hard and I’m going to feel very lonely, but what is giving me comfort throughout all of this is where I am working. I started working at Casa Del Buen Trato Hovde two weeks ago and the girls I have met there really put everything I am going through into perspective. Casa Del Buen Trato Hovde is the only shelter in all of Peru for children, adolescents, and women affected by domestic violence and sexual abuse. There are close to thirty girls staying at the shelter right now and each have different experiences, that I am not even fully aware of yet, but here and there I have learned some of the girl’s stories. I can not and will not ever be able to relate to what they have gone through but seeing them every day, with smiles on their faces and their kind hearts remind me why I am here. The women who dedicate their lives working at this shelter are all so passionate about what they are doing and really put their hearts and souls into everything they do. I might be having a difficult transition, but the shelter that I am a working at is positively changing these girls lives and it is something wonderful to be a part of. I am grateful to be here and want to remember the privilege I have to have had the chance to choose to completely and fully be taken out of my comfort zone. Most people do not have that choice.

I want to thank you all for supporting me this year and taking an interest in my year here. I wouldn’t be able to be here without the support of you all back home.

Below are some photos from my first month and a half of being here 🙂

 

 

 

What Will This Year Be All About?

I realized that I did not fully explain yet what the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program is all about. The YAV program is a faith-based year of service for people between the ages of 18-30. There are 22 sites within the United States and internationally where people can serve. The program was created with five main goals in mind:

Intentional Christian Community 

YAVs explore what it means to be a Christian community with one another and their neighbors. While some will live in housing together and others spread throughout their country, all YAVs will reflect together on their service and explore their relationship with God, the church, and their ministry in a broken world.

Simple Living

YAVs are challenged to practice simple living – living an abundant life with less. Living simply pushes YAVs to evaluate their true needs with their lifestyle and beliefs.

Cross-Cultural Mission

YAVs will intentionally explore the diversity of God’s creation, living and working outside of their comfort zone. YAVs will work to confront the systemic challenges of race, class, gender, and power, while learning to examine their own lives and actions.

Leadership Development through Faith in Action

YAVs develop their leadership by serving in marginalized communities alongside local people of faith responding to poverty, violence, and injustice in their communities, sharing the gospel through word and deed.

Vocational Discernment

Through theological reflection and spiritual practices, YAVs will participate in the process of vocational discernment—unearthing God’s desire for each person’s life and work.

All of this information and more is available here, on their site.

I first learned about the YAV program in high school. One of the girls who was a few years older than me went to serve in the Philippines and talked about it during church. I automatically was intrigued and have kept it in the back of my mind throughout the past few years. During the winter break before my last semester of college, I was thinking to myself, what will be my next step…and I really did not know.  Although I didn’t know career/school wise what my next step was, what was clear was that I had a strong need to volunteer in some sort of way in an effort to help others and grow as a person and in my faith. The YAV program seemed like a perfect fit. I applied in February and by April, I was offered a placement with the site in Peru. I could not have been more excited. I will be working in Huanuco, a rural city northeast of Lima at Casa Del Buen Trato Hovde. Casa Del Buen Trato Hovde is a shelter for women and children who have been affected by domestic violence and sexual abuse, with a focus in development of skills, exercise of rights, and relationships of gender equity from a Christian perspective. I will be working in their psychology department but I am not exactly sure what that will entail yet. I am sure this year will be challenging in many ways, but I am excited to be able to help in any way I can and believe this coming year is going to be an amazing experience.