A couple weeks ago, 14 strangers from Kaiser Permanente took their vacation to come serve and build a ‘Courts for Kids’ for a week in Villa Chatito. These strangers quickly became new friends and a team. Everyone with their own domino lives, falling step by step forward, landed in the place I now call home. For those 7 days, underneath the blazing sun, our goal of working hand-in-hand with the community to build a multi-use sports court came to fruition. Behind that goal there was a larger purpose, to live in the same conditions of the community, eat the same food and learn from one another’s cultural and life experiences. They essentially became temporary Peace Corps volunteers for the week, living with host families and seeing all the ins-and-outs of this lifestyle while immersing themselves with the culture. And I had the pleasure of being the bi-cultural ambassador for both Peru and US at the same time – teaching everything I knew about both cultures to both audiences – as well as translating 24/7.
Some people come into your life at a precise moment, when you did not know it was needed, and open a door you didn’t even know was closed. And they swing it open and let the breeze in and truly are a breathe of fresh air. For me, this group of people and project did just that. When the sun went down and the sky became speckled with stars, we took time to reflect as a group on the experience we were all undergoing each day. Throughout this fleeting week, I was able to see my community for the first-time all over again through their curious lens and to answer questions I have not thought to ask myself. They enlightened me to not take this experience for granted, and keep looking at everything curiously. Having them here for the week allowed me to express my views, and it was rewarding to have it reflected back at the same time.
This project began over a year ago, after I stumbled across the opportunity on the Peace Corps Facebook page. I pitched the idea to my best friend, Magaly, who is also the female sports leader in the community. She loved the idea and became the main counterpart I worked with it – without her this project would not have happened. She gave so much. We quickly pitched it to key authorities and a contractor to begin the application and budget bid. A few short months later we received news we had received approval from Courts for Kids, and they would be coming down in July. Surprise, surprise!
Throughout the months prior to the group’s arrival, the committee and myself had to buy all the materials, begin construction with the contractor and workers, select/train host families, plan all the meals, plan excursions and cultural events. The group came down at the perfect time to celebrate Fiestas Patrias, Peru’s independence day, in which the community proudly took them in and asked them to close out the parade. They were able to witness numerous cultures and historical stories that were represented by the kids throughout the day. Beyond that, they were also able to learn how to make ceviche, dance some Peruvian dances and play numerous games with kids.
Collaborative giving was the catalyst behind this project. From the beginning, people from both sides – the NGO ‘Courts for Kids’ and Villa Chatito – were constantly giving. Time. Dedication. Work. Kindness. Compassion and acceptance. Community and love and cooperation. A simple unison made together not only to build a place for kids to play, but to build a friendship amongst one another. So many people gave so much for this court to come together, and I could not be more grateful.
Over 20 community members gave their work, time and expertise as construction workers to help the volunteers complete the court on time – also while taking off a week off from their job. The main contractor selflessly gave his salary voluntarily as an example of community service to others. The project committee members gave their commitment for months prior to the project to coordinate all logistics. Numerous community members gave construction machines, gasoline and materials to have the foundation ready before the Courts for Kids group arrived. The municipality gave 5,000 soles worth in materials to complete the court. A family gave up their living room to become our storage unit for the materials, and are meeting spot for the all things court related. Seven host families opened up their homes to host the volunteers, and showered them with compassion. Five senoras cooked and poured love and pride into their delicious Peruvian foods. The whole community gave numerous welcome ceremonies, showing how proud they were to host them for the week teaching the customs and ways of Villa Chatito despite the language barriers. Countless kids gave their efforts in helping in anyway possible to build the court; rather it was shoveling sand or leveling the cement. Many of my Peace Corps friends came in for the day to help with the construction and translation – life savers! Courts for Kids donated $5,000 for construction materials. The Courts for Kids volunteers gave hard-dedicated work to complete the court on time that was shown through their sore muscles, all while being a wonderful of example of service. The CFK volunteers also gave up their comfort zones and jumped into the unknown. And of course, bacteria gave many of the volunteers a bit of diarrhea….woops!
It was a long couple months, and there were several moments I did not think it would actually happen but after a year of planning, soliciting materials from the municipality, training committee members and motivating community participation to volunteer themselves – we can officially say ‘WE DID IT!’
The construction itself was hard work partnered with long days. We became a well-oiled machine with everyone excelling in different roles from shoveling sand, pushing wheelbarrows, pouring cement and more. Surprisingly, everything went as smoothly as it possibly could. We may have had some bumps in the road, which didn’t surprise me by working in a developing community. Such as the water not coming one day, so this made it a bit difficult to mix cement. This left us to go the local canal, climb down the ladder and fill up buckets and bins to bring back and forth from the construction site. Or running last minute to buy Styrofoam boards to fill in the cracks, and have them fly away in the moto-taxi. Leaving myself and my moto-taxista hunting for them in 4 feet tall plants. These little bumps in the road did not stop us from progressing like work-mules and finishing the court.
One of my favorite moments of the project was the last day of construction when we had ‘finished’. The Courts for Kids volunteers all went home after cleanup but I stayed to go get bars welded with one of the workers for the goals. When we returned from the errand, my wonderful guy friends had put up the goals and when I pulled up they all raised their arms up and cheered that they had finished! My heart filled with joy, and I walked down to the court with a smile from ear-to-ear to shoot the first basket and give each of them a well-deserved hug. One of the best parts was working alongside many of the men who were friendly acquaintances and developing them into respectable friendships, all while they confidently taught me a thing or two about construction.
We celebrated the completion of the court with an inauguration ceremony with the community members and authorities. Many speeches were given, and the big mayor from the district came in to present the Courts for Kids with a medal of appreciation. After all the words of appreciation were given, and I poorly translated them – we broke the champagne bottle and played a game of each of the sports we can play on the court – soccer, volleyball and basketball. We ended it with a bit of dancing and sharing a meal with the people we had been working alongside all week.
Here is a video of me speaking at the inauguration, and getting a bit choked up of how happy I was with everyone. I did not realize how difficult and awkward it is translating yourself from mediocre Spanish to mediocre English.
During the ceremony, I felt extremely grateful for my community. Many times I may get wrapped up in the negative that is happening around me, but in this week all I could feel was the love and pride these people had to be hosting a large group of foreign visitors all working towards a common goal.
Yes, we built a sports court and so much more. Behind any successful development project, there is more than the cement and work that go into it – but building up the people who were involved. The project committee learned how to make a budget and project plans while coordinating a large-scale project with multiple stakeholders. The community volunteered themselves and saw the power of community development when they have a hand in it. The construction workers built confidence in their skill and teaching it to a group of people who had essentially no idea about construction. The host families experienced a cultural exchange and built friendships with the volunteers. And the Courts for Kids volunteers hopefully left with a larger worldview and a fond impression of the beautiful yet quaint Villa Chatito.
The past weeks the court has been being used like crazy. Everytime I walk by it people are playing either soccer or basketball. And we have made afternoons dedicated to volleyball as well. It is more than a court, but a community gathering spot and a memory of a week many will never forget.
WE DID IT!
Timeline of Project:
- August 2015: Pitched Idea & Applied with counterparts
- September 2015: Heard back from Courts for Kids with logistical questions
- October 2015: Courts for Kids confirmed project adoption, and approval from Peace Corps Grants coordinator
- November 2015: Pitched project to district municipality for support with other materials, and formed local project committee
- March 2016: Received funding form local municipality
- June & July 2016: Crunch-time. Buying materials and starting construction foundation. Choosing host families, coordinating with numerous senoras to cook, planning cultural events, ceremonies, snacks, water, airport transportation, excursions, etc. etc.
- End of July: Courts for Kids volunteers are and court is constructed and inaugurated! Time to play!
- August: Finish the border of court and paint and keep on playing 🙂
Let’s end this blog post with a weird anecdote…while we were painting the goals a goat walked by and gave birth on the run and left her baby there. Here are the weird photos….