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We got right to work upon our arrival to Peru. Before our first visit to Yanamono II, we organized the Opening Ceremonies, which initiated our time and work in the community. Our hope was that these ceremonies would start the beginning of meaningful cultural exchanges and relationships between our team and the people of Yanamono II. We practiced with the team, and the next morning it was show time!
As we pulled up to the bank of the Amazon where Yanamono II is located, we were greeted by furious waving, ear-to-ear smiles and music. When we stepped onto the shore and walked into the village, we were showered with gifts and hugs. We then filed into the community center to begin the Opening Ceremonies. We sang, danced and spoke, and the people of Yanamono II did the same. Smiles, laughter and words of gratitude (in both English and Spanish) flowed in abundance. We knew we were in for the trip of a lifetime.
One of our favorite parts of the ceremonies were giving each member of the community a small string bracelet—each member of our team made at least 6 bracelets—and helping them make a nametag so that we could learn each other’s’ names more easily. We felt that this simple exchange of gifts and the effort to introduce ourselves and learn their names really helped facilitate the beginning of true friendships between the villagers and ourselves. Many of them wore their nametags all week.
Our work did not end after the ceremonies. We were scheduled to run the shoe distribution the very next day, so it was straight to work unpacking and reorganizing the 450+ pairs of shoes we had collected in the US. (Actually our committee collected 1000 pairs of shoes, but we could not get them all down to Peru with us. The other shoes went with other Youthlinc teams all over the world, and some even went to the needy in Utah via Desert Industries.)
The next day, we brought the shoes to Yanamono II and prepared to give them to the villagers. It was amazing! Leonardo, the community leader, organized families in the village from greatest need to least and they patiently waited as each individual walked in with a member of our team to pick out a pair of shoes they wanted. It turned out that not only were we able to give every single person in the village a pair of shoes, but we were also able to give the most in need two pairs! The shoe distribution was a very humbling experience for many of us. A pair of shoes to us is not something we pay attention to, let alone a used pair. We have tens of pairs of shoes in our closets and we never think twice about it. But to these people a pair of shoes, even if they are used, is the difference between contracting worms and parasites that live in the mud, and not. It is the difference between having to endure the painful itch of chigger bites on your feet and legs, and protecting yourself from them. It was a humbling and beautiful experience to hand out these shoes.
Besides rocking the opening ceremonies and the shoe distribution, one of the most well received cultural projects was the second annual Fútbol Tournament! This tournament, which began last year with Youthlinc’s 2012 Peru team, has been one of the highlights of our trip.
Before we arrived in Peru, we split ourselves in to 8 teams. This meant that there were 4-5 Youthlinc people on each team and about 7-8 Peruvians. Since the Peruvians are about 5 million times better than us, we were fairly evenly matched.
We played one game every day. We would finish all projects and trek over to the field together. The teams were chosen, pennies distributed and the game began! Those who played got a serious work out, and we only sustained minor injuries. Everyone else watched from the sidelines, played with the kids and enjoyed an afternoon of one of the world’s favorite pastimes.
Playing with the people of Yanamono really helped us deepen our friendships with them by way of fun, friendly competition and sportsmanship. We had a blast!
This community is something special. They are the definition of the saying “it takes a village” and we are understanding the beauty of that a little more each day. The people here work and play together seamlessly. It is a community unlike anything we have in the United States. The people are extremely welcoming, loving and humble.
They accept us, not as strangers, but as family. They know our names, they hold our hands, and they work beside us for the common goal of creating a better future for themselves and their children.
This makes our job of facilitating cultural exchange not only easy, but organic. Their openness encourages our team to open our minds and hearts to them; and we have. In just a few short days we have become like family.
As one of the mentors of the cultural committee, I have seen the relationships grow first hand. I have seen the children run up to our team members, grab their hands and not let go until it is time for the boat ride home. I have seen the respect that exists between the leader of the community and the leaders of our team develop into a trusting friendship. I have seen the women remember returning Youthlincers and embrace them as old friends. And I have seen the people work alongside us at construction sites… doing twice the amount of work in half the time, but being patient with us nonetheless.
This is the true beauty of Yanamono II. They are teaching and giving us more than we could ever give them. We will all be changed by the end of this trip, and all of these people will forever be in our hearts.
Special thanks to Lisa Moynihan for compiling this summary! We love you Lisa!