Seattle Works

A blog that documents all things Seattle Works…and much much more!

From the field: working up a sweat in the Andes December 12, 2008

Filed under: Service Trips — seattleworks @ 6:01 pm

Greetings, my name is Thomas Buford and I have the privilege of telling you about a trip to Chinchero, Peru, that I shared with fourteen extraordinary people.  The trip, which lasted twelve days during November 2008, was a partnership between Crooked Trails, Seattle Works, and the Young Professionals International Network.  I have volunteered with Seattle Works programs for a couple of years and was made aware of this trip through the Seattle Works newsletter.  After discussing the trip with my wife, Laura, we decided that joining this adventure was an incredible opportunity that could not be passed up.  In retrospect, that was a great decision.

On paper, the trip sounded amazing: travel to the town of Chinchero, stay with a host family there, and work on a boarding facility for children so that they could attend the school in Chinchero.  The children’s current school day looks like this: wake up, walk one to two hours to school, spend seven hours at school, walk one to two hours home, work on their families’ farms in the afternoon, and then to sleep.  Obviously, these are not ideal conditions for the education of a child.  Add into this mix that many of the children are orphans and that the children’s nutrition in their villages is meager, it becomes clear that learning would be very, very difficult.

Enter our host family (and the heros of this story) – Paulino, Vilma, Faustina, Maria, Raul, Roxana, Franklin, and Chaska.  Paulino and Vilma saw this situation and did not sit idly by the wayside.  Instead, they took a step that few would make – they proposed to build an addition onto their home.  The addition would contain a room where fifteen children could sleep, a library where they could study, a computer center where their education could be enhanced, and a kitchen where they could be nourished.  With the help of a few previous Crooked Trails trip members, the dream started to become reality.  When we arrived in Chinchero, the walls, built from adobe, and a roof, built from bamboo and thatch, had been constructed.  It was our task to build the floor.

As we began our work, it became clear that construction in Chinchero is a little different: first, there are no machines and, second, Chinchero sits approximately 12,500 feet above sea level.  So, as we started to shovel out what seems now to be an impossible amount of dirt, we from sea level started to breath…and sweat…and breath more…and sweat more.  Despite being folks that mostly work in offices, my cohorts on the trip adapted and excelled.  They removed countless wheelbarrows full of dirt up a steep hill, laid tons of rock that will serve as a foundation for the floor, and mixed, wheel barrowed, and laid a massive amount of concrete for the floor.  Despite being tired, oxygen starved, and really dirty (especially you, Freddy), they always stood ready to do more.  The memory of the work we did together is one that will last for a long, long time.

As important as the work was, the people involved in this trip are what made it special.  First, the people on the trip, including our guide Todd, were incredible.  It was great to live with these folks for two weeks.  Truly remarkable, they are.  Second, Paulino and Vilma and their family are truly inspiring.  Despite the great vision they have shown and the sacrifices they are making, the family is humble and kind, warm and welcoming.  They took us into their home, fed us, sheltered us, and made us feel like a part of their family.  Maria’s cooking was the perfect antidote to tired feet.  Vilma’s laugh immediately lights up all around her.  Raul, Roxana, and Franklin’s loving care for their three year old sister, Chaska, was truly amazing.  Words do no justice to the beauty of this family.

Finally, one event on this trip was so unpredictable and so incredible that I am still a little unsure that it actually happened.  The day before we were to leave Chinchero, Paulino and Vilma took us to a village where eight of the children currently live.  We expected a quiet walk around the village and then quickly back to Chinchero.  Instead, as we approach the village, we are met by a roadblock: residents of the village, holding an arch of foliage, are blocking the way.  We disembark the vehicles and are met by song and ceremonial dance.  They guide us to a nearby field where we find that we have been set as the guests of honor at a celebration.  Almost all members of the village have gathered to celebrate the receipt of seven milk cows, a gift from Crooked Trails donors and previous travelers.  While we definitely got some credit for that gift that we did not deserve, it does not change the truly awe-inspiring nature of that afternoon.

We feasted on potato soup and cuy (read as guinea pig), danced with our hosts, blessed the cows, played games with the children, enjoyed an incredible amount of fellowship with all involved, and, finally, long after the sun had disappeared, danced all the way back to our vehicles.  The colors, sounds, sights, and tastes of that day are something I struggle to comprehend.  I still cannot believe that was an experience that I was lucky enough to have.

Looking back at this trip, I think the best single word to describe this trip is unique.  The people on the trip, the guide from Crooked Trails, Paulino and Vilma and their family, the work we did, and the people we met: each of these things is unique.  They cannot be duplicated.  I cannot imagine a better experience and I am very thankful for my ability to participate in such an incredible trip.


Reflections on the Peru Trip December 2, 2008

Filed under: Service Trips — seattleworks @ 5:57 pm

Many times I have heard the phrase, “You get what you give.” In special cases, however, you get much more than you could ever give. Our trip to Chinchero, Peru, drove home that point time and again. We worked to install a concrete floor in the boarding home for students over during our week in Chinchero. Though we worked extremely hard, I can’t help feeling like we received much more from the people of Chinchero and surrounding areas than we could have imagined.

Our host family – Paulino, Vilma, Faustina, Maria, Raul, Roxana, Franklin, and Chaska – opened their home, their way of life, and their hearts to us. It was such a treat to eat at one long table three times a day. I felt like I was part of a huge family, which is quite a change for this only child. The family’s generosity was just the beginning of the hospitality we would encounter. Almost everyone we met was quick to greet us with a “Buenos Dias.” The weavers at the weaving cooperative even graciously allowed us to fumble our way through weaving to better understand their craft.

The most amazing part of the week in Chinchero occurred during our last afternoon there. Paulino and family told us that we were going to meet some of the children who would be staying in the boarding house and attending school in Chinchero. Imagine our surprise when we were greeted with a full parade! Not only did we meet the children, but we ate with them, laughed with them, danced with them, and took about a million photos with them. The upwelling of emotions I felt that afternoon will stay with me for a long time.

Thanks to all of my travel buddies in Peru. I’m so glad I could share the journey with you. I tip my Cusqueña to you!

– Laura Skelton


We’re Back!

Filed under: Service Trips — seattleworks @ 5:56 pm

It’s taken a little bit to travel from South America, catch up at work and jump into Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a great trip and don’t have stories to tell.

I couldn’t have traveled with a better mix of Seattle Works folks. Seriously. I see a lot of teams and most are quite great.  I seldom get the chance to actually participate with them, but I also think few are put through the extremes of international travel, altitude sickness and excavating adobe mud.

All fourteen folks held in there, kept positive attitudes and were a genuine pleasure to travel with. I heart Seattle Works international volunteers.

On to the trip . . .

For starters, we landed in Lima and caught a flight to Cusco in order to acclimate to something like 12,000 feet (note, that’s just 2k less than Mt. Rainier).

Cusco is a beautiful city of around 600,000. Used to be the capital of the Inca civilization before the Spaniards took over. Most homesteads are built into the hills and literally flow down into a very vibrant town square. Don’t show up with your shoes dirty or you’ll be harassed until you finally cave in to the one sole-shoe shine.

You can find everything in Cusco from Peruvian Indian food (Indian food attempted in Peru – some ingredients can’t be found though so leaves a little to be desired) to pizzas, lots of pizzas, great Loma Soltado and high end American meals for 150 soles (think two people, great views, two top notch lamb/steak dinners and four drinks all for $50) and the Peruvian standard breakfast of rolls, butter, jam and cocoa tea (highly caffeinated, but great for altitude sickness). All good stuff.

On to Chinchero, our destination for the week. We were guests of Palino and Vilma, owners of the local weaver’s co-op and founders of the soon to be boarding home for orphaned teens. The government pays for school up to the grade 6, but continuing education is not a priority nor is it really possible for kids living in the outlying communities. Not only are they operating off of one meal a day, but it’s four hours round trip on foot to the nearest school which isn’t a great use of time when their help is needed in the fields.

Paulino and Vilma, organic farmers at heart, believe in the outlying community’s commitment to doing things by hand, but want to see the kids succeed as well. They will be hosting a dozen orphans at a time, supporting them through high school and teaching them traditional weaving techniques so that the kids might go back and share the trade with their families.

There are no written weaving instructions. The patterns are taught at a young age, passed through generations and shared at the co-op. We were treated to a dyeing and weaving demonstration our first day in the village. It literally takes one woman an entire month to weave a table runner by hand.

After lunch we took a hike and helped harvest some of the plants needed to dye the alpaca and sheep’s wool for yarn.

The second and third days we worked in Palino and Vilma’s home, excavating the back rooms recently added on for the soon to be students. We worked hard. I don’t say this lightly. I know that many o Seattle Works folks have been out on rainy days to remove many o bushels of ivy, but we were working at 12,000 feet. Even the most fit of us struggled walking the 200 steps it took to get from the weaver’s co-op to Palino and Vilma’s where the excavation was taking place.

We picked and shoveled tough mud, loaded it into wheel barrels, pushed it uphill (maybe another 100 feet of altitude gain and in case you haven’t caught on by now, every step matters . . . ) laid rock and poured cement. I was proud of our team. I worry that a few might have pushed too hard. Many were sick, some were sore, but all worked to their capacity and do so happily. 

Two days of hard work resulted in an afternoon biking treat. We rode through small villages and ended at the salt mines. It was beautiful.

That evening we celebrated 3-year-old Chaska’s birthday with cuy (guinea pig prepared mostly for celebrations . . .we all had at least a bite).

The next day was a complete break from work. I’ll let others comment on the baptism of our host family’s second son and the team’s visit to the Pisaq ruins. Some of us were too sick to stand let alone be guests/tourists at anything . . .

We worked for two more days and finally left to meet the kids the rooms were meant for. This is where I got my ass kicked. I was thinking, this has been a nice trip; I’ve had a few simple lessons, good observations, but nothing mind boggling or life changing. Much too quickly thought, much less written.

It started with a funeral procession. Our van paused on the side of the road to make room for the hallow faces walking, carrying a short coffin. Everything seemed to stop as we stared at them and they stared at us. They must have kept moving though because we were jolted by the sound of drums as soon as they had passed. It was eerie; a glimpse of what lies behind the seemingly happy, welcoming faces.

We of course took no pictures of this.

Then we get to the village where families live on next to nothing but were treated like esteemed guests. The entire community banded together to organize a huge welcome for us – we ate, drank and danced. They were actually thanking us for cows sent by a previous team of volunteers. Cows that will provided them with precious protein and hope.

The next days were more touristy in nature. We hiked 10 km of the Inca trail, learned about their ways, Spanish invasion and saw what’s left and is now being restored at Machu Picchu (pronounced peak-chu, the other way means “dick” according to our guide).

Nothing like being in a sacred place to wrap up a pretty incredible trip.