MBA Students Serve in Peru
A group of 21 people from Monterey Bay Academy decided to take a different approach to their spring break this year. Instead of going on vacation or just hanging out at home, this group decided to volunteer for the school’s mission trip to the heart of the Amazon rainforest in Iquitos, Peru.
From March 22 to April 3, the volunteers, including 16 students, four staff and one parent, spent their time working in a small village just outside of Iquitos called Santo Tomas. Working with a local humanitarian organization called People of Peru Project, MBA’s mission
aries split their time between working construction in the mornings and providing a Vacation Bible School (VBS) program in the local Seventh-day Adventist church each afternoon.
“This was such a cool experience,” Tyler Breitigam, a senior from Ridgecrest, Calif., said. “We worked hard, but it was such an amazing opportunity to talk to people from a different part of the world and be immersed in a totally different culture.”
The group was introduced to that culture their first day in Peru. After 24 hours of flights and layovers, the People of Peru Project staff took MBA’s group through the city of Iquitos – the largest city in the world that is not accessible by car – and to Belen, a terribly poor neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. The group saw incredible poverty, but also toured the Belen Market, a colorful maze of vendors selling everything from snake oil (literally) to fresh rainforest fruits to pet sloths.
From Belen, the group traveled to Santo Tomas by way of an old bus and a bumpy dirt road. The group stayed at the same place they were going to be working: the People of Peru Project Crisis Center for Girls. This center was started a little over a year ago when the organization’s founder and director, Paul Opp, saw a need to do something for the young women of Iquitos who had been abused. It’s currently home to nine girls, five of whom are already mothers.
“These girls have no where else to go,” Opp said. “We essentially have taken them in and given them and their children, if that’s the case, a place to live, food to eat and the hope of a future through education. We’ve become their family. It’s a real blessing to be used by God in this way.”
The volunteers from MBA were able to take part in this blessing, by contributing their time and efforts to the Crisis Center. The group got up each morning and feasted on handmade Peruvian food before going to work tearing down rotted fences, moving huge piles of lumber, putting up a 120-foot new fence and moving 5000 bricks to the construction site of the center’s new dormitory. All this while sleeping each night in tents, enduring 100 percent humidity, 100 degree weather, poisonous snakes and insects and an open sewer ditch right next to the worksite.
“The heat was oppressive. It was palpable,” Bryan del Valle, campus pastor and group sponsor said. “We found that we could work too hard or we’d start losing people to heat exhaustion.”
Each afternoon, the group faced a different kind of challenge with a VBS program that packed the local church each day. Without any advertising, dozens of children from the village would show up every day anxious to get their seat for the VBS activities. MBA’s students and sponsors led the kids through song service, puppet programs, Bible lessons and a craft activity. The children of Santo Tomas loved it so much, sometimes as many as 40 of them would follow MBA’s group home after the program and wait through dinner for the chance to place with their new American friends.
“My favorite thing about going to Peru was playing with the local kids in the evenings,” Natalie Cline, a junior from Felton, Calif., said. “I loved the way they have so much enthusiasm for life. It was amazing.”
As time wore on throughout the week, the students from California began to realize that they weren’t the only ones teaching in Santo Tomas.
“These people in Iquitos and Santo Tomas were incredible,” Ricky Hittu, a senior from Ridgecrest, Calif., said. “It was a real eye-opening experience just seeing how poor the people there are and yet how happy they are. I think that’s a real difference between America and Peru. In Peru, I learned that you don’t have to have a lot of material possessions to be happy.”
The last few days in Peru, the group was able to go on a new adventure, up the Amazon River and deep into the jungle to another project the People of Peru Project is working on. Here the organization is working with a local village on economic development and teaching them how to farm successfully in the dense jungle. The only way to the outpost was a four-hour boat ride, and the group stayed in pavilion, nine feet above the ground in tents that barely kept the swarms of mosquitoes at bay.
“Every night we rushed into our tents to escape the mosquitoes,” Taylor Sigh, a senior from California City, Calif., said. “Even so, we still had to dispose of 20 or more that had slipped into our tent each night. Otherwise we risked being stung until morning.”
While there the group was able to see some of the organization’s farming projects and present a church program for the local village, who had to come by boat due to the raising levels of the Amazon. The group sang, told Bible stories and had different activities with the local kids, most of whom had never been to a worship service.
“This trip really made us step out of our box and forced us to discover new talents,” Alyssa Williams, a senior from Ridgecrest, Calif., said. “It was very cool to see how God used each one of us to minister in Peru.”
After a couple of fun stops like the petting zoo where the group played with monkeys, sloths, and anacondas, the missionaries hesitantly made the trip back to the Iquitos airport, and then Peru’s capital, Lima, and finally home back to California.
“It was a great trip for me to go back to Peru, not just because it’s where my mother was born, but really because we had the chance to minister and contribute through service,” Josh Rivera, MBA’s music teacher and a group sponsor, said. “I think that the tradition of mission service is one of the best things we do at MBA. It is a blessing to know that there is a great need in Peru and that we had the opportunity to serve that need.”
For the students who participated on the trip, it was easily one of the more memorable experiences of the school year. For many though, it was an experience that holds even more meaning.
“This trip was really hard at times,” Shay Olson, a senior from Visalia, Calif., said. “But I think that this trip helped to build my character and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
You can find out more about the People of Peru Project at http://www.peopleofperu.org.