A Simple Smile
The moment I stepped foot onto the grounds of Villa El Salvador, Peru, I knew my perception of life would change. On January 5th, 2013, I embarked on a journey to Lima, Peru. I decided six months prior that I wanted to volunteer in South America. After careful consideration and extensive research, I chose to volunteer in Peru. I saved up seven vacation days and spent one and a half years putting money aside in order to afford this excursion. When I arrived, I knew I made the right decision. I worked with the elderly population at a program titled Martinsitos.

I was greeted each day with open arms and a warm-hearted smile by all of the people who attended this program. These individuals live in extreme poverty and have been neglected by their children. They live for the program because they are provided with meals, games, educational classes, physical therapy, arts and crafts and endless amounts of support, which they are unfortunately not familiar with. More than 75% of the people spoke Cachua because they never had the opportunity to learn Spanish. I thought that this cultural barrier would lessen the intensity of the connections I would make with the elderly, but I was proven wrong. I will never forget the faces of the appreciative and caring people who attended this day program. A simple smile opened many doors for new relationships and bonds. I built a rapport with many people through non-verbal communications. I performed various tasks, from washing dishes, to giving foot massages. I helped put a roof over the head of a lonely Peruvian woman. Even though my volunteer project was only a week, the impact it had on me was quite extreme. It kept my drive and passion alive and made me want to explore many volunteer options working with people living in poverty.

Life can be so fast-paced, competitive, loud, overwhelming, and stressful. It takes effort to slow everything down to the point of meditation and mindfulness. I strive to be mindful each day, but I noticed over time that it comes in waves. There are certain periods where it is much harder to meditate, even though those are the times when it’s most necessary! As human beings, it is easy to get caught up in criticizing ourselves that we forget about the bigger picture and the beauty of life. Imagining the faces of these happy, yet struggling, individuals, reminds me that there are billions of people in the world and endless amounts of opportunities. By being your true self, you never know how many lives you can positively impact, even your own.