Discovering How Small Can Be Big to Others
When Emily left her home in Texas for the mountains of Peru, she brought the world with her.
The world, in this case, was actually an inflatable globe destined to occupy the hands and minds of orphans living in Cusco. Emily planned to use this toy to play and teach, but she wasn’t prepared for what she would receive in exchange.
No stranger to travel, Emily had visited sights throughout Europe and, most recently, spent a few weeks living with a family in Spain. From the beginning, Peru was different.
“I felt like it was a lot more than just a travel opportunity; it was a culture opportunity,” she said. “Spain was a trip you do for yourself, you get to bond with your homestay, but there’s not really much of a volunteering aspect.”
Beyond the desire to connect with people from a different culture, Emily was drawn to traveling to Peru with No Barriers Youth through Girl Scouts because of the unique challenge it promised her.
For two years, Emily had been confined to a wheelchair by painful foot problems. She was only just getting back into the active lifestyle she had once enjoyed, so the strenuous Lares Trek was a tantalizing piece of the Peru itinerary.
“It was that milestone that was kind of like ‘I’m finally better,’” Emily said. “I can finally do something like this, where my feet aren’t holding me back.”
A very personal milestone, at first glance, but in reality one that Emily shared with every other member of the expedition. A sense of support and encouragement permeated the entire hike. And when Emily reached the last stretch up to the summit of the highest pass, which sits above 15,000 feet, she felt far from alone.
“All the other girls didn’t get up there and just start taking photos. Everyone stood at the top and would cheer us on as we started to summit,” Emily said. “It was this great feeling of accomplishment.”
Teamwork led Emily through the winding mountain trek to Machu Picchu and it was as part of a team that Emily found herself in an orphanage for girls in Cusco. It wasn’t long, however, before she was singled out by a girl who wanted to tell Emily a little about her life.
The girl, Maria, had a mother with too many children, not enough money, and an abusive father. So Maria was left with the orphanage.
“The more I thought about it, I didn’t really pity her as much because I know they, the kids, were all telling us that they love the orphanage.” Emily said. “They could have been so negative; we’re in an orphanage, we don’t have parents, or our parents don’t want us, but they were all so positive with such smiles. They ran and gave us hugs and were just so full of love and life.”
When Emily brought the inflatable world out, the girls eagerly pointed and questioned, soaking up a wealth of information previously inaccessible to them. Those moments stick in Emily’s mind as something truly special.
“It definitely made me feel really small, but also really big at the same time,” Emily said.
Small because she is just one person, learning from kids less fortunate than her to appreciate what she has, trekking over paths used for hundreds of years, and marveling at the daunting remains of an empire.
Big because with a little work, she can help. Even if it is just giving a sympathetic ear to one girl for one hour, or teaching a group of youngsters a little about the world they live in.
“An interaction, or volunteering, doesn’t necessarily need to be massive for it to be impactful, because it’s worth something if it’s impactful on one person,” Emily said, giving some last thoughts on the experience. “I still think back on it all the time. It’s not one of those things you can just forget.”