Location: Paru Paru, Peru

Today was a community service day, in which we did a lot of hands-on activities. My room group and I woke up 7:15, had breakfast, and everyone got on the bus at 8:30. We drove two hours to a small town of only 130 inhabitants called ParuParu, where we worked with an organization called Mi Pequena Ayuda, or My Small Help. Throughout the day, we helped build adobe bricks for Andres, a wheelchair-bound man, who wished to build a house in his childhood home. We later found out that Mi Pequena Ayuda had been trying to reclaim Andres’ land for four years, and was finally able to give him what he deserved. As soon as we arrived at the main building where we would later eat lunch, a circle of villagers, who showered us with flower petals and warm greetings, greeted us. We all beamed, incredibly pleased and surprised at such a greeting and invitation to their village. Andres’ cousin addressed us, and said many kind words, thanking us for volunteering. The rest of Andres’ family was there as well and were happy to see him return to his old home. After the greeting, we made our way to the house’s future location, passing a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains, which disappeared into the clouds, which led to a short walk up a hill to the location. We then split up into three groups, one to cut hay for the adobe mixture, one to pickaxe dirt and rocks and another to mix the dry dirt into mud. I chose the latter because I was told that we were going to dance in the mud, which I thought sounded the best out of the three. To begin mixing, a member of ParuParu turned on a hose, which leaked onto a large pile of dry dirt. I shoveled dry dirt into the water alongside two other people, while others scattered hay onto the mixture to make sure that it stuck together. After the dirt formed into the mud, we began to “dance,” which means running around in a circle in the mud, singing “Despacito” at the top of our lungs. Even though there were many rocks that painfully poked at our feet, Natalie, a counselor, told us that mud has incredible cleansing powers, so we were all very excited and made mud masks for our feet. After we gathered enough adobe to make bricks, some members of the group poured the mixture into molds, forming a brick shape. By lunchtime, we had made 54 bricks, with much more to come. We passed back over the hill to another house where we all sat down to eat our lunch and take a break from the morning’s work. Alongside our boxed lunches, the villagers kindly gave us a taste of their home cooking, which included possibly the best potatoes I’ve ever eaten, and chicha, a kombucha-like drink made from purple corn. The leaders of My Small Help gave a short presentation about their organization, how they helped people, and insight into Andres’ back-story. After lunch, we continued brick building, and I moved on to help make the brick molds, which I found to be quite the activity. After the adobe was poured into the mold, we patted it down into the crevices with our hands, later with our feet. I found it very fun, and our group ended up making 67 bricks, making a new record! After our work was finished, we cheered, and group hugged, thanking Andres who had been kindly cheering us on the entire time. Two little girls, who had helped with the brick molding, gave each of us beautiful flowers pressed into remaining adobe mixture, another incredibly kind gesture that made me realize how thoughtful the people of ParuParu were. We made our way back to the bus, staring longingly at the sparkling lake, wishing to jump in and forget about the heat. However, we knew our boundaries, and I instead discovered an amazing llama jaw that some found grotesque, but I found incredibly interesting. During the bus ride back to the hotel, things started to go downhill. Two students became incredibly ill, causing much turmoil and many tears on the bus ride. One was sent to the clinic, and everyone who stayed behind became incredibly worried for them. The remaining people went to Heart’s Cafe for dinner, where we ordered breakfast for dinner, an obvious choice after a long, eventful day. We then drove back to the hotel, where I fell asleep almost immediately, the events of the day running through my mind.