Four hour bus rides through the Andes Mountains

Rita - Plymouth, Massachusetts
Entered on September 14, 2008
Age Group: Under 18

One minute can change your life forever. I don’t mean the moment you choose to marry someone, or the split-second decision to run that red light, but instead a moment that causes your head to spin with ideas, to make a difference in another’s life.

During spring break of my junior year in high school I got the rare opportunity to be part of a pioneer journey to an orphanage in Abancay, Peru. Chances are you have never heard of this place it’s little more than a valley surrounded by the enormous Andes Mountains; but the love that springs from this little town is enough for anyone to make the four and a half hour bus ride from Cusco.

Walking in the gates that secured the little mud-brick buildings that these children call home was like walking into another world. In a town full of poverty and desperation, I was expecting solemn little faces with malnourished bodies and soiled clothing; instead I received about 70 smiles and hugs. The girls sang me songs and made me feel right at home, it was just as good, if not better, than any hotel I had ever been to.

The entire time that I was there, I realized how much they loved me. It’s not hard for a child to warm up to someone, but at first glance I saw how much they truly cared for me and my friends. All we did was play with them, just like any of the other volunteers from their city, but we were a special treat. During the week I picked two girls that I would sponsor. They called us their “Madrinas” or Godmothers. The last night we were there, I gave Ruth Karin, one of my sponsor girls, 10 solas, the equivalent of 4 dollars, and all she did was thank me. That small gift changed her life, and I hope she remembers it forever, just like I will.

Although they showed the most loving faces, and displayed their admiration for me in any way they could, their situation made it very hard to understand us as Americans. We have families, homes, and enough money to not have to worry day to day. They had been abandoned, orphaned, or simply could not be cared for, they slept 15 in a room, in rows of identical iron rod beds with scratchy bedding, and money was not in high supply. Although they hid it from us, the question of “Why can’t you bring me home to be in your family?” really caused me to rethink what I value.

Leaving the orphanage was probably the hardest thing that I have yet experienced. The cries of the girls to “never forget them” and the promise to return the next spring are the sounds I remember most from my trip. Four and a half hours in a coach bus, winding through the beautiful Andes mountains is what I believe in. In order to change others, you must first change yourself. This I Believe.