Rebuilding in Peru This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

March 26, 2013
This is a story of a town no one had heard of, whose story was heard, and whose needs were answered by a few kids from the other side of the world.

During the summer of 2010, a group of friends and I were set to go on what promised to be, an amazing trip around Peru. Part “immersion” experience, part community service project, part tour of a great country. At the time, I knew it would be the trip of a lifetime but I had no idea how much it would change my life.

As I stepped on the plane in Newark for my voyage to Lima, Peru, I wondered what I would find there. I was prepared to see a country full of great world history with a rich culture. After my nine-day tour of Peru, having been to Machu Picchu, Cuzco, and Lima, five of my classmates and I travelled an hour north of Cuzco to Taray.

Taray is a small town deep in the Andes Mountains. The year before the entire town was wiped out by a mudslide, destroying all sources of education, trade, and health centers.

Now, this mudslide had quite the impact in American media. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the type of media that the affected Peruvians had hoped for:

The New York Times wrote: “Deadly mudslide strands tourists in Peru,” and the Washington Post wrote: “Mudslides trap tourists near Peru ruins.” But nothing about the total destruction of several towns in this area.

As my classmates and I worked in the village for a couple of weeks, constructing bookshelves out of bamboo stalks and interacting with Peruvian children every day, we knew that this town didn’t have the financial means to recover from this disaster. I decided that I would start the Princeton Peru Partnership, a student-run club at Princeton High School in order to raise both awareness and funds for this area.

Before we left Taray, we did three things: We met with the town leader, Alonso Del Rio; discussed the needs of the town, which included books, school supplies, and money; and committed to not making this partnership a “one-time thing.” Although he thought we were nice kids, he doubted that we would return.

Now of course, as kids, we didn’t expect to get much done. We started with an ambitious goal of $5,000: the approximate amount needed to completely finish building this library and one classroom. We thought this would be quite hard to accomplish, and would definitely take up at least a year to do. Any money we raised would be committed entirely toward the values of education and cultural preservation of the region.

At the end of that school year, through car washes, bake sales, silent auction, cocktail party, , and leader-held dinners, we raised an amazing total of $18,000.

My friends and I ­always joked that after we rebuilt the library, we would return to Peru the following summer. We too didn’t want this to be a one-time thing. Fortunately for us, that joke turned into a reality.

That summer, my father and I returned to Taray and proudly delivered the exact amount of money needed for the complete reconstruction and stocking the library: $5,000. With the help of 17 kids back home, we successfully accomplished our goal of raising both awareness and money for Taray.

We raised so much money that we were able to expand the organization’s goal to not just build the value of education, but also promote social equality. We expanded to constructing a girl’s dormitory in a nearby town for girls who would otherwise have to five hours to get to school.

Nicholas Kristof, a world-renowned journalist writes (that): “Women are indeed a lynchpin of … development strategy” throughout the world. Called the “girl-effect,” evidence has proven that helping women gain access to education can be a successful poverty-fighting strategy.

We felt that with the additional money that we had raised, this would be the best way to make an clear impact in this mountainous region. This form of education would allow 15 girls to live and be cared for at this new school so that they could invest in a better future for themselves and their families.

What started as a holiday, ended up developing into a full-fledged organization. Having raised $18,000, having created a well-stocked library, and having fundamentally changed the lives of 15 girls, we knew that this was just the beginning. This year, we are expanding our efforts to Princeton elementary schools. We, as students, are making the community involved, one step at a time.

Small steps, small decisions, a little persistence and motivation can have never-ending consequences.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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