Location: Bowdoin / Enrique Yepes / Alternative Spring Break in Peru, 2005
Alternative Spring Break 2005
Two weeks of community work in Lima, Perú

Pensabas en la vida llena de rostros como viajes.
You would think of life as full of faces like journeys.
Juan Gelman


In the spring of 2005 Bowdoin students participated in the fourth annual service trip to a shantytown called San Juan de Miraflores in Lima, Peru. Over the past three trips we have been able to transform what was once a pile of trash and rocks into a park complete with many types of plants, grass, benches, pathways, a large, open-air shaded area, a swing set, monkey bars, see-saws and a slide for the children. While this may not seem like much for us, Lima, which is located in one of the driest deserts in the world, has a great shortage of water. This is why green areas have come represent wealth and are a visual reinforcement of the tremendous class differences that exist within the city.

The work of Bowdoin students has thus helped to create a virtual ‘oasis’ in the middle of one of Lima’s poor shantytowns, an area that is dominated by the gray and brown of its omnipresent sand, rocks and cinderblock housing, helping to change the way the people of that community feel about themselves. Repeated trips to San Juan have allowed us to see the way in which this park has brought the people of this neighborhood together, and they now take great pride in maintaining their own ‘green space.’ This year, after seeing the tremendous success of the park constructed by previous trips, we had the exciting opportunity of using this same model and spreading it to other areas the city. We started a new park in the nearby community of Dos Cruces, ten-year old community on the top of a large hill in San Juan de Miraflores. The communities located in the hills tend to be much poorer than nearby ones at lower elevations due to the difficulty of access and the quality of the land, even within the shantytowns. Dos Cruces, like many similar communities is comprised of recent immigrants from rural areas who have come to Lima either for economic reasons or to escape the violence that plagued the countryside in the eighties and early nineties, creating “squatter settlements” until they were officially recognized by the government.

The 2005 trip was remarkable in that the smaller size of the site allowed us to finish an entire park in one week. The participation of the people of Dos Cruces was extraordinary and a true testament to the value of what we were building together. We contracted the community’s leader, who is also a mason to supervise our construction and also received volunteer support from a Limeñan woman who was finishing her doctorate in architecture as well as the humanitarian organization Solidaridad en Marcha. The experience of establishing a bond with the community was also extremely rewarding and enjoyable, as we ate in the local soup kitchen where the mothers of the community cooked us meals, worked side by side with many of the residents who were also volunteering their time and effort, and also as we visited the homes and talked with the people who live there. Needless to say, the children were also a major inspiration and the opportunity to play with them and provide them with a playground was enormously gratifying. Thank you for your interest and we invite you to participate in this exciting and meaningful new chapter of Bowdoin’s relationship with the people of San Juan de Miraflores!

- Text by Colin Doyle, trip leader

Pictures, Jan 2005
Site before park construction
Pictures, Mar 2005
Finished Park



I am a second-time Peru trip participant, and before returning, was still skeptical about the possibilities for a group of American students to accomplish a goal and make connections in such a short period of time. I was especially concerned about the perception of our group and the assumption that we could affect change. Yet I think I underestimated the power of the human heart, and my apprehension slowly dissipated. Although initially hesitant and guarded, the community at Dos Cruces quickly warmed up to our presence and purpose. We worked side by side, with no sense of separation. They opened their arms, and taught us of acceptance and brotherhood. We, for our part, instilled in them a sense of hope. You could see the gratitude in their eyes, and feel it in their embrace. While Spring Break is only two weeks long, I have begun to believe in the power of genuine care and compassion in creating small change. Small change is a beginning.
-Bret McEvoy

I will remember most the children carrying the sand up the hill. Already, that memory has become the symbol of the trip in my mind. For me, their willingness to help us in this work, to build a park in their neighborhood, struck me very deeply. Really, they could have been playing, or maybe riding on our backs as a joke, but instead, they carried small bags of sand to build their park. For me, it represented the connection and synthony we created with the people in la comunidad de los Dos Cruces.
-Adam Ureneck

One moment from this trip which I will probably remember from this trip would be the looking out at the city of Lima from the worksite/ park on the second to last day. The reason that I will remember this moment is because it was especially surreal in that we had finished most of the playground, kids were playing and laughing, and there was a picturesque sunset in the background. It was a moment where I was not only proud of what we had done, but was also glad that is was adding, though something small, to the lives of the people in the community.
-Adam Ureneck

The most important realization that I have made on this trip would have to be that I should never take for granted my privilege because it truly is a blessing. I have also realized that as a privileged individual, I am obligated to give to the less privileged whenever possible. Participating in a trip like this seems to reinforce this idea and allows me to put my own life into a perspective that is more universal and less self-centered.
-Adam Ureneck

One idea that I would bring back to Bowdoin in merely the fact that everyone should be aware of the privilege that they have to be living in this country, as well as having the opportunity to attend a college like Bowdoin. Though people from Bowdoin come from numerous socioeconomic backgrounds, we are all united in that we are in an environment that allows us to share ideas and experiences, as well as gain knowledge that can lead us somewhere in the future. It is especially easy here at Bowdoin to look only as the small picture, and become consumed by the stresses of school work, however, remembering certain aspects of the bigger picture will allow us to be more appreciative of our Bowdoin experience. Basically, I would like to emphasize the idea that our education, and the country that we live may not be perfect, but should not be taken for granted, as there are people all over the world who will never have such an opportunity.
-Shrinidi Mani

I don’t believe that my perception of poverty has really changed as a result of this trip, however, visiting Lima instead reminded me of the fact that being wealthy and being happy do not go hand in hand. It is easy to observe poverty on a surface level, and assume that the people are unhappy. However, the enthusiasm and genuine pleasure with which the community of Dos Cruces welcomed us was really a surprise. I am always in awe of the willingness of people who have so little to give with such generosity. This idea that giving is more pleasurable than receiving was most definitely reinforced through our interactions with the people of Dos Cruces.
-Shrinidi Mani

The moment that I think I’ll remember was at the end of the long week of working our asses off to make the park happen, when Victor (the head hauncho) invited us to the tenth anniversary celebration of the community. It was the perfect culmination to all of our hard work—it was the people expressing that they were proud of their neighborhood, and that they believed that we shared that sentiment with them, and had perhaps fortified that feeling for everyone through the park. It just helped me move past a lot of the issues I have with community service projects of this nature—it didn’t feel like we were being condescending, we were just caring about other people.
-Max Tyler

I think that my most important realizations resulting from the trip stemmed from the people in Dos Cruces. Here at Bowdoin, and even just in the United States in general, it is so difficult to comprehend or even imagine what serious poverty looks like. As a result, I think I had a tendency to dissociate myself from it. That’s why going to the shantytowns in Lima was so incredible—not only did I concretely associate myself with poverty and make it less alien in my own mind, but I got to hang out with people living in those conditions. For them it wasn’t anything extraordinary or inconceivable, it was just life. I loved how proud they were of where they lived, and how happy they were, and how much pleasure everyone got from working together on something like the park.
-Max Tyler

I think that it can be easy to segregate ideas of places in our minds. I had associations with poverty in my mind before I went to Lima, and many of those are very different now. Being back hear at Bowdoin though, I think that it’s important to take it a step further, and to not let what we experienced in Lima be connected solely to Lima. I think that working in poor neighborhoods in Lima is an opportunity to establish a better and more realistic conception of the world, in terms not only of the conditions that people live under but also in terms of what people need (or don’t need) in order to be happy.
-Max Tyler

On the third day of our work two boys who lived near the previous park we had built hiked all the way up to our new work site to help us on our new project. When one of the residents of the community asked them why they were there they responded, “these people build a park for us last year so now we want to help them build a park here.” This made a huge impression on me because it demonstrated the appreciation of the people we were trying to help in past years, but perhaps more importantly it showed me how one act of charity or neighborly love can act as a seed from which many more can bloom.
-Colin Doyle

I think I will long remember our last visit to the Dos Cruces community after the completion of the park where we were able to spend a couple of hours playing and talking with the kids and saying goodbye to everyone in the community. The end of our work coincided with a celebration of Dos Cruces’ 10th anniversary, and the event turned into a free-for-all of running, laughing, dancing, and smiling – a perfect, energetic finish to what had been a demanding and joyful week. It felt as though we had made a real connection to the people we had worked with and gotten to know in the community. During the celebration it struck me that our time there was about more than simply constructing a park and public space for Dos Cruces; a community had been formed between our group and the people in the neighborhood, and in some way, these kinds of personal exchanges and interactions will last longer in helping to shape cross-cultural understanding, social change, and a larger global community.
- Vivian Jaynes

After working and spending time in a place that is so different from where I come from, I certainly have been thinking a lot about issues of power and privilege and my own position in the world. It is easy to see the contrast between the relatively comfortable life that I lead and the more challenging lives of the people of Dos Cruces: I’ve never had to worry about having enough food, or about having sturdy, decent shoes, or about getting an education. It is definitely more difficult to understand why these kinds of disparities exist and persist. What are the larger forces that contribute to these unequal living conditions and life opportunities? While I’m sure I will spend my whole life trying to figure out these kinds of issues, this service trip has definitely reminded me of the need to examine the power and privilege that I hold on many different levels (as someone from the U.S., as a white person, as a member of the middle-class, as an educated person), how this privilege relates to the position of others both in this country and throughout the world, and how I can perhaps use what power I have to address injustice and effect change.
- Vivian Jaynes

I was amazed by how open and welcoming the people of Dos Cruces were toward us. Although we came in service to the community, the people there had every right to regard us as a bunch of privileged, clueless kids from the U.S. who know nothing about the way they live or the everyday struggles they face. Instead many of the people opened their homes to us, talked with us, fed us, worked with us on the park, and generally made us feel welcome in their community. It was humbling and refreshing to experience this kind of generosity and acceptance
-Vivian Jaynes

I will never forget the party we attended in the community on the Saturday after we finished the park. All the children were so thrilled to have us there, and their energy for dancing and playing that evening seemed ceaseless. They clung to us and hugged us as if they’d known us for years. Everyone was smiling, including the adults. It was hard to leave the celebration knowing that I might never see a lot of those people again. I didn’t realize until that night how attached I’d become to the children and the town itself. Despite the dirt, smells, and heat, it was somehow incredibly beautiful.
-Martina Welke

I was impressed with the resilient spirits of the people living in the shanty town we worked in. They were always eager to help us in anyway they could and even more eager to sit down to talk and laugh with us. The presence of joy in a place that appears so destitute is very powerful and made me realize how unnecessary material privilege is for happiness. There was never hint of resentfulness from the people of the community towards us; perhaps curiosity and awe for the lives they imagined we live in the mythical United States, but never jealousy or coldness. I was greatly saddened that such wonderful people had so little, but amazed with how they persevered so admirably.
-Martina Welke

What moment will you remember most in 10 years and why? All the kids playing on the park by the time it was finished because when we first got there, that area was the furthest thing from being a playground.
- Anonymous

There have been far too many realizations for me to even realize at this point. One of the most basic is how much water we have available for us to drink and bathe with.

I have been struck by how many communities there are outside of Bowdoin and all over the world that a group of students could interact and connect with, and in so doing make a positive impact on both the students and the community. I am not quite sure yet how I would begin to find one of these communities, but I know change can only come about when one works for it bit by bit.

The happiness that existed in the shantytown we worked in and the sense of community that existed there. The happiness and compassion within the children was astounding as was the extent to which they welcomed us into their lives. The strength of their community was much more than I have experienced anywhere in the US.
- Anonymous

Poverty cannot direct one’s way of understanding another culture. In order for me to become more immersed in the lives of those in the town, I could not let my reaction to their poverty get in the way.
- Anonymous

Though fewer than two weeks long, this trip was surprisingly influential as, within days of our arrival in Peru, we began forming strong connections with the country and some of the local people. Because I had not previously done service work in such an impoverished setting in such an in-depth manner, one of my lasting impressions will be that the conditions in which the people in Dos Cruces live are not temporary. I think that there is a tendency toward a mentality of "out of sight out of mind," which I have certainly applied to some things in my life. I know, however, that I will not be able to ever forget the people and places with which we connected in Peru. One thing, thus, that I will bring back to Bowdoin is simply this heightened awareness. Thinking of the people of Dos Cruces, I cannot imagine ever being able to deny the existence of poverty or to sugar coat its manifestations. - Anonymous

The most shocking element of life at Dos Cruces was probably the level of hygiene and sanitation in which the people live. I was surprised to find myself surrounded by trash, though I could have logically expected that to be the case. And, while I like to think that I adapted just fine to the environment, I still kept my liquid hand sanitizer within reach and got to go home at the end of the day and take a warm shower in a lit tiled bathroom. Ultimately, I think
that, beyond the physical conditions there, I am most shocked by my engrained reluctance to embrace them--nonetheless accept them truly. I think that this reluctance (and inherent repulsion) speaks to the importance of remembering the pervasive, permanent nature of such shantytowns and, thus, the significance of working to improve existing physical conditions as we have done. Our work may seem simple and merely an exertion of physical ability, when analyzed at face value, but neighbors' obvious reactions to our presence and our work and seeing the colorful, planted park in its dusty urban shantytown setting made the greater meaning of our project palpable.


La semilla

La experiencia de dirigir la construcción de un parque en Dos Cruces, Lima este marzo pasado fue una de las más impresionantes y hermosas de mi vida. Trasladar la idea del otro parque que construimos a distintas partes de Lima había sido un sueño mío desde el marzo del año anterior y cuando al fin me di cuenta de que este sueño se realizó estuve muy emocionado y sobrecogido por la gracia que yo había observado y en que había participado. Más que todo me sentía afortunado de haber sido un instrumento que facilitó la reunión de tantas almas estadounidenses y peruanas para trabajar por una meta bella y compartir el amor verdadero. La manera rápida en que los habitantes de Dos Cruces nos aceptaron fue un testimonio para mí de la falsedad de las barreras socioeconómicas que normalmente determinan nuestras relaciones cotidianas y el hambre que todos tenemos de compartir nuestro amor. Además del apoyo para la comunidad que ofrecimos, la oportunidad de ver el cambio que sucedió en varios miembros de nuestro grupo por la comprensión de estas verdades y saber con una sola mirada que entendimos esa belleza justificó para mí este viaje. Creo que todo el grupo entendió que eramos parte de algo más grande que la simple construcción de un parque, y por eso todos estábamos enfocados y dedicados al proyecto, trabajando hasta la noche varias veces y regresando al parque para terminar el proyecto el sábado en vez de ir a la playa sin quejarse ni una sola vez.

Otro aspecto de este viaje que me impresionó un montón fue la participación de la gente de Dos Cruces, los niños así como los adultos. Aunque contratamos al dirigente del barrio para trabajar como maestro del proyecto, aparecieron varias personas de la comunidad que ofrecieron gratuitamente su tiempo y sudor para contribuir a la construcción. Aunque unos se quedaron más tiempo que otros cada persona que nos ayudó me impresionó bastante y me hizo recordar que a esta gente le importaba el trabajo que estábamos haciendo. Me alegraba mucho ese apoyo también porque afirmó la propiedad de estas personas del proyecto, y nos hizo a todos darnos cuenta de que ese parque pertenecía a ellos. Aunque hablaban muy humildemente de su comunidad, ese apoyo también demostró el orgullo que tenían a pesar de su situación económica. La manera en que los habitantes de Dos Cruces ayudaron para terminar el parque, los señores mezclando cemento o los niños llevando bolsas de arena desde la calle arriba hasta el parque, fue muy impresionante, pero la ayuda que tal vez me tocó más fue la de dos jóvenes que vinieron del barrio donde se ubica el parque que habíamos construido en los tres años anteriores. Job y Miguel subieron el cerro el segundo o tercer día para ayudarnos y regresaron cada día desde entonces. No pedimos a estos dos individuos que nos ayudaran sino que llegaron sin avisarnos y se metieron en el trabajo. El primer o segundo día que estaban, oí por casualidad un residente de Dos Cruces preguntando a estos jóvenes por qué trabajaban y contestaron: “este grupo construyó un parque para nosotros pues ahora queremos ayudar a construir un parque para ustedes”. Esta respuesta fue un testimonio para mí de la manera en que buenas obras y amor se multiplican. Me dio mucha esperanza porque eso significa que no necesitamos preocuparnos por cambiar el mundo entero de una sola vez sino que solo necesitamos sembrar semillas y el mundo se cambiará por sí mismo. Siempre se escucha esta idea, pero es muy difícil creer si uno no ve una realización de ella.

No creo que fuera coincidencia que el día que terminamos el parque fue el décimo aniversario de la comunidad de Dos Cruces. Fue providencia que el parque estaba listo para esta celebración y muy significante y simbólico de la unidad y orgullo que tenía este grupo de gente. Para nosotros también fue muy simbólico de la conexión que logramos con los habitantes de Dos Cruces. Aunque obviamente no nos vieron como miembros de su comunidad, sí nos vieron como hermanos que compartían una conexión especial. Como dijo el Señor Víctor, el dirigente, siempre va a llevar Norteamérica dentro de su corazón igual que nosotros siempre vamos a guardar un espacio especial para la gente de Dos Cruces dentro de cada uno de nosotros.

- Colin Doyle






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