Friendship is a language spoken everywhere. I had the amazing opportunity to visit Peru as a volunteer for Nuevo Camino. My favorite kind of volunteer work is friendship. Life has many necessities, and among them, at least for a happy life, is friendship. I have been blessed by very good friends in life, so when I went to Peru that was the one thing I wanted to pay forward.
I couldn’t believe how quickly I found friendship. The moment we walked into the shelter I felt connected to the women, children and workers there. Maybe it’s just how different the cultures are – the WARM greetings, kisses on the cheeks, big hugs, and many words of thanks. The kids gave hugs and bezos freely as well!
It amazes me how open the women are to receiving help. They are ready and want to work but just need someone to believe in them and support. Give them a new start, invest in them. Someone to watch their kids and help find good schools for them. They need to go to dinner or tea or shopping or just for a walk around the plaza. Friendship. It goes a long way.
The second day I was in Peru we all went on an outing to a park – the kids and adults alike were so excited! I jumped right in playing with the kids. After awhile, I stepped back to take it all in. The parks there aren’t free, so I wondered how often, if ever, some of these kids and moms had been to a park. I saw one of the moms I had met the day before from across the park.
I had heard her heartbreaking story – forced to leave home when she was 11, finding work in a restaurant, and staying in school. Pregnant at 17 and then abandoned in the hospital right after she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She spent one night under a bridge with a month-old baby before finding a taxi driver, thank God, who helped her and got her to the shelter.
She was standing near the teeter-totters and smiling at the park that day. I realized in that moment that she was such a child herself. But a child that never got to be a child the way I did. The way most kids in America do.
I quickly made my way over to her and asked her if she wanted to do the teeter-totter with me. Actually what I said is “Te queiro?” and pointed to the contraption ☺ The language of friendship. She nodded vigorously, smiled her wide, somehow happy smile and said “si, si, si!!” We climbed on – which was a challenge even for me at 5’9”! We began going back and forth, both of us laughing and squealing. When I hit the high point I screamed!
Listen, now, these are not American teeter-totters, I was up there!!
I KNEW she thought it was so funny, and she would just leave me dangling up there. So then I would leave her dangling and she would scream. IT WAS FUN. Friends should be there to cry with for sure, to vent to when you are angry, yes. But one of the best parts of friendship is having someone to share JOY and laughter with. That did a lot for me too. I almost laughed so hard with her that I could have cried.
Later that week we went shopping together and for a little more than $100 me and my friends bought her an entire new wardrobe including a bright pink puffer coat and a back pack with pink hearts on it. Yes, she is 17! We went to a tea shop later, and I realized she may have never set foot in a place like that, much less had a blueberry cheesecake. It was beautiful. I lost count of how many times she said Muchas Gracias.
I told her over tea that I knew she needed the clothing items, but that I knew she needed family and friendship even more. I told her we were committed to sticking by her as she finishes school, moves out of the shelter and begins and walks out her Nuevo Camino.
She told me it was the best day of her entire life. And then said Muchas Gracias countless more times.
I’m so grateful for my new friend Ruth Carina and her precious daughter Yhandy. Her face on that teeter-totter will always stick in my mind. So alive and happy. She would sit there and just giggle as our new-found friendship lifted me up high into the Cusco air.