In April of 2013 New Haven launched its service trip program with a humanitarian trip to Peru. Since then, we have taken groups of families all over the world in an effort to serve others while providing a truly unique and therapeutic and family bonding experience. We were so thrilled to have the opportunity this past April to take yet another group of families to experience the enchantment of Peru. We enjoyed time spent together as a group and one-on-one as we explored beautiful streets, cathedrals and markets of Cusco and surrounding areas. We watched local artisans craft, took scenic train rides, viewed numerous archaeological sites, practiced our Spanish, tasted the local fare and watched the sunrise over Machu Picchu as families spoke quietly with each other of their journey.
Little did we know that we would truly have a one of a kind experience as we hiked through the Andes Mountains on the Ancacoscha Trail, off the beaten path and away from Cusco’s typical tourist attractions. We hiked through small farming communities and to peaks of 14,000+ ft elevation. The group experienced a rare serenity as we hiked deep into the mountains, away from all daily distractions. Many of our families expressed a certain ease they felt with each other while on the hiking and camping portion of our trip. One student expressed that she had never gotten along with her father as well as she did while hiking. Although much of the terrain was challenging, hiking through rain and hail at times at such a high altitude, she loved the magic of being away from the rest of the world while having this special one-on-one time with her father. His investment of time and willingness was not lost on her.
Along with embracing the amazing landscape, our group of families all agreed that their favorite portion of the trip was the time they were able to spend in a tiny native village where we camped and did service along our way. The Chillipau Village not only allowed us the opportunity to serve them, but enriched us by sharing their beautiful traditions and culture. We participated in projects of teaching the school children English, cutting down trees and digging holes with their native tools for a fence along with hours of learning about their lifestyle, playing with children, learning to plow and enjoying a native feast with the village. Our day ended with each of our families having the opportunity to donate school supplies one-by-one to every school-aged child in the village and from nearby villages. Just like some of our students, the children who were initially shy, now considered us friends and embraced us before making their (literal) trek into the mountains, back to their homes. To say we were welcomed warmly into this small village is an understatement. Each and every person was touched by their kindness and respect for their culture and traditions.
It’s incredibly hard to sum up such a rich experience! There is so much healing that happened in many quiet, simple moments and in the hard, difficult ones. One of our families committed to making this trek in memory of a loved one who had passed away. They explored much of the same terrain that their family member had in earlier years in hopes come closer as a family in the spirit of their loved one. It was amazing to witness them relish in their environment while taking an important step together through their grief. There is true value in connecting, bonding and perhaps overcoming difficulties in such a unique and beautiful environment… definitely a rare moment in a lifetime that leaves a mark on your heart and another step closer to bringing families together.