I have always loved traveling. I've been to several counties within Asia, Europe, North America, as well as Australia and New Zealand. I was always moved most when I traveled to 3rd world countries and saw just how much they needed and yet how welcoming and happy they appeared. I wanted to go to South America, particularly Cusco, Peru. This time I decided it was time to give back. So I applied for a volunteer mission as a nurse, which is the profession I hold in Canada. As expected, there was a very strong need for nurses and health care workers in general so the process was short and sweet. I saved for my plane ticket and off I went.
Why did you choose Maximo Nivel?
I had researched many different programs before deciding on Maximo Nivel. The biggest reason for picking them at first was the flexibility with time. Unfortunately, due to a full time job in Canada, I was unable to volunteer longer than a week, but Maximo Nivel is happy taking people for short periods.
Later, upon reading reviews, I discovered they were actually the cheapest company as well. I thought, perhaps, I would be giving up something by choosing them, but I was prepared to live in any conditions, as I was not there for myself, but for the patients.
I was pleasantly surprised upon my arrival at just how much the small administration fee actually provided. I had a host family, two roommates, two provided meals, I lived in the city centre, and was steps to the office and a small bus ride to the clinic.
What was your favorite part about Cusco?
Cusco is one of the most beautiful cities I've ever been to, period. The people are some of the friendliest I've ever met, always offering help and directions and constantly smiling, and there was a sense of joy in the air everywhere I went. There is so much culture in every little hub of the city, from the large markets to the Plaza des Armes. Every little corner you go down has something else special to offer. I cannot think of a single city in the world that compares to it. Of course, there is the added plus of being so close to Machu Picchu, which is on most people's bucket list, and yes, it is as amazing as it looks! Even better actually!
What made your experience abroad unique?
My experience was particularly unique as I got to live with a local and experience local life and cuisine. I was steps from the city centre, so I frequented the markets, and took Spanish lessons.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The staff for Maximo Nivel were fantastic. There was a welcome meeting the day of arrival where you got to meet several other volunteers in various programs and were given do's and dont's about the city (i.e. safe taxi, how to tip, safe neighborhoods, etc.). They were always in the office if you had questions and were very accommodating to changes. My roommate wanted to change programs, for example, and they allowed it, no questions asked.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I would have stayed longer. Just as I was getting used to the language, program, and lifestyle, it was time to go. I will certainly be back though.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
I would wake up at about 7 a.m., head out of the door for 7:30 a.m., and catch “the Batman bus” to the Santa Rosa clinic. I would volunteer until noon if the clinic emptied out, or would stay later if it was busy. After that I would get on the bus back to the city centre, and then have lunch and explore before taking afternoon Spanish lessons. From there I would go home, have dinner with my host mother and roomies, and we'd all go to bed.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I loved exploring the city. There is so much to see and do. The local cuisine was fun to try, Alpaca and Guinea Pig specifically, and the little shops were so colourful and had some of the most comfy clothes and cute souvenirs. There were also lots of cute pubs to relax in. On the weekends we would all go salsa dancing, and that was an absolute riot!
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I lived with a host mother near the city centre. There were three of us in my room, and one girl in a private room. The room had three twin beds, which was like living in residence again; I loved it. We would laugh and share stories until we fell asleep, and we all still keep in touch now. The homes were small and humble, but you don't need much more. Dinners were plentiful, lots of carbs! I was always out the door before breakfast, but others were given breakfast as well as dinner. There was decent Wifi to keep in touch with family or plan your day. You could not need anything else.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
People in Cusco speak very little English, if any. If you have a chance to take Spanish lessons prior to volunteering, it would be very helpful. Also, try and get more time off than I did. It's such an amazing place and you'll want to have more than a week there.
Now that you're home, how has your time in Peru impacted your life?
I always say that the people of Cusco impacted me so much more than I impacted them. I look at photos and videos of my experience daily and always have a smile on my face when I do.
I work in a very nice hospital here that has an abundance of supplies and we care for our patients 1:1. I am so humbled and appreciate so much more what we have here in Canada. I think about how little they had there and how hard the nursing staff worked to see and help as many people as possible. I remember spending a morning cutting up gauze from a big roll to prepare it for the day, when here we have an endless supply; I am cautious not to waste and to appreciate every little thing.
Would you recommend your program to others? Why?
I would absolutely recommend this program to anybody. It will change you for the better forever!
Candace is a registered nurse from Canada. She is currently specializing in critical care in Calgary, Alberta. A few years ago, she took up solo traveling by living and working in Australia, and got hooked. Candace has since seen much of Asia, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and North and South America. Most recently, she volunteered in Cusco, Peru.