Michelle Bedford - 2015 Program Participant

Volunteer with youth in Peru

Some of the girls at my program

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

Growing up in a close-knit town, the idea of exploring beyond my hometown interested me. I was enthused by South American culture and wanted to further my knowledge of the area. For four years Peru's mountainous culture, intriguing history, vibrant arts, and friendly people tugged at my heart-strings. My curiosity piqued, I began researching ways I could follow my heart. My desire to expand my cultural knowledge and worldview lead me to apply for an international program.

Why did you choose IVHQ?

After sifting through a few different programs, IVHQ caught my attention. I appreciated the community aspect of the program and the affordability. The numerous volunteer placements available at each location hit each of my diverse interests, and I felt comforted believing I would be guided into the right program through IVHQ.

Tourist holding a lamb in Cusco, Peru

My first day in Cusco

What was your favorite part about Cusco? 

Cusco, Peru has a lush history that touches tourists and locals. My daily route to my volunteer placement lead me through quaint Incan walkways, grand Spanish and Incan churches, rich smells, and friendly faces. Cusco is a small city that is easily navigable (many streets are aligned with the stars and not designed on 90 degree angles). After living in Cusco for six weeks, I felt like this city-town was my home. I enjoyed the cultural infusion of architecture and travelers. I became fast friends with people from all over the world and bumped into friends around the city. Some of my favorite things about Cusco was the rich fabric arts available everywhere, the welcoming atmosphere, and the liveliness of the city.

What made your volunteer placement unique?

Corazon de Dahlia is a truly special place, and if you allow it to, it will touch your heart. The children at this program astounded me with their ability to open their hearts freely to volunteers knowing all the while that this same volunteer will one day have to leave. This is a truly special attribute and speaks to the character and strength each girl possesses. The girls at Corazon de Dahlia came from split families or those that have financial difficulties, or have behavioral issues. However, the girls were some of the sweetest and most affectionate children I have ever met. The staff at Corazon de Dahlia were a pleasure to work with; they were always flexible and willing to work with me. My program was unique because each week the staff allowed me the freedom to plan out our weekly schedules.

How did Maximo Nivel’s, IVHQ’s on-the-ground partner, local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff at Maximo Nivel were easily accessible through open business hours, email, and 24/7 phone service. My program manager at Maximo Nivel contacted me regularly to check in with how my stay at Cusco was going. I felt supported and cared for throughout my stay in Peru.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

If I could return to Peru and do one thing differently, I would have arrived to Peru with gifts to give the children at my placement and my host family.

Visiting the Incan ruins in Peru

Exploring incredible Incan ruins

Describe a day in the life of your program.

My program was in the afternoon, which allowed me time to explore the local markets, museums, and cafes in the morning. On my way to my placement I took a public bus 40 minutes outside of the heart of Cusco to Saylla. Upon arrival I was welcomed by the girls who always greeted me with flowers and gave me hugs and kisses while pulling my hand to either play with them outside or aid them with their homework.

The first hour of the day involved coloring, mathematics, and reading comprehension. The second hour involved initiatives that worked to strengthen the girls' feelings of self-confidence. We did this with health lessons, journaling, and talking about good behavior and morals. The final hour included games. The girls loved jump rope, tag, coloring, playing with chalk, and picking flowers. After the program ended, we would help clean up the classroom and return home on the bus to Cusco for dinner.

What was your favorite activity outside the normal day-to-day schedule of your program?

My favorite activity outside my normal day-to-day schedule of my program was seeing the museums, looking at handmade goods, and exploring outside the city. I loved exploring outside of the city on weekends. Each weekend I took trips to Arequipa, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, ancient Inca sites, and trekked through mountains. Meeting travelers from across the world on these weekends proved to be one of my favorite parts about my time in Peru.

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

While living in Cusco I lived in a homestay. My house was comfortable and I felt welcomed and at home. The food each night and morning was filling and tasty. I loved conversing with my family in Spanglish and getting to know the other world travelers that were also staying in the house. One of the things I liked best about my homestay was the community feeling of the home.

Volunteers at Corazon de Dahlia with local children in Peru

Corazon de Dahlia

Now that you're home, how has volunteering abroad impacted your life?

Since I've been home I have had dreams about seeing the children I worked with again. My volunteer program expanded my heart, and my time in Peru deepened my understanding of people by having lived in a different culture.