Noah Graves - 2015 Program Participant

What made you decide to go abroad?

Living in a small east coast Canadian town, I've always wanted to explore the world and escape the small town feel of where I live. I volunteer at many local places, such as hospitals and red cross events, but I wanted to expand that further. I considered Thailand, South Africa, and many other places before I finally decided on Peru, which I am very glad I did.

Volunteer at Juan Pablo Infantil Orphanage in Peru

Michelle and I at Juan Pablo Infantil Orphanage

What was it like volunteering in Peru with United Planet?

Volunteering at a local Peruvian orphanage was nothing less than life changing. I have always had a passion for educating and playing with children, so when this opportunity arose, I was ecstatic. The kids were so loving and innocent, not a worry in the world. Their unconditional love for anything or anyone was something not only first world countries, but everyone should adapt into their daily life.

What was your favorite part about Peru?

Peru is a beautiful place overflowing with cultural diversity. The people of Peru are equally as magical as the ancient Inca City, Machu Picchu. I was on this quest during Christmas, so I believe that spending Christmas Day away from family, something I have never done before, was my favourite part. Experiencing a different culture on a day that was so regular for me entertained and inspired me to focus on the things that truly matter in life.

I met so many incredible world travelers and it really opened my eyes to how small our world truly is. I met people from Switzerland, Thailand, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and everywhere in between. Everyone is there for the same reason as you, so you feel an instant connection with global travelers alike.

What made your program experience unique?

The program I was involved in was so unique due to the fact that I got to spend most of my days at a local orphanage. The kids didn't have anything to colour with, so I bought pencils, crayons, and paper for all the kids and it was the best colouring party ever. From teaching kids how to count to pushing them on swings, this experience is something I will never forget for as long as I live.

A view of Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu - one of the wonders of our world

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

Local staff helped educate and orient me on my first day so that I felt comfortable with what I was doing and where I was going. The whole time someone was available if I ever needed anything or an emergency arose (luckily it didn't). The local staff was also very supportive and encouraged people to push their limits, trying new foods and experiences. They made you feel not so far from home despite the 7000 kilometer difference.

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

Not that I would change anything about the trip, but if I were to say anything, it is that I wish I would've planned to stay a week longer. While I was in Peru, I packed so much into the short nine days I was there that the time flew by so fast. I feel if I would have upped the trip to two weeks, I would've had the chance to create more amazing friendships than I did in the first place.

Describe a day in the life of your volunteer work.

I would wake up and have a traditional Peruvian breakfast, bread and juice with a side of Coca tea. Leave my host family's house and either walk or take a taxi (taking a taxi was much easier) to the local Spanish school, where every morning I would receive an hour or two of Spanish lessons; this was essential to the experience of my trip, as being a 16 year old East coast Canadian, my Spanish was "lacking". I would then find a place to eat, it was fairly easy to find good food, and have my lunch.

Depending on the day, I would then go to my project, the orphanage, or go walking around the markets or hangout in the Spanish school until it was time to head over to the orphanage. At night, I would either go out to eat at local restaurants with my friends, or head back to my host family's house for supper. Every morning and every night I would call my family back home, which made the distance between us feel like nothing. It was then time for bed, and then start that day over again.

A family on the street in Cusco, Peru

A view into the daily Cusco family life

What is something you enjoyed doing on your free time?

Machu Picchu was one of the most incredible things the human eyes could take in. The incredible mountains, ancient architecture from a civilization that walked this Earth 500 years ago, and the smells of the not so distant Amazon jungle mash together to make the world famous Machu Picchu. My friend and I hiked the "Sun Gate Path," which goes up along the Machu Picchu mountain about five kilometers to where the sun first hits in the morning. It is so incredible to know that every step you take was put their 500 years before that moment in time. The wild llamas that roam the grounds are very friendly and love chocolate chip cookies, I came to find out.

You can look at pictures or read reviews, but nothing will do Machu Picchu justice other than seeing it with your own eyes.

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

I stayed in a local host family with one other friend and it really made the experience better. I found it improved the cultural experience to be living as one of the locals. My host family was very caring as well as understanding.

Christmas in Peru is nothing like in Canada. They do a countdown similar to what North Americans do for New Years to kick off Christmas; "Treize...Dos...Uno...Feliz Navidad!", they would yell as an entire family. Then came the turkey dinner at 1 o’clock in the morning. They were all astonished after I told them that in Canada, we wait until morning to get together with family. Spending Christmas alone in another country without your own family is tough, but when you have people like my host family supporting you, it makes you feel a lot more loved and happy and almost forget about home.

A female Peruvian orphan

Isabel - one of the Peruvian orphans whose smile could light up the whole room

Now that you're home, how has your time volunteering in Peru impacted your life?

The experience of living in another country was something I believe everyone should do at least once in their lifetime. It opened my eyes and, in a sense, took the "blinders" off, opening my heart and mind to new cultural relationships. We are so lucky in this generation to be able to travel whenever and wherever we want, and I believe that is something we should all have a right to do.

I now visualize things in a much more appreciative way, because here in Canada, I am very lucky for what I have. There are no garbage piles with babies, dogs, and elderly people scrummaging through it for food, no dead dogs on the side of the road, and there are opportunities for good jobs for everyone. It really makes you thankful for all that you have and opens your eyes to what is out there beyond the borders. This experience was indeed life changing, and I will always be doing these types of trips in the years to come.