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Five Highlights Volunteering in Peru

Leah and her host sister on a mountain hike.

Making the most of a summer overseas.

1. Starting my microenterprise project.

Every day for two to three hours, I teach a class on leadership and business to a group of 10 to 15 girls in the rural district of San Pedro de Sano. I also work on their English conversation skills and lead various sports and games. Their goal is to start a sustainable bakery within the next few weeks, so we’ve been busy purchasing ingredients and writing out a comprehensive business plan.

On July 25, we visited Concepcion, a nearby town renowned for its bread, in order to visit bakeries, sample recipes and peruse the fancy equipment. Next week, they will attend their first culinary lessons with experienced chefs. I absolutely adore getting to know the girls’ unique personalities, and I am excited to accompany them on their entrepreneurial journey.

2. Trying pachamanaca.

Pachamanca is a Peruvian tradition of cooking over heated stones. Basically, after the rocks are are hot, you pile on layers of meat (often, chicken, beef, and guinea pig), potatoes, cornbread (cooked inside the husk), and vegetables, interspersed with a padding of leaves. The feast takes all morning to prepare and is absolutely delicious!

Other regional dishes that I have come to appreciate include papas a la huancaina (potatoes in a spicy pepper sauce) and arroz con leche (a soup of milk and rice that is surprisingly rich and flavorful).

3. Living with a host family.

I would strongly urge anyone seeking to truly immerse him or herself in a foreign culture to find an organization that can arrange a homestay. In spite of the language barrier, I have enjoyed so many rich conversations with my host parents and siblings on everything from the educational system and the local political climate to the different varieties of fruit that abound in the Peruvian jungle. They are able to provide great advice on how to get to various tourist attractions in Peru, where to find the best deals on food, and how to use the combis (a cheap form of public transportation that is a cross between a taxi, a minivan, and a bus). My host sister is around the same age as I am, so we have a lot of fun going to the mall, hiking up the many mountains that surround our house, and taking pictures (she’s an aspiring photographer).

4. Touring the local markets.

In the center of Huancayo, you will find a huge mall called Plaza Vea that has very modern stores and American restaurant chains. While Plaza Vea is wonderful for when I want a taste of home (and the prices to match), I prefer to venture a little further to where the local artisans and merchants sell their crafts, food, and clothing. I have been able to purchase very cozy jackets for 25 to 30 soles ($8 to $10) and find delicious pastries costing less than 50 cents.

5. Participating in traditional festivals.

During my first weekend in Peru, my town hosted a gigantic celebration in honor of their patron saint, complete with fair rides, cotton candy, ice cream vendors, parades, fireworks and music that lasted until three o’clock in the morning. This weekend is Peru’s national independence day, another major event. The girls participating in my microenterprise incubator have been preparing marches and dances specifically for the occasion. Apparently, Huancayo was declared by the United Nations Organization as the happiest city in the world because of its sheer volume of annual festivities. I love sampling all the delicious food, admiring the colorful costumes, and dancing with my new Peruvian friends.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Leah Davidson

Leah Davidson was born in Shaoyang, China and grew up in Quebec, Canada. Currently, she's a student at the Wharton School of Business volunteering with an organization called Expand Peru in Huancayo. Leah has travelled to Antarctica, Sweden, Finland, England, France, Spain, Argentina and Mexico, mostly on research or volunteer trips. Passionate about volunteer travel? Sift through Leah’s stories!

Website: https://www.omprakash.org/volunteer/profile/Leah-Davidson

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