We spent two days getting to know each other, our study program and our coordinators.  On day one we began with a walk from Home Peru to the directors’ home, Goshen Tambo.  When we arrived we did our first check in, giving each student a chance to share whatever happened to be on their heart at that moment.  Some were nervous about meeting host families and speaking in Spanish.  Others were surprised how similar Lima seems to the cities they know in North America.  All were excited to wake up in a new country and have an opportunity to experience a new culture.

Then we worshiped, beginning with Lectio Divina, an ancient form of biblical reflection where the leader reads a passage of scripture three times and each of us reflects on its meaning here in this new context.  After a time of silent contemplation we sang from the Sing the Journey hymn book.  For lunch we walked four blocks west with sandwiches and fruit in hand and settled down on a grassy hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  We played group games — Fox and Squirrel, Catch the Dragon’s Tail and Find a Port.   Afterward we returned to Goshen Tambo and talked about health, safety, transportation, money, communication, food, culture and respect for our host families.  We also tasted a wide variety of exotic fruits in an exercise to test each students’ disposition.  We finished our first day with a dinner prepared by members of the youth group at the Comunidad RETO Mennonite Brethren Church.

On day two we focused on academics, discussing our general goals for the semester and our particular focus on the causes and consequences of poverty and urban migration here in Peru.  Once we gain a better understanding of the socioeconomic problems faced by Peruvians we plan to explore strategies, policies and programs to solve some of these problems and promote sustainable development.  From our perspective, this is more than an academic exercise.  We hope that by the end of the term each student will be able to answer the question, “Where do I fit in?”

On this day the students also met our two coordinators and had a chance to hear their stories:

Willy Villavicencio migrated from a rural village high in the Andes mountains to Lima when he was twelve years old.  He worked for his older sister, selling lunches to construction workers on the streets of Miraflores to earn income for his school supplies and uniform.  His first career was in pharmacology.  Then in 2002 he made a connection through his church to  Medical Ministry International, a North American nonprofit organization that sends doctors and nurses to villages in the global south where medical care is not readily available.  Willy became a coordinator for MMI, organizing trips for American and Canadian volunteers to rural areas all over Peru.   This semester we asked Willy to be our Service Coordinator, not only helping us set up six-week assignments for each student in June and July but also helping us get our feet wet (literally?) during our time here in Lima.

Celia Vásquez has worked with our program since its inception here in Peru in 2005.  She is a native of Lima.  Celia’s mother migrated from the Andes and her father moved here from Trujillo, a city on the northern coast, both in search of better education.  Celia studied English in school and her first desire was to be a tour guide for foreign visitors to Peru.  At a critical stage in her education the government changed its policies regarding tourism, discouraging foreign visitors and investment, making it impossible for Celia and her classmates to pursue their chosen career.  So Celia became a teacher, working with high school students to help them learn to speak, read and write English.  Later she returned to school herself for a degree in education at San Marcos University and after graduation began teaching pedagogy to high school English teachers.  In an interesting turn of events, she now teaches English to students at a tourism school.  Celia will serve as our Study Coordinator this term, helping set up lectures and workshops as well as working with our host families here in Lima.