Travel Confessions: Volunteer Jody Annetts in Peru
When Peru called, nursing student Jody Annetts answered. Her university had raised money to donate to a shantytown called Pamplona in Peru's capital Lima. The village needed a chapel, so a team from Australian Catholic University went over to help build it. During her stay, Jody connected with the local people and was so inspired by her volunteering experience she’s deferred her studies to head to Africa to volunteer in orphanages and hospitals next. Here’s where it all started in Peru...
What inspired to you to get involved in the trip to Peru with your university?
I was most excited about doing this trip because it meant I was going to be living and working with the locals, experiencing what Peru is actually like, all the poverty and hardships, but also get to see how amazing the people are. I wouldn't get that if I just went for a holiday and stayed in hotels.
Was it difficult getting the paperwork and visas arranged?
There was absolutely no stress getting into Peru. They didn't require any visas and the only paperwork they needed from me took 3 minutes to fill out on the plane.
You were in Peru helping build a chapel for the local community, what was a typical day like?
We would wake up at about 7am. We were staying in a sort of hostel run by a local church so every morning the Sisters would make us breakfast and pack us a basic lunch to take. We would leave at about 8am and take a half-hour bus ride through Lima until we reached the shantytown called Pamplona. The chapel we were building was located at the top of the mountain and it was a very dangerous drive to make, so occasionally we would have to be dropped off at the bottom of the mountain and walk up about 1 kilometre of stairs. Once we'd reach the construction site, we didn't have time to rest before we had to get straight into work, either removing rubble, levelling the ground or pouring cement. A lot of the children didn't have school so they would try to help.
It's a very different experience to an Australian construction site; there were no OH&S guidelines, no helmets, no safety gear, just people getting the job done. The women there are very tough so the male workers in charge of the site had no problems giving us girls from Australia some difficult jobs. Basically, if you could hold a shovel you could work, which meant anyone from the age of 3 to 70 was helping out. We'd have a half-hour lunch break, get back to work, then head back home at about 5pm.
What new skills did you learn in your job?
Before building the chapel I had next to no experience in construction. Now that I've been pushed to my limits, I've certainly learnt a lot about manual labour. Not to mention ways to communicate with someone who doesn't speak a word of English. Most people there haven't had the opportunity to learn another language, so we had to resort to using hand gestures to communicate. It's amazing the relationships and bonds you can form when you don't even speak the same language.
What's your favourite memory from your time in Peru?
My favourite memory was arriving at the site on the first day. We'd never met the people from the town before but the second we arrived they were hugging us and thanking us, before we'd even started working. They were so welcoming and kind - they were living in shacks without electricity and didn't have money for the basic necessities of life but they were all willing to share whatever they had with us. The people were definitely my favourite part, especially the children.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during your trip?
After a few days in Peru I got sick and had to be admitted to hospital. I accidentally drank tap water (a very bad idea in Peru) and also had a touch of altitude sickness. It took them 8 attempts to get the cannula into my arm to attach me to the IV. It's a scary thing to be in hospital in a foreign country so far from home, but the nurses (who didn't speak English) found ways to make me laugh and get me back on my feet. Thank goodness for travel insurance!
What's the best advice you can offer to someone wanting to travel to Peru to volunteer?
The best advice I can give is to embrace EVERYTHING about Peru; the culture, the people, the food, the way they travel. It will mean you get the absolute most from your trip and you will learn so much about what you have back home and what you may take for granted. Pack altitude medication, avoid drinking the tap water and make sure you have travel insurance! Even if you do your best to avoid getting sick and experiencing South American healthcare, there will probably be something else that pops up that will make you regret not having travel insurance.