Lola Biuckianas didn’t plan on traveling to Peru when she first started researching Volunteer Vacations. But the path she found herself on would be much longer and more rewarding than she ever could have imagined.
After her Discover Corps trip to Peru, Lola found herself drawn to the people she met there. The Spirit of the Andes, which she experienced through the children she met at a local orphanage, made Lola eager to do something more. So she recently returned to Peru in order to make a generous donation.
Here, Lola shares the profound impact this trip had on her life, and how the unexpected aspects of travel are often the most rewarding.
What inspired you to take that first trip to Peru?
Last November, I was planning on traveling to Thailand to take pictures. I was going to go to the lantern festival.
Discover Corps offered a trip in Thailand, but it was the same week I was going to be there on my other project. Then I found the Discover Corps trip to Peru, and Machu Picchu has always been on my bucket list.
Machu Picchu had a profound impact on me when I got there.
Why did you decide to pursue a trip with a volunteer aspect?
I have been traveling for the past three years, and I was starting to feel as though I was just going to these places and taking, taking, taking.
I wanted to find a balance in the way that I was traveling. I needed to give something back. So I searched for organizations that would allow me to give back to the local community.
What was the biggest surprise of the trip?
I looked forward to the trip because of Machu Picchu. But, by the end of my time in Peru, I realized that Machu Picchu had lost its place of honor in my heart. The experience we had [as volunteers at] the orphanage had totally overtaken my heart.
As much as I wanted to see Machu Picchu, what I had done at the orphanage was significantly more important and had more meaning than seeing something antiquated from the past. Machu Picchu was nice, but the people of Peru just won me over completely.
I really loved the women and children of Peru. I felt very connected to them. It was a real emotional, spiritual connection.
What type of work were you involved with at the orphanage?
We visited the orphanage and cooked for them. We also worked with the village children at an after school program, tutoring them in English and math. In that short time, we developed a lot of attachment to the children there.
What convinced you to return to Peru after that first trip?
Before the first trip, I bought one of those little Polaroid cameras. Photography is a hobby of mine, and I knew I wanted to take photos of the children I met. I didn’t want to just take from them. So I thought I’d give them pictures of themselves as mementos. Then I wouldn’t feel so bad about taking their pictures.
That worked great with the kids in the village. Some of their families asked for family pictures. That was very fulfilling!
But then I went to the orphanage to help with lunch and visit. I started taking pictures of these young boys with my Polaroid, and something magical happened between me and them. I decided not to switch cameras and take their pictures. They were so fascinated with my little camera.
There was a connection between us that was very emotional, so it just didn’t seem appropriate to take their pictures at that time. I wanted to hold on to this magical moment.
How did that experience impact you on a personal level?
Over the course of that visit, I fell in love with those children. I felt their need.
One of the things they needed most was a vehicle. They had to walk more than two miles to school every day, often in the rain. They go to school during the rainy season, and it’s often muddy and messy. Then they’re sitting around school all day, feeling wet and cold.
They need food and clothes, too, but they really needed transportation to school. The way out of their situation is through education. I want them to go to school healthy.
So I decided that God had truly blessed my family and I. My children have never known a moment of hunger or true despair. They have a good education, all four of them. And they’re living responsible, adult lives now.
I want those children in Peru to have some of the benefits of that. Because I feel so blessed, it seemed like a van was a gift that we could give to the children of Peru.
What was it like returning to this place that had such a profound impact on you?
I wanted to see the job done myself, so when a vehicle had been picked out, I made arrangements to get them the money. Then i jumped on a plane and went back to Peru. While I was there, we went shopping with the host family I stayed with, and we bought some food and perishable items that the kids needed.
We took the boys to Miguel’s garden and had a big party. I got to see all the kids from the village and the families. It was a very quick trip, but it was wonderful.
How did this trip change your approach to travel?
I’ll probably be doing a lot more of this kind of thing.
I’m hoping to still be able to do Discover Corps’ trip to Thailand, where I was originally thinking about going. I’d love to work with the hill people there.
This trip has changed my life completely in the long run.
What advice of you have for others who want to give back when they travel?
Do it, and do it now! It will be the experience of your lifetime.
I’m 70 years old and I feel like anybody out there who’s even thinking about doing something like this should just say, “Now is the time.” Make the space in your life and go for it.
When you come back, you can continue whatever you were doing, or you can allow your heart to lead you in whatever direction you need to be going. It’s a beautiful world we live in, with all kinds of people with all kinds of problems. We are not separate from those problems.
Just do it. –Britany Robinson
Learn more about Discover Corps’ Spirit of the Andes trip here.
BIO: Britany Robinson is a freelance travel and culture writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her works appears in BBC Travel, Mashable, Green Global Travel, and more. Her blog, Travel Write Away, shares advice and musings on travel writing. When she’s not planning her next big trip, she’s scoping out Portland craft beers and local hikes.