Getting a Grip 2: A Dose of Perspective in the Third World

In 2009 I participated in a Community Project trip to Peru with World Expeditions. It was one long experience of perspective.

Part holiday, part volunteer project, we trekked through the Andes for four days to the village of Tastayoq. There we spent four days building a new bridge across the river so the children could cross safely to get to school. Here’s what the original bridge looked like:

The original bridge

The original bridge

Being there in the dry season, the river was little more than a creek but when the water comes, it can be a raging torrent. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want my children crossing a fast-flowing river on this bridge.

At almost 4,000 metres (13,000 feet) above sea-level, we lugged rocks, mixed cement by hand, pushed wheelbarrows full of gravel and toiled away beside our Peruvian hosts to build this (The timber is just to hold the frame for the cement slab. It was removed after we left.):

The new bridge

When completed, we held an official opening and blessing of the new bridge and celebrated with the villagers. We had brought supplies for the school and some of these were handed out to the children as gifts.

Excitement as gifts are handed out.

This was my strongest lesson in perspective. The children were so excited to receive a pad of paper and a few pencils. When you live in a stone hut with a dirt floor and no running water, when your toys are the sticks and stones outside your door, some shiny new paper and sharp pencils all of your own must seem like a treasure bounty.

When I returned home, so many people greeted me with “Welcome back to the real world.” If only they knew. I had actually left the real world and come home to Fantasy Land.

For weeks after I returned, I couldn’t even sit with other parents waiting to pick up their children at school. The complaints of “Susie’s gymnastics teacher just doesn’t understand her” or “Johnny isn’t getting enough time on the basketball court” left me with an overwhelming urge to grab the parent by the shoulders and yell, “Get a grip!!”.

I shamefully admit that I did acclimatise back into Fantasy Land eventually and even now I find myself complaining of similar trivial issues. However, I am regularly reminded of my experiences in Tastayoq. On our trek to the village, we had pretty extreme weather. One day it rained so much I got wet right through my coat and three layers of clothing. Now, every time it rains, I remember that experience. It brings first a feeling of exhilaration (I loved our time trekking even when it snowed) then a reminder of the Tastayoq children. And I get a grip on my problems and remember how lucky I am.



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Getting a Grip 1: A Dose of Perspective in the First World

I’m a parent. Parenting can be hard going at times.  I have one at the What Is My Place In The World? stage, one at the Pushing The Boundaries stage and one at the OMG I Have To Decide What To Do With The Rest Of My Life stage. They each present their own challenges and sometimes it can seem like we’ll never get through it unscathed.

Also, two of them are redheads.

Two weeks ago, I started volunteering at a nearby school that caters for children with severe intellectual and physical disabilities. At the time, I was dealing with some pretty challenging behaviours at home. At least, I thought I was. My first day at the school was a salient lesson in perspective.

As difficult as my children might be at times, I know that eventually they will grow into independent citizens of the world. For most of the parents at my school, this is a luxury they will never enjoy. Parenting a child with severe disabilities means caring full time for that child for the rest of your life. And it is a life filled with daily challenges that would seem insurmountable to those of us with just the regular parenting issues.

I am glad I am there every week to be continually reminded that perhaps things at home are not so bad after all.



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