Eleven students and three chaperones from The Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison learned about culture, service and survival during an amazing experience on a two-week service learning trip to Peru. W-H continued its partnership with the World Leadership School, an organization that transforms learning and empowers young leaders.
“Our service learning program provides students with tremendous personal growth opportunities and with firsthand understanding how local leaders elsewhere address global issues that are important within their communities,” said Andrew Webster of Edison, Head of School. “They learn how families live in very different circumstances than their own, and they take stock of what is truly important to them. Whether in communicating to their host families, or hiking at high altitudes, or working with local NGOs, they discover problem-solving skills and inner resources that are not often demanded of them in their ordinary lives.”
The adventure provided many rewarding educational aspects, including a wonderful connection with native homestay families.
“I was able to connect so much with the people there, and they proved to me that money doesn’t buy happiness,” Alexandra Vargas of Dunellen said. “Everyone living there is so happy, and they make it seem like they have so much, when really compared to us, they have so little.”
The students discovered the beauty of the Peruvian culture while pushing themselves to physical and mental limits during a grueling 10-hour hike in the Andes mountains that Mr. Webster called the most physically exhausting day of his life.
“The hike was longer and more challenging than we anticipated,” Webster said. “I was deeply impressed by the stamina and resolve our students showed. For many of them, this may be the hardest physical challenge they have faced. But they pulled together and helped each other overcome it.”
Webster was joined by Megan Teller of Hightstown, Assistant Athletic Director, and Elizabeth Martin of South Plainfield, Middle School math teacher and Upper School head softball coach, as the chaperones.
The W-H group worked with local NGOs (non-government organizations) at Awamaki, Sacred Valley Health Clinic and the Kuska School. In addition to helping with English lessons, the W-H students put in some physical work at the Kuska School. They applied polyurethane to many stakes used to fence off their garden area, sanded them and pounded the stakes into the ground. They also dug post holes and poured cement for the posts in what will become a small shop that will be used to sell items the students produce.
Another group of students focused on preventative health, working with Sacred Valley Health Network. They spent time at a preschool to teach youngsters about hand washing and dental hygiene.
The trip also gave the students and chaperones the opportunity to visit many beautiful landmarks, including Ollantaytambo’s Sun Temple, the Sacred Valley, Qorikancha, Cusco Cathedral and the iconic Machu Picchu.
“Machu Picchu was breathtaking up close and we were able to see many native animals. We saw two llamas, a lizard and a chinchilla. We were also fortunate enough to learn a lot from our tour guide, Jimmy, who showed us pictures to further explain the information,” Emily Calderon of North Plainfield said.
There were tearful good-byes on the final day of the trip, which made the students appreciate what they had experienced and how they returned home with new perspectives on life.
“I miss the smells of food in the market and the laughter of children playing games on the street,” Alexandra said. “I know I have come back a different person, and I am grateful for everything I learned during my visit.”
“I have sent three sons on these trips and observed the experience of many others, and I recommend them very highly to all of our students because I have seen the permanent difference these experiences create in our students,” said Webster, who also attended the school’s inaugural service learning trip to Peru in 2012.