Antonio Fernandez is a national proposal consultant with Kaiser Permanente. Last month, Antonio and 12 of his Kaiser Permanente colleagues traveled to Cerro Blanco, Peru to build basketball courts for Courts for Kids, a non-profit organization that partners with local communities to provide athletic opportunities for children.
We arrived in the village of Cerro Blanco, Peru on Saturday, August 16th, after more than eight hours in flights and a two-hour bus ride. Our group was met by Chris Cobb, the director from Courts for Kids, and a few Peace Corps volunteers, led by Kristen Jackson. We stepped off the bus and were greeted by the people of the town, who were lined up waiting for us, with big hugs and even kisses on the cheek. No one in the town spoke English. The Courts for Kids group would be relying heavily on about four people to translate any communication that took place all week long.
We were well fed all week long. I heard that the village didn’t have a lot of funds to put towards the court, so much of their contribution came in the form of feeding our group and providing a lot of manual labor. Most of the food I believe, especially the meat, was raised right on the farm where we stayed. We ate meat almost every meal, which we heard was not common in developing countries like Peru. On one of the days, our volunteers Kathy Pantele and Angelica Velasco pitched in and made ceviche, a seafood dish with its origins in Peru.
The morning following our arrival, the volunteers were up and ready to work at 9 a.m. After a minor setback—not having gasoline for the cement-mixer—the group finally started moving cement at about 10:30 and by noon we had finished the first square. The 25×30 meter court consisted of approximately 65 squares. At the pace we started out at, it looked like we might get ten squares done by the end of the week.
Halfway through the week we found out that the contractor, the people of the village and almost anyone who lived in the immediate area and knew about the court didn’t believe that a group of volunteers would ever finish a court in a week. I never had a doubt. I have done many volunteer projects with Kaiser Permanente employees and I know that they always show up and give everything they have and then a little bit more. This group was no different.
By the end of Monday we had completed 17 more squares. After two half days of work, the group was nearly halfway done with the whole court. The energy at the end of the day was high and the group bragged about its work. We talked about the idea of being able to maybe finish by mid-week.
On Wednesday, I was totally bummed because I contracted some sort of a stomach bug. However, thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, by late Thursday morning I was back up on my feet again. I even jumped in and helped the group as we began to fill the last few squares. I found out quickly though that whatever bacteria I contracted, I was pretty well wiped out still. After about an hour of tough manual labor I stepped aside and let the healthier volunteers do the work.
The court was completed by Friday. Not only did we finish a court that was about one-quarter bigger than it was supposed to be, but we did it in only two and a half days’ time. Well, really five half-days. For most of the volunteers on the trip, I joked, “It was the toughest half a week most of us ever worked in our lives.”
Our statistics for the week included the following:
- We emptied nearly 325 bags of cement, which weighed about 100 pounds each.
- Each batch of cement filled about eight wheelbarrows. Each square needed about five batches.
- I estimated that we also dumped approximately 1950 buckets of the sand and rocks, each bucket weighing probably close to 50 pounds, and almost 650 buckets of water.
- In the end, we emptied about 2600 wheelbarrow loads of mixed cement.
The first week back from the Peru I was stuck in existential crises mode like I usually am after going on a volunteer trip. I often pondered the previous week’s events and wondered what impact I made and if it was enough. It finally came to me after a few days of running it over and over in my head. The court was only one of the things that could have a big impact on the village. The new court might help generate some money to bring much needed improvements to the village. It could also attract others to come and live there, building a bigger community. It will definitely be a great place for the kids to play safely and for the community to hold events.
What came to me as I thought about what else might change the village was the story about a group of volunteers who showed up from thousands of miles away and gave themselves selflessly to a cause, asking for nothing in return.
After the trip, I asked some of our volunteers to reflect on how it affected them. Here is what they had to say:
Denise Dorado, is a Mammography Technologist at our Santa Clarita Medical Offices.“This was my very first volunteer trip of any kind and I must say I’ve learned I truly do feel a balance in my life when I help others. My job consist of helping others but there is nothing in this world like actually paying out of your own pocket to help others and in return receive smiles, hugs, laughter, joy.”
Ly P. Rivera, is a Change Management and Communications Analyst with our Pleasanton Medical Offices. “This trip incited my passion for altruism and, thus, I have decided with my family, that every vacation will be merged with a service project, as social needs exist almost anywhere at different scales.”