Poverty & Joy: A YMCA Service Trip to Peru

Aug 28, 2017, 10:49 AM by

Our bus pushed through the intense traffic of Lima, weaving through cars like a mouse in a maze. The girls chatted excitedly and looked out the window at the congestion of cars as I watched the scenery outside change from nice buildings and town centers to shambles.

The outskirts of Lima looked like an earthquake had hit it and then was forgotten by the rest of the world. Laundry hung from the roofs of broken down houses among the rubble and children played in the dirt streets with the stray dogs. 

The 10 of us had come from the comfort of Colorado to spend two weeks doing service work to support the Peru YMCA, and we had arrived in the poorest district of Lima — Independencia. The district is situated on a dirt mountainside, 45 minutes north of Central Lima. Our bus dropped us off at a small yellow house, which would be our home for the next few nights. This house is the sewing shop for women to make uniforms for a school located in the Lima Y. 

Our work site was a building owned by the Y with a free day care and a school that teaches business, leadership and practical skills to adults in the community. Our job was to sand down, plaster, and repaint the day care and outside walls. As we worked, children came from their homes to investigate and listen to our music. We brought soccer and tennis balls from the US and handed them out the first day. We spent hours each day playing and bonding with the kids and dogs. They were clean and smiling each day, and their mothers watched as they played with us. 


One day, a little boy asked me to hold his water bottle for him. The water was yellow and had dirt in it. I was heartbroken that these children are exposed to water every day that could host disease and possibly kill them. Their houses were made out of things we would consider garbage in the United States. 

Even though their living conditions were awful and drinking water deplorable, these were the happiest children I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet and their families are caring and loving. Each day we would watch the mothers pick their children up from school smiling and holding hands. 

Although Independencia is set in profound poverty, that is not the defining factor of this district. The Y strives to build a sense of community and stability within districts like Independencia. By providing leadership skills, clothes, childcare, and volunteers to the community, the Y is changing the way these families live and view their lives. Thousands of families depend on the Y to offer a safe space and meaningful programs that will improve their lives. 

What Americans see primarily as a “swim and gym,” I see as an organization dedicated to the public need. 

Now that I’m home, I want to share how impactful the Y is in other countries and how they change the lives of those under their care. These families receive hope from the kindness the Y provides and I’m honored to have been a part of this exchange and experience it first hand.

This piece was written by Olivia Coker, who took part in the YMCA of Boulder Valley's Global Teen Leadership trip to Peru. The article was originally published on the YMCA of the USA's Diversity, Inclusion and Global blog.