Undergrad Alternative Spring Break in Peru

Students Head to Peru for Alternative Spring Break

By Cristy Lytal

Peru classroom SPPD student Nora Cibrian, right, teaches an English lesson
Photo by Rich Sundeen

SPPD students Nora Cibrian and Cara Murayama, and Professor Richard Sundeen expanded the borders of education during USC’s first Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip to Cusco, Peru.

USC’s Volunteer Center — a primarily student-run department within the Division of Student Affairs — organizes at least six ASB trips each year. These service-learning opportunities enable students to spend their spring breaks volunteering at domestic and international locations. Students work to improve education, homelessness, environmental problems, and other issues.

“For our students in Cusco, the important thing is that they saw a different culture, and that they saw how we have poverty here and they have poverty in other places,” said Sundeen, who has also led trips to Guatemala. “There are some similarities but also some real differences.”

Peru school USC students, including SPPD’s Cara Murayama, right, help paint the exterior walls of an elementary school
Photo by Rich Sundeen

In Cusco, the group of 17 USC students from across the university spent the week working at a low-income grammar school: sanding and painting its exterior and classrooms, gardening, playing with the kids at recess, and offering arts and crafts and English lessons. The USC students also donated sports equipment and school supplies.

“The families seemed like they were probably even more economically disadvantaged than the ones around USC are,” said Sundeen. “The teachers were saying, ‘Since these kids probably will end up selling things on the streets to tourists, learning English is going to help them talk to the tourists.’ That’s different than here in the U.S. just in terms of their aspirations and what they’re going be doing with their lives.”

Originally, the USC students were going to volunteer at a second school in addition, but it was so damaged by recent floods that it was too unsafe to enter.

Participating in the ASB trip reminded Murayama to appreciate the everyday luxuries of life in the United States.

“At recess, a lot of the kids were playing soccer with soda bottles, and they were perfectly happy,” she said. “Even when we were teaching them, they would be hiding the crayons under their nametags. I asked, ‘What are you guys doing? We have to share these.’ And they told me, ‘We don’t have crayons at home.’ It puts it into perspective. I felt really guilty for a while after I came back.”

Cusco’s public health issues also struck Murayama, who is in SPPD’s undergraduate health policy and management track.

“You see how health regulations are different and how these things can affect people’s health directly through the pollution in the air or through simple things like water,” she said. “We take for granted clean drinking water from the tap, and it’s something that affects all parts of our lives.”

Cibrian, a master of planning graduate who served as a student coordinator, took a planner’s view of Cusco’s challenges, from the economic recession to unpaved roads to the struggle to preserve Incan temples.

“You get a wider view of planning outside of the U.S. or LA for that matter,” she said. “It’s a great learning experience not just for the planning field, but for any SPPD field or any field across the university.”

Sundeen hopes that the trip leaves participants with increased interest in international affairs, social change, and education.

“From what they said when they exited the week, it should have had some impact,” he said. “We really did get some strong idealism and commitment to service and to helping bring change.”