In there, deep in those forests, away from everything you know, everything you’ve ever been taught...by school or book or song or rhyme, you find peace, kinship, harmony, even safety.
-Instinct, 1999, directed by Jon Turteltaub
Well before completing high school I began to anticipate a college experience similar to those portrayed on television and in film. I imagined finding my calling, learning from wise professors, sleeping through early classes, and, of course, attending wild parties. This vision, however, quickly changed after I bid goodbye to my amazing family, loving girlfriend, and everything else I had come to know during the first eighteen years of my life.
At Stonehill College, a small Catholic liberal arts school just south of Boston, I felt completely alone. I was lucky to have a kind and sociable roommate who began to help me meet new people and find a group of friends. I started to rebuild the sense of comfort I had left back home in New Hampshire. As weeks went by, I focused on my classes, trying to earn A’s while figuring out what to do with my life. Although I tried to consider what I enjoyed most in picking a major, aspirations to financial success pushed me to explore courses in business, politics, and science. Dissatisfied with my courses at the time, and still feeling out of place, I returned home nearly every weekend, attempting to hang on to the comfort and safety of what I’d had there.
One day in mid-October, I stumbled upon a flyer displaying the word “HOPE” and a date for an informational meeting. To this day I can’t entirely understand what drove me to attend, but I did. I learned that HOPE (an acronym for Honoring your neighbor, Organizing for justice, Practicing peace, and Encountering God) was Stonehill’s alternative spring break program. With an interest in the Spanish language and Hispanic culture, I was drawn to the possibility of participating and spending a week in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, or Peru! I filled out and submitted an application. Had I attended the meeting for a reason? I had no idea then that it would help me find my place at college and, more importantly, in life.
As the weeks went by, my anticipation grew as I became more frustrated with my classes. I felt that I shared little in common with others, and I simply wasn’t happy. The possibility of participating in HOPE was slowly becoming my central desire and source of hope. After several weeks a letter finally arrived in my mailbox; and, miraculously, I was one of two freshmen selected to participate as a member of the group traveling to Peru. My discontent seemed to fade, and the weeks flew as I prepared myself for something new. Something that already felt right, even though I had little idea what I was getting myself into.
Soon enough, March arrived and I was sitting in Boston’s Logan Airport with forty other students preparing to depart. We were to spend a week serving the community of Canto Grande, one of the poorest sub-districts of the city of Lima. I’d always loved traveling and was filled with excitement. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for what was to come: the friends I would make, the experiences we would share, and the self-discovery that would ultimately provide me with a sense of direction for my future.
Typically only two flights a day connect the U.S. with Peru, and both happen to arrive between midnight and three in the morning. Thus, we arrived at Lima at 11:55pm, collected our luggage, and traveled by bus forty minutes to “El Centro de Peyton,” or the Peyton Center. This beautiful Holy Cross youth center was literally chiseled out of the side of a mountain located in the heart of Canto Grande. It became our home for the next nine days. Despite the excitement of arrival, the entire group slept until sunrise, when our orientation and work would begin.
I awoke to the noise of roosters and street vendors, competing for notice above the hustle and bustle of the day. Shaking off my early morning grogginess, I realized that I wasn’t at home or in my dorm. I jumped to my feet and stepped outside, onto the third floor balcony. The contrast between the gorgeous courtyard of the Peyton Center and the surrounding community struck me. The center’s lush grass and large stone fountain contrasted with the stark landscape. Small thatch-roofed huts and small wooden houses dotted the rocky slopes, while houses made of dilapidated brick and cement crammed together lining the streets and covering all available flat ground. We ate a small breakfast while Padre Roberto (Father Bob Baker) welcomed and educated us on the Peyton Center, Holy Cross, and their roles in the community.
The book speaks to the universality of service immersion changing one's heart and mind to consider justice, diversity, and spirituality.Peace of Me: Reflections of Service and Self Discovery provides readers with a unique perspective on service-immersion and the profound impact that these types of experiences can have on both the communities being served as well as on those volunteering. Travis Kumph's account of his experiences in an impoverished community in Peru, along with the intimate reflections of twenty-two other volunteers serving in the U.S. and throughout Latin America, provides real-life examples of how and why these types of alternative service trips are becoming increasingly more popular. Each story begins with someone's decision to volunteer, but reoccurring themes of social justice, personal growth, and spiritual enlightenment reveal that this is much more than just an alternative vacation for college students. Readers are left with a better understanding of the value of short-term service immersion experiences and, with any luck, will also be left with the desire to engage in this type of experience for themselves.