Before their trip last month to Peru, these six Pleasant Valley High School students thought they knew what to expect.

They saw photos of the village. They read about the school they'd be visiting, where kids lived in shacks, wore hand-me-down clothes and may not have a meal each day. 

But, nothing compared to the real thing.

"You could never know the full extent of it until you go," said Stephanie Risius, the PVHS spanish teacher who led the trip. "Someone can tell you it's this way or that way, but it's not the same until you see it."

During their 12-day service trip, the first of its kind for PVHS, students volunteered at the Voices 4 Peru private school in the district of Ventanilla, which is in Callao, Peru. That school was founded by PVHS graduate Daniel Klopp, executive director of the organization. He will speak Sept. 11 in Bettendorf.

The idea for the service trip came after PVHS held a community-wide effort to raise money and collect items to send to Voices 4 Peru. In March, Risius and a few students delivered donations — filling 37 suitcases with with clothes, food and vitamins, plus $1,200 — during a touristy spring break trip to Peru.

“During that trip, we dropped stuff off and had to leave," Risius said. "We felt a need when we were there to actually visit the school and spend time with these kids and do more than donate, but we didn’t have time during this spring break tour. We knew we had to go back and it kind of spun out from there.”

Six students — Abbey Schaller, Taryn Bloomfield, Joslyn Schafer, Porter Cottrell, Reece Callaway and Cole Finnegan — signed on for the summer service trip.

After nearly two weeks volunteering in Peru, Schaller, a senior, was inspired to change her college major from speech pathology to human services. She wants to be an ESL teacher or join the Peace Corps in the future.

"The connections with people changed my life,” she said. “It makes you feel appreciative of what you have and shows you how a lot of people in different places live." 

The students led games and activities, passing on basketball moves, hula-hoop tricks and chalkboard chalk designs. They also practiced their Spanish-speaking skills.

"You knew going over that these were underprivileged children, and they don't have the things we have," Schafer, a sophomore, said. "But these kids were always smiling.”

"They don't have running water, but they’re not complaining," Cottell, a sophomore, said. "Some kids have nothing, but they're still happy.”

Reflecting on the trip last week, students couldn’t decide who had influenced whom more — the kids in Peru or the ones from Iowa.

"Something as simple as hugging them and talking to these kids means the world to us and to those kids," Bloomfield said. "We really didn’t want to leave and come back — it was that eye-opening.”

But Risius said the group left with plenty of lessons you can’t learn in the classroom.

"You look at the world a little bit differently when you see it through someone else's eyes," Risius said. "That's the thing about travel that you can show students — you look at your world in a different way."

They all agree on this: nothing compares to seeing another corner of the world first-hand. 

"You can read about it and watch it on YouTube all you want, but you have to go and see and do," Risius said. "That's where the change happened."


Amanda Hancock is a reporter covering food, arts and entertainment in the Quad-Cities (and beyond).