Northwestern University Rotaractor Emily Chow wrote the following account of the club's international service trip to Peru last spring. For more information about the club's activities, District 6440 Rotarians are invited to visit the club's web site.


On August 15, 2007, central Peru suffered an earthquake that went down in history known as the Pisco Earthquake. Measuring in at a staggering magnitude of 8.0, the earthmover and the following four-meter tsunami caused extensive damage to the city of Pisco and the surrounding area, damaging more than 80 percent of the homes in Pisco and killing roughly 600 people.


Houses fell and families struggled with the aftermath, living in makeshift houses constructed of cardboard, scrap wood, and plastic. Government aid left a lot to be desired, and some families did not have access to food and water for four days.


 Three years later the city still stands in rubble. Muros de la vergüenza, walls of shame, hide evidence of the earthquake’s damage, serving as a temporary fix but also acting as a constant reminder that the city is far from full recovery.


At the end of March, members of the Rotaract Club of Northwestern University decided to go to Peru for their fourth annual international service trip. “Planning the Northwestern Rotaract Club’s 2010 spring beak international service trip really involved the entire Rotary network,” international service co-chair Joshua Jund said.


During the search, the club’s sponsor, the Rotary Club of Evanston Lighthouse, mentioned that Northwestern alumna Amanda Dixon was in Lima, Peru, on a Rotary Ambassadorial scholarship and suggested that the university-based club contact her about traveling to South America. Ecstatic about the opportunity to help out members of her alma mater, Dixon worked with 2009-2010 international service chairs Elisa Meggs and Jund to organize the nine-day trip with an itinerary filled with sightseeing, dinners with local Rotaract clubs, and days of volunteering at Pisco Sin Fronteras.


Pisco Sin Fronteras (PSF), a not-for-profit organization founded in 2008, aims to provide assistance in long-term recovery. Noticing that larger international organizations were pulling out after the first anniversary of the earthquake, local Peruvian Harold Zevallos Salas decided to establish PSF, pulling volunteers from all over the world to help improve the living conditions of families affected by the earthquake. Whether it is long-term or simply for one week, volunteers traveling through Peru stop in Pisco and help build houses, dig trenches, paint murals, work on schools ,and build sanitation units to beautify the city.


After a warm welcome in Lima, the students traveled south and were welcomed by the Rotaract Club of Pisco over a delicious meal and a formal Rotary meeting. While nights were filled with tours and cultural outings, a few Pisco Rotaracters who could take time off of work and schooling during the day joined the 13 Northwestern students on various PSF projects ranging from water sanitation to painting to helping at ludotecas.


One project that many students worked on during the week was the environment center and park. The tsunami that followed the earthquake destroyed the nine kilometers of coastal wetlands stretching across the Pisco Playa, home to an expansive ecological diversity. Debris piled up along the shores, and the community and government officials began moving rubble out from the center of the city and piling it along the coast.


In an effort to  restore and beautify the area – to remind the community and tourists of the beauty of Pisco – local environmentalist Victor Ramos spearheaded a project with PSF that established a wildlife observation deck, an environmental interpretive center, hundreds of meters of trails and restoration. Northwestern Rotaract students worked with other volunteers to prepare the grounds for a volleyball court, painted a swing set, and helped design and build a play set to create a safe community space for local children.


Others traveled to El Molino to help dig trenches for latrines. A tiny desert community consisting of earthquake refugees, El Molino was home to many living in undesirable conditions in makeshift houses that, due to necessity, became permanent homes. Members Kelly Rincon, Elizabeth Kinsey, and Nicole Kravis, who graduated in 2010, volunteered to work in the Ludoteca Child Care Centre, a local daycare center that offers children in Alameda a safe and stimulating environment filled with games and other hands-on activities.


“Going to Peru opened up my eyes to the pure goodness that resides in many of us,” Rotaracter Paris West said. “The experience I had in Peru will forever live with me, and I can state without a shadow of a doubt that I will return to Pisco to finish the job I had initially wanted to achieve: to change the world with the help of like-minded individuals.”


Everyone on the trip offered similar sentiments and had such a memorable experience in Peru that the efforts continued back on Northwestern’s campus. Spring quarter, NU Rotaract held two joint events with proceeds going back to PSF. Evanston Lighthouse Rotarian Susan Smith co-hosted a backyard party and sidewalk sale for Rotarians, and students from the trip showcased their photography in a gallery at the Northwestern student center, collectively raising more than $1,100.


Looking ahead, the club plans to return to Peru again for this year’s service trip, connect with the same Rotaract clubs in Lima and Peru, and work once again with PSF as they continue to restore central Peru and help those who still live in the earthquake’s aftermath.


To learn more about our service trip, view Rotary International’s short documentary, “Journey to Pisco” on Vimeo.