Reflections from Peru

by Josh Delp

Hopefully each week, the Perspectives page of the Record will contain a student reflection on his or her SST trip. The Study Service Term is the cornerstone of Goshen’s education and by sharing stories we are able to connect and relate to each others’ experiences. Also, students who haven’t gone on SST will get a broader perspective of what happens in a semester abroad. SST is life changing, but it is also a catalyst for new understandings and unexpected memories, years after students return. The Record is eager for stories and musings by SST alumni, so don’t hesitate to contact an editor.

Without further ado: a story from my SST. Anyone who has been to Peru knows about the Sendero Luminoso, or The Shining Path. The quickest explanation is that they were a Maoist terrorism group in Peru, whose 20-year civil war with the government heaped untold suffering on the population. We studied them while in Lima, but I didn’t really understand the massive effect this piece of history had on Peruvians until I entered the service portion of my trip. My assignment was in a remote village in the Andes working for a medical clinic.

As we walked to bedridden patients in the countryside, my host-mother would point out the abandoned homes of her relatives who had disappeared, presumably killed. I became friends with a local ceramic artist who was mostly paralyzed on his right side because a rebel had chopped into his neck with a machete. Despite this handicap, he made a living shaping clay and won awards
in competitions.

While hiking further into the mountains I found the wreckage of a military helicopter that was shot down during the war. However, nothing made the idea of living with terrorism as real as a certain day at the clinic. The clinic was closed for the day and I was on the roof enjoying the view of the village when a pickup truck pulled into the market and a dozen or so men in jeans and black t-shirts jumped out of the back, armed with machine guns.

I was terrified and ran downstairs to ask the nurses what was going on. They were confused and concerned, so we all went up to the roof and looked for the men, but they were nowhere to be found. I was just beginning to wonder if this was the beginning of my life as a schizophrenic when I spied one of the men. The nurses recognized him and explained to me that the armed men were a militia force set up by the town during the civil war. Since the Peruvian government was unable to extend protection this far into the mountains, this group patrolled the highways and fought the terrorists. Although the war is over, the militia continues ensuring the town’s protection.

This is just one story among many from my SST; why not share yours too?

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