By Matt Byrnes
To be fully immersed is to involve oneself deeply in a particular activity or interest.
This past January I had the pleasure to go to Piura, Peru with 13 others on a service immersion trip through the Winter Immersion Program, or WIP. Throughout the week on WIP, you are serving others while getting to know the community, the culture, and the social justice issues that take place in that society.
There has always been a debate as to whether or not we should send people on immersion trips, or if we should just give the money that we raised, and let them do what they need with the money instead. I think these trips are important though, because it is one thing to say “There’s poverty in the world, we need to fix it,” and donate the money, and another to actually see these problems with your own eyes, and to talk and interact with these families and children who are affected by it every day. Seeing it gives you this drive – a passion – to want to create a change, and a reason to go and tell others why they should help towards making a change as well. My week in Piura was like a blow to the chest, but a good one. It opened my eyes, showed me new things, and taught me new lessons that I would never have learned from anyone else.
After taking a tour of Piura on the first day of arriving in Peru, we really got a sense of how many people were affected by poverty. Throughout the week, whether it was helping deliver food to families, building a new bedroom, teaching English to children at school, or building a whole new house, we were able to interact with the families and the staff who worked at the parish where we were staying. We listened to their own stories and perspectives on life.
The day that made the biggest impact on me was when we were invited to a culture festival. They had a circle of chairs in the middle of the road outside the church with stand up lights illuminating the street, and everyone in the community sat and stood around the circle. We were able to see some of the different styles of dances that represented the culture in Peru, and then we all got balloons and whistles and danced together in the circle, laughing and having one of the greatest nights of our lives. To see these boys and girls show us a piece of their culture and who they are with such great pride, and with such huge smiles on their faces, really touched my heart. These people in the community had such pure joy and love, and even though it was clear that they were living in poverty, they made up for whatever they didn’t have with the love, smiles, and positivity that they gave to others.
During one of the reflections, we heard a story about a man who claimed to have the most beautiful heart. He showed others his heart, and even though it looked torn, stitched, and not complete, he explained that that was the reason why it was so beautiful.
Throughout moments in his life, he had encountered people to whom he ended up giving a piece of his heart, and got a piece of other people’s hearts in return. It was because of the people he met that made his heart so beautiful, and helped him become who he was meant to be, and he would not change a single thing about his heart for the world. I gave Piura, and everyone I went with, a piece of my heart, and I know through all my encounters they gave me a piece of theirs. I wouldn’t change that for the world, because they helped me become the person I am today, and I am eternally thankful for WIP having given me the opportunity to do that.
Matt Byrnes is a senior Psychology major from Long Island, New York. He’s involved with Hawkapella, Relay for Life, and is a CPC for Weekly Service. On top of all of these commitments, he takes time to appreciate dogs for all that they are. For more information about immersion programs, visit our website.