Four Peninsula High School students returned last month from an adventure of a lifetime in Peru. Brett Shelley, Alex Ramirez, Chase Reed and Jeremy Aspee — sponsored by the Rotary clubs of Gig Harbor — spent seven days installing 20 computers in an elementary school located in Camana, Peru.
“The opportunity and life-changing experience would not have been made possible without support and guidance from the Rotary and specifically Tom Borgen, Heidi Holmes, John Winslow, Chance Gower and Rich Soulam,” said Karen Ramirez, Alex’s mom.
The students spent the previous school year putting on dances, car washes and running booths at WinterFest to raise enough money to pay for their airfares. They also spent many Friday afternoons learning about the computers so they could install them and teach the children and staff in Camana how to use them — in Spanish.
All four students had previously studied the language, either at Peninsula High or at Key Peninsula Middle School. Aspee has been studying Spanish for four years, Karen Ramirez said.
“Each of the PHS students brought home many stories to tell,” she added.
The mission was to set up a computer lab for a school and to enrich students’ and teachers’ learning capabilities. Rotary clubs, as well as the Peninsula High Interact Club, led by John Winslow, chose Camana as the recipient.
Both the Rotary clubs and the boys were contributors. Training dates with Chance Gower, a teacher at South Kitsap High School, on how to wire the computers were part of the planning phase.
Instructions to the team were to pack light and prepare for no hot showers.
The four PHS students brought their practice wires with them to ensure positive results.
Heidi Holmes, president of the Gig Harbor North Rotary Club, accompanied the group to Peru.
“We did bathe, but generally in cold-to-lukewarm showers,” she said.
“After spending the night going through a very chaotic customs in Lima and sleeping a few hours in the Lima airport chairs, we caught an early morning flight to Arequipa,” Holmes added. “We were met at the Arequipa airport by a group of local Peru Rotarians with a van large enough to transport our team to Camana via winding, two-lane, steep mountain roads.”
Alex Ramirez said they were able to set up the lab.
“Afterwards, we needed to train the staff of the school,” he said. “There were only eight (Peruvian) teachers. Some teachers had experience with how to operate and navigate the computer programs, but most had never touched a mouse before and faced a steep learning curve. Teachers, students and parents will be able to have access to this new and important resource.”
Once the lab was installed, the group toured Camana, Alex Ramirez said.
“Although conditions were nowhere near as nice as they are (in the United States), the people were very happy and content with what they had. They didn’t have much, but they were willing to share that little bit with us.
“It’s kind of funny because there are people (in the United States) in better situations who complain, but the people there have less (and) are just happy to get by,” he said.
Holmes said applications from high school students were submitted to the Gig Harbor North Rotary Club. Each was reviewed to evaluate students’ interests, academic strengths, character and desire to serve. The chosen students were invited with their parents to attend a Rotary meeting, where they confirmed their desire to do the work required.
“We had the opportunity to eat a variety of traditional foods in both Camana and (the nearby town of) Arequipa,” Alex Ramirez said. “These included, but were not limited to: pollo ala brasa, lomo saltado, papas fritas, alpaca, Guinea pig, camu camu juice and chi-cha. I did my best to avoid Western food and ate only foods native to Peru; the food was very wholesome, healthy and fresh. It was difficult to come back to America and eat the food here.”
Holmes said the trip proved to be a positive change for Camana’s school and kids, and a learning experience for the Americans.
“We spoke Spanish almost the entire time, ate cultural foods such as Guinea pig, traveled to Arequipa and Lima, and immersed ourselves in Peruvian life,” she said.
Rich Soulam, the committee chairman for the Gig Harbor North Rotary Club, wrote the grants that made the trip possible. He also handled a lot of the Spanish interpretation for the group.
“Peru was a very exciting and interesting place,” Alex Ramirez said. “I will definitely do my best to re-visit this amazing country. We did and saw many things that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was all thanks to Rotary for sponsoring and planning this trip.”
The four PHS students now have a PowerPoint presentation on how their trip went, and they hold a question-and-answer period afterward. Those interested in seeing the presentation can email Karen Ramirez at email@example.com.Hugh McMillan is a longtime freelance contributor to The Peninsula Gateway. He can be reached at 253-884-3319 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.