A year of service: Learning from brave people who choose to heal
by Mary Kate Bevel
Young Adult Volunteer – Peru
First Presbyterian Church, Dallas
My name is Mary Kate and I am from Dallas, where I grew up attending First Presbyterian Church of Dallas where my faith was formed and my love for service was ignited. Through my church I was introduced to the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program, a program through the PC(USA), which gives young people the opportunity to volunteer for a year in various cities around the US and around the world.
This last year, I have been living and volunteering in Huánuco, Peru. Huánuco is a town of about 100,000 people in the mountains of central Peru that has a year-long climate of 75 degrees. I live with a loving, adventurous host family that loves to go on weekend trips to the surrounding jungle towns, and I work at a shelter called “Casa del Buen Trato Hovde” that helps children, adolescents, and women that are victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. The shelter provides a secure place for them to receive therapy, legal aid, an education, and a place to rest while we search for a safe home for them to live. I have spent my time at the shelter working with the social worker organizing cases, going on family visits, and securing health care and ID documents for the beneficiaries.
I love my job. I have welcoming, spunky coworkers that have included me in their work family from the very beginning. The shelter is surrounded by farms and hills; it is beautiful and peaceful. But mostly I love my job because I get to spend time with loving, hilarious kids all day long.
This year has completely changed my perspective on what it means to be a victim. These kids have stories that are tragic and lives that are seemingly impossible to repair. They have been raped, beaten, abandoned, ignored, and silenced by their own families. They come from extreme poverty where they are malnourished and uneducated. Yet they have showed me love, generosity, patience, acceptance, and an unfathomable amount of trust. They are resilient, strong, and brave. Every single day, I am amazed by their ability to laugh and share their lives with me.
When applying for the YAV program, I wanted to serve and learn about a new culture and language. When coming to Peru, I thought I would spend the year uplifting and helping sad, broken children. But I was completely wrong. I am here to accompany and learn from brave children that choose to heal. I have learned so much from them about what it means to serve. Service is not about spending a year “helping victims” in Peru. It is not about saving the person with the saddest story living in a poor, far away country. It does not require abundant resources or a college degree. There is no room for pride in service. Service is humbly walking alongside someone, accepting them, caring for them, loving them, and sharing life with them.
This year, I have struggled with the realities of rampant injustice, unimaginable poverty, illiteracy, constant sexism and normalized abuse that I see everyday. It would be easy to only dwell on the harsh realities of life in Peru, but it wouldn’t be right. I see sadness everyday, but I also see joy. I have found friendship here. I have come to know and love my coworkers, my host family, and especially the kids here at the shelter. They give me hope when I feel burdened by the injustice of their lives. I have seen women leave their abusive husbands in search for healthier environments for their children; I know a 15 year -old girl with a baby as a result of her abuse that wants to study and become a teacher so she can give her daughter a better life; I know a 16 year-old illiterate girl that wants to start school. They are my friends, and I know that I will carry them and their stories with me for the rest of my life.
I still don’t know the profundity of change that this year in Peru will have on my life, but I imagine that I will still be reflecting and learning from experiences here for many years to come. I have always wanted to find a job where I could help people, and this year has solidified that decision. I have never wanted to ignore the pain I see in the world, but I was never sure if I was strong enough to do this work. But now I see that my strength has little to do with helping people in abusive situations. Everyday God renews peace in me as I trust that his power is made perfect in my weakness.
If you’d like to read more about my life here in Peru follow my blog: mkbevel.tumblr.com