A Blessing and a Curse: Life as a PSF Volunteer

There aren’t sufficient words to describe my feelings toward a place like Pisco Sin Fronteras. To be a part of it is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a place where you walk in the rusty gate a stranger, and leave a changed person with far more attachments than intended.

That’s how it was for me anyway. I spent the better part of my time in Peru at this shanty but lovely hut contraption, six days a week, working beneath the blazing sun performing manual labor. Three weeks prior, I had barely up a hammer, let alone spent day in and day out building houses, pouring concrete, and constructing fences. It was challenging and more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done.

Pisco Sin Fronteras is a volunteer organization that was founded after the earthquake of 2007 which destroyed over 80% of the city. The organization focuses mainly on rebuilding the town, houses, schools, and teaching English to children and along with other types of community development work. And the best part of all? They don’t charge you an arm and a leg to participate. For under $5 a day, you’re provided with two meals a day and a bed. And the meals are amazing. The bed is not.. it’s essentially a stack of hay which can be rather pokey and uncomfortable to sleep on. But we all have to make sacrifices, right?

The attachments I formed were strong and unforgettable. I met the families of the homes I worked on, who would hover around, fixated and beaming. They would provide us with a home-cooked meal for lunch, typically consisting of dodgy chicken, lentils, rice, and a whole heap of spicy aji, my absolute favorite. The final week I worked on a woman’s house who hand-made some of the tastiest and spiciest aji sauce I’d ever tried. I made such a rave about how amazing it was that the bowl of aji got bigger and bigger everyday: she hand-made extra for me simply because I enjoyed it. How can you not get attached to that? The families are adorable and incredibly grateful for the work we do.

Nobody takes the motto “Work hard, Play hard” more to heart than the volunteers of PSF. Everybody pours their heart and soul into the work they do.. and then don’t hesitate to crack open a couple Bramas around the fire in the evening after a hard day’s work. This is where some of my best moments at PSF were. As soon as the Pisco sun set (many of which I would climb up on the roof to watch), the night would grow chilly. We would fight the chill by bundling up and having a bonfire in the middle of our courtyard while nursing beers and chatting. Usually it stayed at this mellow level, but every now and again our innocent intentions would turn into long nights out at the local discotecas, which was always a blast. What wasn’t a blast was peeling ourselves out of bed at 7:30 the next morning to begin a long day of work with a hangover. Lesson learned? I think not.. Lessons for me don’t usually stick until the third or fourth time. Don’t judge.

Pisco is not a conventionally “nice” city. The place is broken down, and the dirt roads are piled high with trash. But it’s hard not to admire the people of Pisco. They have been through so much, yet radiate resilience and hope. It’s inspiring.

We, the volunteers of PSF, live in incredibly close quarters with each other. In my room there were 16 of us, and we all sleep on hard beds made of hay and wash ourselves in cold showers. I grew to like this. We are bonded because each of us are in this together. Nobody is living in luxury, and for the the most part, nobody is getting special treatment. We all live close to the ground, just as we all work close to the ground. There are no contradictions in the life of a PSF volunteer.

So how is it a curse? It’s a curse because the work is never finished; there is always another family around the corner living in dire circumstances. It’s a curse because I formed attachments to both people and the community, and to part is painful. It’s a curse because ever since I left, I have missed it and the work we do. I miss the simplicity of the lifestyle, and I miss the people.

But most of all, I miss the passing spot of time that we all shared between ourselves and with the city of Pisco… a moment that isn’t easily explained, but has ingrained itself into my heart, and there is where I know it will remain forever.

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