During my travels, I have found that the memories that stand out are the ones about the people I have met. Some of the greatest days I’ve had while traveling are when I didn’t spend a single penny. Whether it’s been sitting on the side of the road all afternoon watching people or playing with children on the streets, memories such as these are free and make lasting impressions.
In the summer of 2007, I traveled to Peru to film an independent documentary that focused on breaking the stereotype of a third world country. I spent two years saving and planning for this project, but could not have anticipated what would come of this adventure.
Peru is an exceptionally stunning country with outstanding landscape and beautiful people. I had some pretty wild experiences during the thirty days that I spent traveling throughout the country. I hiked the Lares Trek to Machu Picchu, visited the islands of Lake Titicaca, spent the night with a Quechua tribe, ate guinea pig, spotted pink dolphins in the Amazon river and suffered from gastroenteritis – twice! Yet, these experiences do not compare to the couple of days that my partner Siya and I spent with a very special Peruvian family.
Siya and I, had asked a friend if he could introduce us to a Peruvian family that has a story to tell. Our friend told us about a family of eight made up of a mother, father and six children under the age of eighteen. Little did we know that this family would make us evaluate the definition of happiness and what it takes to achieve such a state of mind. During the drive through the family’s neighbourhood Siya and I made a mutual prediction that this was going to be a experience like no other. We were surrounded by houses made of metal scraps, leaves and dried lava. Children with protruding belly’s were running barefoot though the streets selling pieces of gum for whatever change they could get.
When we arrived at the house of the family, we were welcomed by the mother, her two youngest daughters and youngest son. They all had smiles on their face and sparkles in their eyes. With little hesitation, they hugged us and gave the traditional kiss on the cheek. We were led by the mother into into what would classify as a backyard. The backyard consisted of a dirt floor covered with toys belonging to the children. However, these were not the same toys that children in Canada beg their parents for. Their toy collection was made up of old batteries, broken barbie dolls heads, pieces of plastic, wood and rocks. The toilet was located in the backyard. It was broken, rusted and barely hidden behind a piece of wood. There was no privacy and only a shallow hole in the ground for the feces to go. As Siya and I observed our surroundings, the mother called out to her husband to come and greet us. At first there was no response, but with a little perseverance from the mother, a very nervous and petite man walked out to the backyard. After a nod of the head and very weary smile, he went into a small dark room just around the corner from where we were standing. Following behind her husband, the mother lead us into the room. The family had constructed the room themselves from metal scraps, mud, dry lava and dried leaves. This room was their main living space. The room consisted of two small beds made of wood and covered in raggedy clothing. This is where both parents and their three daughters slept as well as kept all of their personal items. To the left of the entrance was a large pile of old dirty clothing. To the right were two chairs and a small rectangular table. Everything in this room was all the family owned and had been collected over several years. Just outside the room was a small space where the mother cooked and another small room where her three sons slept. The kitchen consisted of an old pot, a place to create an open fire and a larger rock which she used to cut food when necessary.
While Siya and I took a look around the kitchen, the father came out behind us with his smallest daughter Precia and a smile on his face. Precia is the youngest child of the family and was born without the ability to walk. If given a simple operation, she would be given the chance to walk, but the family does not have the sufficient funds to pay for such a thing. The father explained to Siya and I that living in extreme poverty has been a reality for this family for generations. From the look on his face, I could tell he knew Siya and I are sincere people with a genuine interest in learning about his family and their story.
Siya and I both brought our video cameras along to document the experience, not really knowing what to expect. The kids were especially fascinated with our cameras and loved to see themselves on the display screen. One of the girls who developed an attachment to Siya and I from the very beginning told us that she dreams of being a film maker just like us when she grows up. Throughout the day, we had a chance to talk one-on-one with each member of the family. They each told us about their daily struggle to find food and water,take care of each other and hopes for a brighter future. The mother explained to us that in order to get clean drinking water, she had to walk two kilometers with Precia on her back; and this was only when the family hadenough money to afford it. The water cost more money in this part of the city because it is “inconvenient” for the water trucks to the deliver the water to the tanks. With great enthusiasm and determination in her voice, the mother explained her hopes for her children to be able to live a different life then what she has known. She wants them to have the opportuinty to get a good education and become anything they wish to be. Although the family explained their struggles, they focused more on what they do have and their undenying love for each other and life. Siya and I felt overwhelmed with the family’s determination, passion, motivation and love for life and each other that they all had. They had so little yet, they focused on expressing their content and appreciation for what they did have. They did not have many materialistic things, but they had love for one another and a desire to break out of the cycle of poverty that their family has always known. The family offered Siya and I the little food they had because they wanted us to feel welcome and happy. The whole afternoon and evening was spent laughing and playing.
This family is like none I have ever met. They have a zest for life that is inspiring. The family welcomed us into their home with open arms and in one day taught us the true meaning of happiness. Where many people believe that money is the leading factor to happiness, the family taught us that happiness is about family, friendship, nature and simplicity. We left the family at the end of the day feeling extremely overwhelmed. We had three more weeks ahead of us to explore Peru, but all we could think about was the family.
After seeing condors flying, monkies playing, peaceful islands, floating villages, breathtaking landscapes and one of the wonders of the world, we were still very emotionally affected from the family we met. During the last few days of our journey, we decided to visit the family one more time before our return to Canada. During our drive back to their neighborhood, Siya and I put together a small photo album of the pictures we took of the family. Upon our arrival, we saw each member of the family digging a trench for a water pipeline along the road. They were very excited to see us! We surprised them with the photo album and they were extremely grateful as these were the first photos of themselves that they had ever seen. We learned that all eight of them had been digging the trench for twelve hours and would only earn a total of what is equivalent to three Canadian dollars. That is only half the amount of what it costs to buy a gallon of clean drinking water. We also learned that for years they had been saving up money to get a pipeline in their house, so they would no longer need to walk far to get clean water. After years of saving, they only has saved a quarter of what it would cost. With six growing children and an unsteady source of income, it would take many more years for the family to be able to afford a water pipe line in their home. In order to have the water pipe line connected to their house, it would cost the equivalent to sixty Canadian dollars.
Siya and I knew that we needed to help this family. We put together all of the money we had in our wallets and it equaled the exact balance of what it would cost the family for the pipeline. Siya and I took the mother aside and discretely handed her the money. We told her that we wanted her to have it so that her family would have access to what all living beings should have the right to – clean water. The moment we handed her the money, is one of the moments I will never forget. The mother covered her face and broke down crying. She was speechless for words but managed to get out “bless you and thank you.” At that moment, I felt so grateful for having the chance to do something that seemed so little but would ultimately change their life.
A few months upon our return to Canada, I received an email from our local friend who had introduced Siya and I to the family. It was an email containing pictures of the mother of the family standing in front of her house with the largest smile on her face. She was bend over a well with a bucket filled with clean water. They now had access unlimited drinking water. This small act of kindness has changed the family’s life and has definitely changed mine.
*Since we met this family, Siya and I have sent school supplies and toys down with friends to deliver to the family. Also, all proceeds we have raised in the past two years from every purchase of our documentary has gone towards this family.*
**I realize that I contradicted myself when saying that the most memorable experiences are free when we paid for this family to get a pipeline. However, the first day we spend with the family cost nothing but meant more than anything. These are the experiences I’m referring to. The family impacted our lives so much that when we went back to see them, we did give them our “pocket change” because it was something so little that would change their lives forever. **
Be sure to check out the documentary Siya and I filmed of this experience on my YouTube channel.