On my birthday, August 16th, 2014, I will be boarding a plane at 12:15 am with 12 other Kaiser Permanente employees and flying to Peru to build a sports court for the small village of Cerro Blanco in the district of La Libertad.
I first learned about the non-profit organization Courts for Kids in 2013 when a colleague of mine asked me if I could post something on KPCares for the organization because his brother-in-law worked there as a director. I reached out to Chris Cobb, who is a director at Courts for Kids, and helped him post a trip that the organization was hosting to the Dominican Republic. I found out later that about five KP volunteers registered and went on the trip. From this chance interaction, Chris and I began a dialogue about the possibility of me leading a project of my own. I’ve always wanted to visit Peru, mainly to see Macchu Picchu, so I reached out to Chris in September of 2013 and we started to plan a trip. After almost a year of planning, hundreds of emails exchanged with possible volunteer and people signing up and dropping out, we finally solidified the trip. In two weeks we will touch down in Peru, catch another plane and fly intra-nationally and then hop on a bus for a couple of hours, before we come to rest at the small village of Cerro Blanco in the foothills of the Andes. Our mission is to build an outdoor sports complex for the community.
I believe the main goals of the Courts for Kids organization align nicely with a lot of Kaiser Permanente’s principles. The multi-sport court we will build can be used for-basketball, soccer (futbol), and volleyball, and will be used for sports first and foremost. Courts for kids believe that these sporting facilities are so important because through playing sports, the people of the community, especially the children, get many important benefits. Some of the rewards children gain from playing team sports is improved physical health, discipline and learning to team work. Further, the community will benefit from the court by having a central place to hold community events and meetings. Courts for Kids leadership partners also teach the community how to utilize the court to promote economic growth and development. The villagers who are tasked with taking leadership responsibilities to manage the court will be shown how the court can be rented out to local groups to raise money for schools or other important community needs. The work we are being tasked to perform, and its outcome, will hopefully benefit the community for many years to come.
I am blessed to be the volunteer leader in charge of this mission. I am even more grateful for the 12 KP employees who have willingly signed up for the event. These people encapsulate the giving spirit of volunteerism which is one of the cornerstones that makes Kaiser Permanente such a great organization. Everyone who is going will pay for the trip out of their own pockets and they will also use their company provided PTO to take the time off. Having been on two Gulf Coast Rebuilds, I know that when these individuals show up on the first day to work, they will pour in every ounce of that giving spirit they have to make sure the project is completed on time and with the exquisitely detailed workmanship.
Even with all the planning that has been put into the trip, this past Saturday, the final destination of where we would build was changed from San Jose- a town of about 3,500 people- to the village of Cerro Blanco. One of the exiting outcomes of the change since the new village is so small is that our group will be immersed in the culture of the village and we will stay in the homes of community members. For several of the people who are going on the trip this is great, because they love to travel and learn how other cultures live.
For a few volunteers on the trip, including myself, the conditions we will be living in might lie outside our personal comfort zones. Really, I don’t know what to expect. I have a feeling it will be a lot like camping. We were told by Courts for Kids to expect very little sustained running hot water, indoor plumbing or access to technology. I did find the village on Google Maps and saw there were electrical wires running over it so I am sure there will some modern amenities.
I asked a few of the volunteers why they wanted to go on the trip, what they expected and how are they preparing. Here is what they had to say.
Priscilla Tupper, SN IV, who works as a Nurse Care Manager in the Chronic Pain Program in Roseville CA said, “I have found, from doing volunteer trips in other countries previously that it is the best way to get to know the people who live there. I am hoping to help create a place for the children to play which they might not have had otherwise.” She said she is preparing by, “Starting to pack, then unpacked, then packed more stuff and unpacked it. Can’t decide if I am bringing enough stuff or too much”
Jana Meyer, RD, MPH, Department Administrator at WLA Medical Center said, “I want to experience being part of a team that is working for a common goal while getting to know new people and culture(s). I got a lot of vaccines, a few prescriptions, bug spray, and a few other suitcase items. I also read about the history of Peru. I’m not sure that I’m really prepared!”
I haven’t packed yet, and usually don’t until the very last minute. I still have to go to the travel clinic and see if I have to update any of my vaccinations. My life is very busy, with work, a baby girl on the way in September (she better not come while I am in Peru), I just moved and I am currently in the process of helping a friend build from the ground up, a new non-profit that will help veterans get much needed behavioral health care.
I have always loved basketball and this organization gives me a chance to blend two of my favorite past times together, volunteering and sports. About four years ago when I first joined Kaiser, I had just gotten sober and quit smoking. Shortly after given up these two life threatening habits I found myself attracted to volunteering. Maybe it was because I felt in my “drinking days” I had taken so much from so many people and now that I have been given a second chance to at life, giving back felt like the only proper way to go. To me, nothing is more rewarding than helping others. The amount of work I put towards lightening someone else’s load is paid back to me ten-fold, through a smile, hug or thank you. Helping others now is part of my DNA, similar I believe, to the way Kaiser Permanente administers heath care- People First.
If you would like to follow this groups adventure on Facebook, please click here asked to be added to our group.