Volunteering in Huanchaco
My passion for international travelling and meeting other cultures have always been a big part of my personal identity. Having already lived in Austria and India, I spent the past 4 years mainly in my home country, Portugal, developing myself professionally. I was missing the travelling component of my life, as most of my trips were the typical tourist experiences. When my job in 2016 turned upside down, I decided to take advantage of the time off and come up with a plan to volunteer overseas.
Here are some of the most important lessons I am taking away from this experience of volunteering in Huanchaco.
1. Learn to appreciate the little things in life
Huanchaco is a distinctive place. Especially if you come from a big city, like me, and are not used to having some time just for yourself but you also need a certain amount of multiculturalism in your life. It is not a surprise that you can meet quite a few foreigners who have been living here for years. Or that you bump into backpackers who all tell you the same story: “Oh, I came to Huanchaco to go to Ecuador, but I ended up staying. It has been weeks now.”
This peaceful vibrant fishing and surfing village – Huanchaco – is a hidden treasure. It is not on Peru’s maps for many travellers who just go south. And those who come here, come with one thing on their mind: surfing. But you feel a magical and balanced harmony between tourists and locals, open-mindedness and you can also experience traditions. It doesn’t take much for you to feel at home and integrated in the community.
It kind of reminds us of the “good old days”: Everyone knows each other, there are no supermarkets and no traffic lights. People are having conversations on the streets. Near my hostel, there is a little café where people always play chess. Here, you learn to slow-down. I won’t forget waking up in the morning, spending some time buying avocados for breakfast, giving a hug to John (an incredible 69-year-old world-traveller), taking a 10-minute walk to work and saying hello here and there. Or the spontaneous gatherings with different people, each one from a different country, to watch the sunset together. You don’t want to miss these sunsets!
Huanchaco helped to put into perspective what I believe in: The most beautiful moments can also be the simplest ones. You just have to appreciate the little things, wherever you are.
2. Volunteering gives you hope and passion
Having the opportunity to live in the community in which your NGO operates is an invaluable experience. You can see with your eyes the impact of Otra Cosa Network in Huanchaco. One of the projects of our HELP Youth Program is a Skate Ramp where children from difficult backgrounds come to play and learn in a safe and enriching environment. A significant moment for me was meeting Brayan, a Peruvian guy who started to go to the ramp as a small child. He is one of the oldest there now. Furthermore, he has became a mentor, a friend and an inspiration for the children.
Also, there is a certain genuine kindness between volunteers at Otra Cosa Network that naturally reflects in the teamwork itself. I was part of the Marketing team, therefore I was part of the office staff. To be honest, the spirit of cooperation I felt was something I had never experienced before in any other workplace I’ve been. Besides being exceptionally talented and skilled professionals, they enable everyone to feel like they all on the same page: to somehow contribute to a better place to live in. This new-found awareness and mindset help you to build your character both in personal and professional terms. They inspire you to be a more understanding, authentic and compassionate person. And that certainly gives you hope and passion for your future.
3. Stepping out of your comfort zone always comes with unexpected advantages
You can never predict what you will learn or discover from a new experience like volunteering abroad.
When I decided to come to Huanchaco, I only knew that it was a popular surf destination. I had never surfed in my life before. More than that, I had never even thought about surfing as a sport. But then, I found myself having surf classes and being glad for standing upright for more than 3 seconds on the board. Moreover, I often spent days on the beach watching the surfers and feeling overwhelmed by how they are dancing on the waves, with the sunset in the background.
On my last weekend in Huanchaco, the “2017 Longboard Huanchaco Pro” championship took place. I had the opportunity to meet the two-time longboard world champion, Phil Rajzman, from Brazil, who came to take part in the championship. So on that weekend, I found myself waking up early to see the competition, secretly cheering for Brasil (apologies to the Peruvians!). I even added all possible Facebook pages and groups, and Instagram accounts related to surfing, and was spending my free time watching surf videos. I didn’t know it would be so entertaining and addictive!
Travelling truly means stepping out of our comfort zone and discovering new things about yourself, often in a completely unexpected, creative and inventive way.
4. The key is not to seek adventure but make life a constant adventure
While living abroad, you will become more open-minded and confident. You constantly face new situations and challenges, and on a much bigger scale. The way how you interact with locals, decide what to eat, walk around the streets and spend your days is different from what you are used to. You constantly embrace something new.
There are days, when you leave your home just to grab a sweet and you end up meeting an amazing group of new travellers, having dinner with them and going to a bonfire on the beach. Or you decide to have a surf class and after it, you end up eating a yummy ceviche and drink pisco sours until the sun goes down. These are those moments when you feel connected with yourself and the others around you. And you realise this is the closest you have ever been to feeling complete freedom. Because you decided to do things in a different way that you are used to.
Living in Huanchaco reminded me that happiness, adventure and connection are right where you are. It is up to you to seize the opportunities, be more curious and open, and to truly connect with others.
Therefore, living and volunteering in Huanchaco was more than contributing to a cause, seeking out new experiences or acquiring new skills. It also reminded me who I am as a human being and as a traveller. And I am writing this last sentences on my last day here, with a smile on my face, new knowledge in my head and gratitude for each connection… while deciding where I should go for my last ceviche!
This blog was written by Joana Arrifano.