Sure, there are times I get frustrated my iPhone won't load my new e-mail, that my DVR didn't record my fave show, or that my computer is running so slow that I can't catch up on Tweets from the stars... but in those moments I also take a moment to sit back and realize how grateful I am to have these problems. After all, there are girls growing up around the world who don't have the luxuries we do --Â just getting through a day with food in their stomachs and shoes on their feet is a struggle.
Just a few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be able to take a trip to Peru where I experienced some of the most amazing things I've ever done in my life -- from conquering an eight-hour hike to Machu Picchu (one of the New Seven Wonders of the World!) to touring an entire community that lives on floating islands built of reeds on Lake Titicaca. But the one thing that really stuck with me was seeing how the young Peruvian girls live.
One of our first stops was a small village in the Sacred Valley near Cusco called Yucay -- a quiet and charming town surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountain peaks I've seen. Walking through the backroads through fields and farms, we passed by locals carrying gigantic loads on their backs... no trucks, no carts, no wagons... just strapping it on their backs and walking up and down the dirt roads of the foothills. The most shocking thing was to see just how young some of the girls were -- and that's what their day-to-day lives are like.
The most eye-opening experience was in Pisac, another village in the Sacred Valley. While we sat on a comfortable balcony looking down at the town square being served a delicious lunch, we watched a family of girls sitting on the rocky curb on the sidewalk below dressed in traditional colorful Peruvian clothing getting ready to eat their lunch. The oldest teen girl carried a younger girl in a blanket on her back, while another girl who was about five-years-old carried a tiny lamb in her blanket and another three-year-old carried a puppy. Their "job"? To greet tourists and pose with them for photos and ask for money... this literally was their survival.
As I ate my lunch, I watched as two little girls went and greeted three tourists who gave them a few coins. They ran back to their mom who counted money and disappeared for a bit. She returned with lunch for them all. They sat down on the curb and split the little bit of food among the girls... the most heart-breaking part? Watching two little girls crouch over a plate eating straight off the plate with their mouths.
When we finished eating, we walked through the square to our car... I was barely two steps out of the restaurant when half a dozen tween girls approached me -- hovering around me as I walked along --Â hoping I'd buy their trinkets, little Peruvian clay whistles for 2 soles (about 66 cents). It broke my heart that I only had 3 soles on me and couldn't give all the girls just a dollar, which could buy them so much!
So when I stumbled upon a little workshop in Andahuaylillas, a small village just outside of the big city of Cusco, I was thrilled to find a group of girls and women making handmade dolls. There was a sense of joy in their spirit as soon as I entered... an intangible solidarity they had of bonding as women on a common project. As I walked around room, I learned they are part of the Q'ewar Project, a social initiative to help women who live in extreme poverty gain a skill and earn a living. The profits not only go to help provide them with the basics -- electricity, water, and toilets --Â but also to educate the Q'ewar Project's own kindergarten called Wawa Munakuy (which means "giving love to the children" in the native language of Quechua).
Despite how different and how rough the Peruvian girls' lives looked, the one thing I noticed no matter where I went was how happy they were. Their grins just beamed from their souls, really making you realize how silly the small stuff we all sweat is.
And while life in the Peruvian villages may be tough for the girls, just a few kilometers in away in the bigger cities, it's a totally different culture. We stumbled upon two different parades in the Plaza de Armes city center of Cusco -- one to celebrate the anniversaries of two local schools and another to celebrate a Peruvian festival. The girls who danced in those definitely have a more urban lifestyle... in fact, when I passed by a school, I spotted the girls all carrying Hannah Montana and Jonas Brothers backpacks!
Needless to say, this was one of those trips that truly changes your life and challenges you to appreciate what we have everyday... especially when others with so much less can live so joyfully and with such a strong sense of human spirit.
To read more about the Q'ewar Project and find out how to purchase the dolls to help the women in Peru, visit qewar.com.
What have you experienced that makes you grateful for the little things in life? What charities are close to your heart?
Can't wait to hear from you!
A mother prepares a young girl to get ready to "work" by posing with tourists in traditional Peruvian clothes.
Two young girls sit on the sidewalk in Pisco, waiting for tourists who can support their day-to-day living.
After earning a few coins from tourists, these girls eat their lunch by licking their platter... literally.
The dolls of The Q'ewar Project, which helps the women of the small village of Andahuaylillas.