Turning Point School Blog

Summer Service Learning: Peru
Posted 07/14/2017 01:58PM

The reflection below was written by Middle School Dean of Students, Mr. Peter Boylan. We are so grateful for the contributions of all of our student travelers and chaperones as they engaged in such meaningful work and discovery!

On June 16, 2017, a group of Turning Point Middle School students returned from a nine-day service excursion to Peru. Weary, sore, a bit dirty, and filled with a new perspective and appreciation for the world abroad, they fell into the waiting arms of their parents and loved ones. At the beginning of our journey we were a little less worldly, a touch more assumptive, and far less accomplished.

Nine days earlier, we took the nine hour flight to Lima, the nation’s capital, where we arrived at 1:00 am. We had a few short hours of sleep before we boarded the 8:00 am flight to Cuzco. Called the gateway to the Sacred Valley, Cuzco is the last major city we reached before heading up the valley by two-hour bus ride to Ollantaytambo. There, we finally rested for the night in a hotel situated next to a tributary to the Urubamba River. The sounds of falling water echoed through the halls of the rustic and well-appointed accommodations. We ate well that night at a local spot, dined on local Peruvian fare, and admired the architecture of the buildings and engineering of the aqueducts that lined almost every street with running water.

The whirlwind of activity continued the next morning with a panoramic train ride up the Sacred Valley, through the indescribable verticality of the Andes Mountains, along the rushing Urubamba, to the quaint, automobile-less town of Aquas Calientes—a town steeped in Incan tradition, cuisine, and the buzzing anticipation of experiencing one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. From there we caught a bus, the only automobiles allowed, to Machu Picchu. The bus ride, an experience in switch backs and every increasing panoramic sensory popping views, dropped us off at the entrance to the temple.

Upon entering, we were treated to some of the most breathtaking vistas and feats of ancient engineering that can be seen on earth. Mortar-less carved granite constructions of mind boggling structure and scope cascaded down the dizzying inclines of the mountains in both daring and logical ways. The students marveled at the beauty and impossibility of the temple as well as its practicality, intentionality, and well thought out urban planning. The Incan fascination with the seasonal solstices, and the incorporation of the natural landscape and directional wizardry that it took to pay tribute to the natural wonders, clearly took shape and inspired and humbled us all. Leaving the temple left a space in each of us for awe, understanding, and appreciation.

We left Aguas Calientes after a reflective lunch and bussed back down to Cuzco, where we were introduced to Jane and Selvy, the founders of Peru’s Challenge—the group we would be working with for the next four days. We dropped our bags off at a very nice lodge, complete with a dining area, foosball, ping pong, and a great room with a fireplace. We then toured a complete and working adobe greenhouse, one very similar to the one we would be constructing. Jane was excellent at creating the motivation to build a greenhouse by letting students know that the family we would be helping was surviving on five dollars a month, had medical bills to be paid, and that the greenhouse would provide year-round income of up to 90 dollars a week, potentially for generations to come. This income would pay the bills, create a healthcare plan, and pay for education for the daughters. In addition, ten percent of the proceeds from the greenhouse would be dedicated to starting the next greenhouse for a family in need. It was all the motivation that our students needed.

In the morning we began what we had come for— service to the international community, bonding, and a sense of contribution and accomplishment. Before us lay only a cement foundation carved into the side of a hill on the outskirts of Cuzco. An interior of the foundation that clearly had to be leveled, and over 5,000 30-pound adobe bricks to be laid. With no hesitation, we began. There was no language barrier, as the instructions were simple: “Mas adobe,” or “barro, barro” (mud) were the only things need be said. The students worked more than impressively, they worked hard. Assembly lines were formed to move bricks, pick axes began to sound, and the appertaining adolescent gossip and chatter ceased.

For the next three days, eight hours each day, we worked. The elevation was 11,000 feet, it was hot, and it was uphill. This was not easy, it was not scaffolded, and it was real work that had a timeline. We communicated, combined, grunted, and dirtied ourselves to exhaustion each day. Students alternated between knee deep mud and dusty bricks in their efforts to complete a task to benefit others. It was, in fact, beautiful. Students asked, “What can I do now?” and “When is my turn with the bricks?” They would often be heard saying, “We can do this!” or “No way we don’t finish!” It was an unintentional testimony to the reveal of deep character and embedded work ethic in our students. It was marvelous, motivating, and, at the end of three days of grueling high altitude work, beautifully rewarding.

Each night ended with a meal of on-site vegetables and meats prepared with great care and presented in Peruvian farm style cuisine. It was delicious, and we were ravenous. We would then retire to the great room for a fire, and to reflect both in writing and in story our experiences of the day.

The Greenhouse was complete. It included thirty Eucalyptus poles that we cut and carried from the surrounding forest. There was a presentation; the students were covered in confetti and ribbons from the family and the multitude of locals that had come to help us finish the greenhouse. Clear in the voice of the father of the house was his gratitude and the emotion that he felt as his family stood on the precipice of financial stability, societal contribution, and good health. We hugged, cheered, commemorated a large and particularly stubborn rock, and took lots of pictures. We even built the celebratory Huatia ovens, used to cook potatoes, to serve our lunch a little later. As the students marveled at their accomplishments there was a tangible mood of something deeper happening.

The students later expressed in a variety of ways their understanding of sustainable service, of hard work, and the clear appreciation for what they can do. A platform was established from which the students can never go back. That platform is one of character, extending limits, and the satisfaction of a job well done. They accomplished something that cannot be taken away, something they themselves can count on, and something they did, solely for the benefit of others.

So, when we retuned, sore, work weary, and with Peruvian mud still clinging to our shoes, there was a deep satisfaction in overhearing students regal their experiences to their parents by saying that it was the trip of a lifetime, it was so hard, it was so much fun, and that they would definitely go back. 

Satisfaction and the broadening of understandings and horizons never felt so good... or required more Advil.  

Peter Boylan
Middle School Dean of Students

8780 National Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232


Turning Point School is an independent, coeducational school providing a premiere education to students in the greater Los Angeles area. For over 45 years, we have educated confident, curious, and globally-aware preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, and middle school students.

Located in the heart of Culver City, we enroll students from the west side of Los Angeles including Beverly Hills, Venice, Pacific Palisades, Marina del Rey, Hancock Park, Cheviot Hills, and Playa del Rey.


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