Markuray: The Village that Changed My Life

Markuray: The Village that Changed My Life

Zach Gross

Sacred Valley Service, Peru 2017 | Bats, Hats & Gloves, Dominican Republic 2018

Zach is a first-year student at Washington University in St. Louis studying Economics and Psychology.

All photos have been provided by Zach. Read his story below!

The first drop fell and cheers erupted. We bent down as three young children walked by and sprinkled yellow confetti on our heads in gratitude. The entire village stood across from us admiring the massive, colorfully decorated water tank that would change their lives forever.

Ishmael, tearing up, ran over and jumped into my arms telling me that he never wanted me to leave. Our week’s worth of hard work had come to an end in the best way possible. For the first time ever, the villagers had access to clean and drinkable water.

Just a week earlier, we had made the long, difficult trek up to the Incan high-mountain village of Markuray located 14,000 feet up in the Peruvian Andes.

As I hiked with my fellow Rustic Pathways volunteers, I did not know what to anticipate. Along with the breathtaking views, of course, the thought of forever improving the lives of an entire community motivated me to continue up the steep mountain.

Upon arriving at the base of the village, we were greeted by members of the community with hugs, greetings, and unforgettable smiles.

Before even getting the chance to put down my bag, a young boy who appeared to be about ten years old tugged on my arm and asked me in Spanish if I wanted to play soccer with him. Little did I know that this moment would be the beginning of a precious and life-changing bond.

He took my bag and began escorting me to the tent that I would call home for the next week. He kicked me the soccer ball, loudly proclaiming that his name was Ishmael.

As he began to show me around his village, showcasing a ram-shackled mud-brick house that bordered the sheep and goat pen, the look on his face was one of utmost pride and dignity.

Pride in a community so impoverished that a family of seven would live in a deteriorating home with only one bed and loose tin panels as a roof.

Pride in a community located so high up in the mountains that the boys had to hike several miles just to go to school and where running water and technology were distant afterthoughts.

Pride in a community where the livestock vastly outnumbered humans and where the closest medical care was hours away.

This was inspiring to me.

Over the next week, I became increasingly familiar with their way of life. I did not hear a single complaint or see a morsel of food go to waste. Poverty was completely irrelevant to Ishmael’s happiness and well-being.

Living in America, I had become accustomed to trivial complaints and never ending discontent with one’s station in life. However, despite the fact that these villagers lived in circumstances unimaginable to the ordinary American, they were far more satisfied with their lives.

This experience opened my eyes to the world. It gave me a perspective on the world that remains years later. The overly materialistic and seemingly arrogant nature of my life and community back home was amplified in inexplicable ways. I knew I was going to change.

The values I learned from my time in the village stuck with me long after playing my final soccer game on the makeshift field or saying my last goodbye to Ishmael. The pure appreciation for life that Ishmael possessed was something that continues to live inside me today.

Now, whenever minor inconveniences occur in my life such as running out of hot water during a long shower or being served food I don’t like, I think of Ishmael and his appreciation for life.

So as that first drop fell from the water tank in Markuray, I knew that those long, hot days digging trenches and assembling pipes were certainly worth it. There was no better feeling than knowing I had forever changed the lives of the people who had changed mine.

Learn more about Rustic Pathways programs in Peru, or view more Alumni Stories here