A ‘Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience’ in Peru
It’s been a long, but rewarding two years for Ana Madrid.
The Rio Rico native recently came back home after a two-year stint in Peru, where she worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in San Pablo Cajamarca, a town of 3,000 people in the country’s northern sierra.
“My trip was a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences,” Madrid said. “But I would have to say it was all worth it.”
For Madrid, the road to Peru began on a trip she took to Morocco while studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. “I had an amazing time interacting with all these kids in the Sahara Desert,” she said.
Another influence was much closer to home. As a child, she used to spend Christmas in her father’s hometown in Mexico. “When I was there, I felt like I was interacting with other cultures. It was scary, but it was fun,” she said.
“When I graduated, I felt the need to give back,” she said, and so she decided to use her degree in business communication from Arizona State University to work as a Peace Corps volunteer.
While in Peru, Madrid used her business knowledge for a variety of projects, including helping to build a youth entrepreneurship program, establishing a bank that specializes in $50-$300 loans, and starting a local chamber of commerce.
She also took on projects of a different sort, helping to build a soccer field for the town’s children and starting a library.
Most of her projects were started and completed in the last six months of her trip because it took a long time for the people in her town to understand what she was doing.
As a result, many of them did not show up for meetings or cooperate with her projects. Some of them even thought that she worked for the CIA, she said.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said. “It’s hard, it’s not easy at all, but it’s rewarding.”
Since she returned home five weeks ago, Madrid said, she has been “enjoying the simple things I used to take for granted: washing clothes in the washer, eating good food, taking comfortable, hot showers.”
Those niceties are well-deserved after two years of cooking on a wood-burning stove, sharing a bathroom with 10 other people, and washing her clothes by hand.
“Washing clothes by hand, you know, I have to dedicate a full day to that,” she said with a chuckle.
As a Peace Corps volunteer, part of her job description was to integrate herself into the life of her town, which she did with enthusiasm. “I think I made friends with literally everyone in my town,” she said.
“I wore the shoes that they wore, I wore the rain boots that they wore,” she said. “That opened a lot of doors for me.”
Living in Peruvian society was a big change for her, especially as a woman, but she adapted as best she could. Her job forced her to work with both men and women, which came as a surprise to the other women in her town.
“In the banks, I worked specifically with women because they showed more interest and they were more reliable,” she said. The men were a different story. “They felt very uncomfortable with me teaching them things,” she said.
The women took notice of her ability to take charge of situations. “They really, really loved that,” she said.
“I think they admired what I did,” she said of the women. “They really respected the fact that I was out there working with men in the fields, seeing what they did with agriculture, promoting the chamber of commerce. They liked that.
“It was an experience that I wanted to go through,” she said. “I don’t regret it, but I wouldn’t do it again.”
Now that she is back in the U.S., she has set her sights on graduate school, where she plans to pursue a degree in international affairs.
Madrid was one of only 34 volunteers from Southern Arizona who served in 2010, according to the Peace Corps press office. There are currently 178 volunteers from Arizona serving around the world.