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Students reflect on Pace Center international service trip to Peru

A group of seven students traveled to Urubamba, Peru over spring break as part of the Pace Center for Civic Engagement’s pilot international service trip.

The team, which brought solar power to the rural 16-home village of Corpani Peñas, also teamed up with Bridge Year Program students in the area to build cleaner brick-burning stoves in homes in Huycho and cement patios for homes in Tambococha. The Bridge Year Program sends seven students to Urubamba as part of a University-funded gap year.

The students took two solar suitcases provided by crowdfunding platform We Share Solar and installed one in the community president’s house in Corpani Peñas. A solar suitcase is a portable power unit that improves lighting and energy capabilities. The community started using its new source of light immediately after the solar suitcase was installed.

“It was awe-inspiring seeing how engaged the community was during the installation process,” co-team leader Douglas Bastidas ’16 said. “Their ingenuity, resourcefulness and instinct for safety were apparent from the start.”

Bastidas explained that the international service trip team did not install the second solar suitcase because the community members in Corpani Peñas wanted to create a community center to install the suitcase in. The team started building the circuitry for the second suitcase and left it with Intrax Global Internships, a non-governmental organization that the team partnered with while abroad.

While in Corpani Peñas, the team also distributed solar lanterns from d.light that double as cell phone chargers to every household.

“By installing solar systems, we gave them more hours in the day to do what they want, but we also helped to decrease and eliminate the cost of charging their mobile communications devices,” co-team leader Dallas Nan ’16 explained.

Team members said that they believed the trip was successful.

“[We helped] increase capabilities with extended hours, increased economic capability and decreased expenditure. With international experience, there is ambiguity, but in the end, we were able to accomplish what we wanted, given community standards,” Nan said.

Bastidas said that interacting and staying with the community members was also rewarding.

“Unlike most Breakout trips, our team was not around each other 24/7,” Bastidas said. “We were paired off and shared our time in a rich, cultural exchange with our homestay families. We were introduced, albeit briefly, to delicious, authentic food, warm and welcoming family members, great dinner-night discussions and so much more.”

He added that it was very difficult and heartbreaking to say goodbye to their homestay families upon their departure.

The group will debrief with Pace and hopes to host a community workshop where they will teach community members about solar energy through the solar suitcase. Bastidas and Nan will present at Princeton Talks about international service on April 19.

“Douglas and Dallas’ Solar Sustainable Service trip did more than bring solar power to a community without. The team’s efforts sparked conversation about what access to power means, the benefits or detriments of being part of ‘the grid’ and challenged the students to listen, to think, to share, to act, to meet a real community need,” Kimberly de los Santos, director of the Pace Center, said.

She added that the team reinforced the University’s commitment to a global presence.

“International service trip is a remarkable experience for an individual to journey through. You’re put in a framed week that allows you to grow as an individual on an insane amount of levels, allows you to think about their culture, your culture and its intersections,” Nan said.

The future of international service trips is still to be determined as the team debriefs in greater detail with Pace in the following weeks.

“We are pleased with the outcome of the pilot trip and are still evaluating next steps for the program,” de los Santos said.

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