Sixty-five Utahns left Wednesday for a place where little girls have no socks in the winter, 70 percent of the population is unemployed and half the children die before they are 5 years old.
They are en route to Urubamba, Peru, and the surrounding villages at an elevation of 12,500 feet in the Andes. Known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, this is where ancient Inca royalty lived and farmed proficiently.But poverty is now on the rise because of inflation, terrorism and natural catastrophes, many of them caused by El Nino.
The 65 volunteers from the Big Cottonwood Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a mission to complete during their 10-day journey: construction of a medical post and distribution of Sunday clothes and hygiene packets. They also plan to train the people in dentistry, medicine, farming and sewing.
In Urubamba, most people live in adobe homes with dirt floors. Women wash clothes by hand on rocks and men spend long hours in the fields. With a short growing season, green vegetables are rare because no one can afford greenhouses.
Sitting in his large, comfortable Cottonwood home the day before leaving for Peru, 16-year-old Will Wade, about to leave for Peru with four siblings and his parents, said he expected the trip to make him appreciate what he has.
"Understanding differences gives us a clear view of life," he said.
His father, Bryce, agreed. Going on this development mission will benefit the family far more than the people of Peru, he said.
"It puts life in perspective. In this fast-paced world, it's good to stop and sample other cultures and share a common experience with your family," Bryce Wade said.
The volunteers took with them contributions from nearly 500 individuals and businesses in and out of Utah.
The project began when Van Evans, the expedition's leader, and the young people of the stake assembled 1,500 hygiene packets in freezer bags for a youth conference service project. Soon it became a stakewide project with travel plans and many in-kind and monetary donations.
Evans said one boy even broke his piggy bank to buy a shirt to send with the volunteers and then sent the leftover change for the recipient.
The project is co-sponsored by the Humanitarian Foundation of the Andes, formerly known as the Andean Children's Foundation, a Salt Lake-based corporation formed by returned LDS missionaries who served in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.
The foundation plans to sponsor four trips each year to poverty-stricken areas in Peru.
For more information on the trips or to offer donations, call 561-1000 or visit (www.hfandes.org).