Natalie Miller, a 16 year-old UVU nursing sophomore, took the opportunity to turn part of her summer vacation into a “genuinely humbling” experience when she embarked on a two-week humanitarian service project helping to expand a Peruvian orphanage through the St. George Utah-based Alliance for Youth Service (AYS) organization.
“I can’t even express how beautiful everything is,” quotes Miller’s personal journal. “These kids have nothing, yet they have everything. They were so grateful to have us there. When our bus arrived, the children threw out flower petals and danced to greet us.”
Miller’s assignment included working to build an addition onto the at El Girasol (Sunflower) Orphanage of The Sacred Valley of Peru. According to AYS Director Kit Neppl, “Our goal is to send these young people out to work and to really make a difference in the two weeks we are there.”
“We were working to mix mud to create the cement we needed to build walls,” Miller recounts. A local water dispute made running water impossible, “So, we put our heads together and decided to make a human assembly line to the river and we gathered the water ourselves.
“It was amazing to see villagers bring whatever they could find and join us. We were using everything from two-liter bottles to plastic containers to old buckets,” she recalls.
“We had about 10 participants,” says Glenn Bingham, AYS founder, speaking of the first expedition to Brazil in 1999. Now, after celebrating 10 years, AYS trips fill within a few months of registration opening in September. From all over the US and Canada, volunteers aged 16-19 are organized into groups of approximately 20, including group leaders (college & university students) and parent leaders. Alongside Miller, nearly 200 youth volunteers were assigned to one of nine two-week trips (having raised their own funding) to countries including Tonga, Fiji and Peru.
Since its establishment in 1999, AYS has conducted 25 humanitarian aid trips to Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Fiji, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Peru, Tonga and the United States in Appalachia.
AYS began when a group of socially conscious LDS parents wanted to offer their teenage sons and daughters the experience of reaching out to poverty-stricken areas around the world. Projects are selected in the categories of enhancing overall community education and health conditions, improving personal hygiene and living conditions, and teaching recreation and life-sustaining skills. The students agree to abide by the AYS code of conduct, which requires the exhibition of honor, integrity and morality, including graciousness and consideration toward individuals of different cultures, backgrounds and ethnic conditions.
“Our goal is to make enough room for everyone who wants to participate,” Bingham said. “Over the years, we’ve had many, many participants come home and get right back in line to go again the following summer. If we can provide this kind of an experience, one that is really life-changing, we want to make it accessible to everyone.”
With plans to accommodate 300 youth in 2010, AYS will expand its reach of service to Africa, Belize, and Brazil for a total of 16 expeditions with plans to return to Peru, Tonga, and Fiji.
For more information about Alliance for Youth Service or to register for a 2010 trip, go to www.ays.org or call (435) 674-6600.