Last month two Bunzl Catering Supplies employees, Chris Rice and Rachel Johnson, took part in a trip to Peru for The Springboard Charity with 36 other participants from the catering and hospitality industry. The trip consisted of a 5 day trek across the Andes, followed by a 3 day community project at a remote school in the mountains. During the trek and community project, Chris and Rachel tackled high altitudes and pushed themselves in ways they never thought possible.
They would like to share some of their experiences and why this trip was, and still is, such a life changing experience for themselves, families in Peru and those that the Springboard Charity support here in the UK.
Here’s Rachel’s experience –
I applied to join the Trek as I wanted to tackle something different (marking a changed outlook on life), under-pinning some significant weight loss through improved fitness and the Trek provided a further goal in this, but also having been involved within the hospitality sector for over 25 years (I am old!) I wanted to give something back to an industry that has provided a challenging but rewarding and fulfilling career. I had 3 targets in applying for the Trek – to educate and be educated, to enlighten and be enlightened and to encourage and be encouraged; I can honestly say that I believe that I have achieved those goals and surpassed them in many ways.
It was something so much more memorable than I could have imagined at the outset (and more than you can really put into words), setting off a wealth and roller-coaster of emotions:
- The 4 days trekking was tough at times – 10 paces and breathe on steep up-hill sections thinking you’d never get to the top, a 13.5 hour day with trekking in the dark, we were blessed with exceptionally good weather even though there were extremes of temperature up to 34°C and down to freezing with ice on the tents at night; it was exhilarating, what a great buzz, when you hit the heights of 4,650m (15,255 feet) or the top of Machu Picchu mountain or was that the buzz from Florida water (helps improve breathing at altitude)?
- Respect has to be given to the trekking guides, the care and encouragement they gave in getting us all, especially those at the back of the pack, to the end of the road (not something that they always achieve in such a large group of 38 people with varying degrees of fitness and stamina) plus the knowledge they imparted on a wide variety of topics was enlightening, to the chefs who produced amazing food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and, in particular, to the toilet men (how you can undertake that job and still smile) – unbelievably grateful! Many of us shed a tear as we said goodbye to this Team – their unassuming, organisation made the experience complete.
- The 3 days involved with community projects was rewarding, working in new teams, and worthwhile when you see the solar panel installed, the garden refreshed and the decorated community room plus the computer labs set up with keen interest from the children – although if I ever hear the song Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes again, it may be too soon! Hopefully we have left a legacy to inspire the communities (or an annoying song – oh, my knees!).
- It has developed new friendships (some spanning language barriers), prompted better understanding of family and of the need to acknowledge society, cultures, beliefs and ecology on a broader basis, and led to a realisation that we can be far too materialistic when very simple things can be received, and shared, in such a warm-hearted and humbling manner.
- I will forever remember children walking 3 hours to get to school (they were like gazelles on steep climbs), those receiving bananas (their smiles and possessiveness of a simple fruit – a joy to see), the community sharing their basic food and their gifts of music and dance to the group in their colourful traditional dress – we take so much for granted on a daily basis (transport, bananas and the wide availability of food), it is emotional when you see it from a different perspective and the effort others have to put into achieving what we, often glibly, accept as normality.
- We took over 1000kg of computer equipment, clothing, sports equipment and gifts in our luggage to Peru – the delight the children had in pencils, skipping ropes, footballs and of older women in the community for soap and shampoo was gratifying.
- The sports days at 3 schools were exuberant, not easy for Westerners having spent the whole day at 4000m altitude, ensuring that all the children were involved, and were not overly competitive given the age ranges involved.
- It was also hilarious at times – we did have fun too!
To Bunzl and all those that sponsored and encouraged me I would like to say heart-felt thanks for gifting not only the monies to The Springboard Charity, to continue with their work in helping younger people find rewarding employment in the hospitality industry, but for also gifting me, personally, such an incredible adventure – I hope that I truly provided some education, enlightenment and encouragement/ inspiration to others along the journey.
Here’s Chris’ experience –
What I enjoyed the most
From the get-go we all enjoyed each other’s company; it’s great to be part of a group that’s so supportive, friendly and funny. We were named ‘The Pumas’ because the group we trekked with was called ‘Walking Tree Peru: Puma Path,’ and every one of those pumas made me realise how much I’d forgotten myself.
When your everyday life gets in the way you forget how much fun you can have, how caring and emotional you can become (literally at the drop of a hat), and how much you can endure both physically and mentally (I forgot my toothbrush on the trek so for four days I was brushing my teeth with my finger).
I also very much enjoyed the enormity of the Andes – it really is unimaginable the scale of this mountain range and it takes your breath away (or was that the altitude?). Seeing my fellow pumas contrast against the rolling mountains made me think of ants in my garden.
The hardest part of the trip
The hardest part was being with the children for me. The first night we made camp, a nearby community came to say hello and we provided them with hot chocolate and some bread. It broke my heart to see some of them sneaking food into their bags instead of eating it now, just in case they didn’t see the luxury of bread again for some time.
On one of the trek days we ran into a family and it confused me to see how excited they got when they saw we had bananas. We passed them out and our guide explained that bananas, much like the bread, are a luxury not often seen in this part of the world… and there we are picking them up for £1 a bunch in Tesco’s!!
Much the same happened when we handed out soap, clothes, shampoo, pencils, colouring books and numerous other items that were kindly donated to us. Kit Kat gave us some bouncy balls that lit up inside on impact and the children were so excited I thought they were going to break tables and walls apart just to get them to light up again.
What I got from the experience
At the risk of sounding cliché this trip changed me for life. It’s changed the way I look at situations, the way I treat other people and the way I look at the world. I’ve always tried to be charitable and sympathetic, or where I can be, empathetic, to the hardships of the world, but it’s not until you get into the thick of it that you realise you don’t know the half of it.
I am extremely grateful for this trip.
Both Chris and Rachel are still collecting any last minute donations:
But don’t forget, you can support the fantastic work that Springboard do at any time by donating on https://www.justgiving.com/springboardct or perhaps you’ll be taking part in the next Springboard adventure!
In no particular order, here are some of their favourite photos: