Not your typical summer vacation
Most college students plan trips to Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico or Florida for their summer vacations.
Woodbury resident Joy McBrien and her best friend Kaitlin Durkin from Oakdale, however, have other summer plans -- they will be spending a month, from July 15 to Aug. 15, in Chimbote, Peru to help start up a battered women's shelter.
"I feel like we're both so gifted with what we have that we need to give back somehow and now it's the perfect opportunity," Durkin said. "I feel like it's a really good thing to do if you have the opportunity to."
The girls have been working hard on this project for the past two years, after Durkin had returned from a previous trip to Peru with her father.
During the trip, Durkin helped pick up garbage, build homes and other service projects.
"As soon as I left the first time, I knew I had to go back," she said. "I knew I had to get involved with it and make it a lifelong thing because when you see that, you don't just see it and forget about it."
McBrien got involved because like Durkin she has an invested interest in volunteering and helping other's and this seemed like a great opportunity.
The girls said now was the perfect time to go because McBrien, who just completed her first year at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, is majoring in non-profit management and has designed an entire independent study around the project.
McBrien said she has done the majority of planning, researching and organizing through her independent study so that has made it a lot easier.
McBrien and Durkin have been working tirelessly with a Christian non-profit organization, Los Amigo Chimbote, to help coordinate everything with the shelter -- the building, the organization and development.
"It's not going to be just the two of us hammering away or anything," McBrien said.
The girls have been communicating with Los Amigos and the community extensively to ensure that they are doing something that the community is behind.
"We've been talking a lot with the community because we wanted to make sure we're not doing like a Band-Aid solution," McBrien said. "We want to make sure its something that the community members really want instead of what we think the community needs."
Developing a battered women's shelter is something that Chimbote, Peru definitely needs, McBrien said, because 70 percent of women suffer from domestic violence in the community.
"Especially since it's such a male dominated society," O'Brien said. "The women really don't have any place to go when something like that happens."
With Los Amigos, McBrien and Durkin have located an existing building that they will fix up and convert into the shelter. In addition to being a safe place for women, the shelter will also offer English classes and other programs, as well as jewelry-making classes so the women can learn a trade for the future.
McBrien and Durkin easily received the moral support of the community, but selling the idea to the home folks was more of a challenge.
"When I told my parents I wanted to go to a third world country with my best friend for a month, they weren't so happy, especially once they found out about the domestic violence," McBrien said. "I don't think my parents even believed me until I actually bought my plane ticket."
The skepticism also came from outside their families because while trying to fundraise the $2,200 for the shelter, they got a lot of skepticism from the community.
"A lot of people don't quite realize the extent of the poverty down there so they're a little less willing to donate because they don't see it right in front of them," Durkin said.
Besides just the fundraising being a challenge, it's been a challenge to make people understand that they are actually going to accomplish this.
"When we say we're going to Peru, people are like 'On vacation? With a church? With a school or what?'" McBrien said. "I think of a lot of people are still really skeptical that it's actually going to happen."
There is no guarantee that the shelter will be completed by the time they leave in August, but as long as they accomplish anything, the project will be a success, the girls said.
"We're motivated, the people down there are motivated, we're all passionate about it and we all want to help people down there," McBrien said. "Any help we do is going to make a huge difference down there."
McBrien said it's of the biggest things she has taken away from this entire experience -- knowing that they have the ability to make a difference.
"One of the biggest realizations is that big change can happen with few people," she said. "I never thought that I would be able to personally make a difference to help the victims of domestic violence; I figured that would be up to different government or big non-profits.
"It's just really exciting to know that you don't have to be experienced with this kind of stuff to get involved -- you just need to be motivated to make a difference."
Once the shelter is completed, Los Amigos will take over and run the shelter, but the girls said they will most likely return from time to time to see how their project is doing.
"I don't see this being a one time thing and we're kind of connected to Peru at the moment -- they're people just like us, and they need our assistance," McBrien said. I'm sure it will be life-changing for both Kaitlin and myself, as well as the people we hope to bring a better life to in Peru."