In April 2016, I left home to pursue my dream of serving in the Peace Corps in Peru. Fast-forward two and a half years later: as a positive result of my Peace Corps experience, I was not quite ready to move home. I knew there was something more waiting for me in Latin America, both in terms of my professional and personal growth. I began to search for jobs throughout Latin America, but nothing seemed to be quite the right fit. Then, on one lucky day, I was reminded of the Peace Corps Response program in Peru. And that is how I arrived at Minga Peru as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer.
The 18 months I worked with Minga were some of the most transformational months of my life. There’s a line I’ll never forget from one of my favorite mini-documentaries about a man who moved from South America to a small village in Norway. He said of his experience working abroad, that “It was the first time I was living what I studied but never dared to do.” That is exactly how I felt about my time in the Peace Corps and working with Minga.
“The 18 months I worked with Minga were some of the most transformational months of my life.”
Thinking about my undergraduate experience, I think of history books, countless case studies, and theories of change. But when I think about how a girl from Chicago ended up with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work in the Peruvian Amazon, I cannot help but be overwhelmed with gratitude. Of course, I was there to work. However, the opportunity to work with Minga and strive towards sustainable change at the grassroots level is an experience for which I will always be grateful. Working alongside the women, men, and youth of the Peruvian Amazon, Latin America, and the Caribbean has been a constant reminder of the knowledge, strength, and power that these communities and the region hold.
One of my most impactful memories of my time with Minga was a conversation I had with one of the community leaders Minga had worked with for several years. This conversation happened during the last visit I had to the Amazon before the COVID-19 pandemic. She invited me into her home for lunch and we began to share our life experiences over some fried pescado. While we came from different sides of the world, we found more similarities in our lives than we both could have imagined. The conversation flowed naturally but as the meal went on, I learned more and more of her story, which involved tremendous sacrifice, courage, and triumph. As a result of Minga’s work, she now had a stronger voice in her family, community, and within her country.
Not only did Minga have a positive effect on her life, but while she attended Minga’s workshops, she would bring her son, who at the time was quite young. With each workshop that went by, despite his young age, he began to pick up on leadership skills that would end up changing his life as well as his mother’s life. As of today, he has become an entrepreneur in his community, and despite his young age, he sees the value in investing his time and efforts in his work to strive towards a better future for not only himself but his family and community as well. Not only have he and his mom made an impact on their families and communities, but they also serve as an example for others around them to do the same. To this day, I will never forget that conversation and the lasting impact it has had on my life.
“While I have returned back to my home country of the United States, Minga and its work remain close to my heart.”
I am currently pursuing a dual Master’s degree in Public Policy and Business Administration. For anyone who has attended graduate school, you know the readings are long, the assignments are tough, and the caffeine intake is quite unhealthy. However, when I begin to struggle with my studies and endeavors towards a more equitable world, I always return to my experience working with Minga and the sustainable change the organization has achieved over the past 23 years. The change I have witnessed through Minga’s work reminds me that while the path may not always be a simple, straight line, sustainable change is possible.
Happy Anniversary to an organization that has not only made a lasting impact on the lives of thousands of women, men, and youth throughout Latin America, but on my life as well. I am a stronger woman because of my work with Minga and its team, and it has been an absolute honor to be part of Minga’s story.
Cheers to the first 23 years and to many more! I cannot wait to see what Minga continues to accomplish in the Peruvian Amazon and throughout Latin America.
¡Sí se puede!
Jenna Houchins is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer – Peru (2016 – 2018) and a Returned Peace Corps Response Volunteer at Minga Peru – (2018 – 2020). She is pursuing a Master of Public Policy and Master of Business Administration at Duke University.