University of Oregon’s Kendall Brooke, a redshirt-sophomore on the women’s soccer team, made an O Heroes trip this summer to Casa Blanca, Peru. Brooke and a group of 19 other Oregon student-athletes worked with the Courts for Kids Program to build a court for the communities’ youth to play on. Below is Brooke’s recap of an amazing experience in Peru.
By KENDALL BROOKE
CASA BLANCA, Peru - This summer I was given the incredible opportunity to travel to the remote town of Casa Blanca, Peru, and participate in the University of Oregon’s second annual partnership with the Courts for Kids Program. We brought a team consisting of twenty student-athletes from a variety of sports, plus four staff members from the athletic department. Our mission was to work with the local community and construct for them a multi-purpose sport court which they can use for generations to come. The community of Casa Blanca is an economically underdeveloped area with no electricity or running water, which made for a very unique experience for many of us. We were well out of our comfort zone.
Immediately upon arriving in Casa Blanca, it was apparent just how appreciative all the kids were, as they lined up and welcomed us with signs that they had made. As we piled off the bus, ready and excited to meet all of the locals, we were greeted graciously with hugs and kisses from all of the moms. It was such an incredible feeling to be complete strangers from another country and yet to be welcomed with open arms into their community. On the first night after we arrived, we gathered in the courtyard of the school we were staying in. The welcoming ceremony continued with a couple of dance performances from the kids and being fed our first traditional Peruvian meal. By the end of the day we were already starting to form a special bond with all of the people of the community.
The construction of the court began early the next morning and the labor-intensive work lasted for a full four days. Even for a team full of college athletes, the countless hours of shoveling and laying concrete under the hot sun proved to be much more difficult than we had anticipated. However, our team was strong. And, with so many positive and encouraging people, we were able to power through and get what we needed done. Even as the days would wear on and the wheelbarrows seemed to get heavier and heavier, we were able to pick each other up and find the energy to continue on.
Throughout the week we spent in Casa Blanca, we formed so many new friendships with the kids we would play around with, and the moms who helped cook meals and take care of us during our stay. This trip would not have been possible without their help, or without the help of Amanda Slack, from the Peace Corp, who devoted so much of her time to helping us out during the week. The language barrier was difficult to overcome at times, but we all found a way to communicate with the people of the community. And, all of us formed such close connections with everyone. At the end of the week it was hard not to get a little teary-eyed when it was time to say our goodbyes, hug our new friends and board the bus for home.
It was really rewarding to put myself so far out of my comfort zone for a week and spend some time immersed in a culture so vastly different from our own. I feel so lucky to have been a part of such an incredible team of student-athletes and staff, and to have shared with them such a unique and life changing experience. I will never forget the eagerness in the kids’ faces when they saw the bags of all the new balls we had brought for them, and how they anxiously waited for us to pull them out and play on their new court. Sports bring people together in so many ways all around the world. For all of us, it was a gratifying feeling to be able to provide a safe place for the kids of Casa Blanca to play and to witness watching their community to come together. This was an experience unlike anything I had ever done before and is something I would do again in a heartbeat.