The multicultural, embracing circle that is HOOP has seen many lifelong friendships spring. All unique in their own way, they are part of what makes the volunteers’ experience so special. During their time in Arequipa, Laura and Claire formed a strong bond. They agreed to share their experience.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves and what made you come all the way to Arequipa, Peru.
C: Hi everyone! I’m Claire and I’m 22 years old. I’m from Mundelein, Illinois and I just graduated from Kenyon College in May 2017. Volunteering with HOOP was a semi-spontaneous decision at the time, but I’d also been following the organization on social media for a couple of years beforehand. HOOP was a really attractive post-grad option for me for a number of reasons, but mainly because it would give me the opportunity to live and work for a solid period of time in the same city that my maternal grandfather is from. I love working with kids, I wanted to push myself to finally become fluent in Spanish, and I wanted to meet the Peruvian side of my family.
L: Hello! I’m Laura, 26, from Melbourne. I studied history, graduating a few years back after writing my honours thesis. Afterwards I floated between various volunteering and work positions in Melbourne and lots of overseas travel. I had settled into a pretty serious office role and “adult” routine when I decided to shake things up. I started to feel stagnant, realised I was making lots of promises to myself but keeping very few. Going to South America – alone – was something that’d been on the cards for me forever, but HOOP was relatively spontaneous. Feeling sick of the backpacker way I’d previously travelled, I wanted something that would give me some direction, purpose and a reason to learn to love another city. HOOP popped up in a couple of blogs when I was researching ethical volunteering. I sent out an application and within three weeks I walked out of my hostel in Arequipa to a big hug from Jenn, our beloved volunteer coordinator, and never looked back.
You two were jokingly nicknamed the ‘married couple’ of HOOP. In what ways do you think HOOP creates a space to form close bonds and friendships for life?
C: Never did a joke ring so true. Laura seriously reset my relationship bar so high; I never knew it was possible to be so comfortable around someone. Thanks for loving me through all the snoring in side-by-side beds, the same twenty songs of Spanish pop and country music on repeat, slower-than-molasses food-prep speed, and mumbled conversations with myself in the morning before work. (I know, I know, I sound like a gem).
I’m not sure how to define it, but I think the reason people leave HOOP with the memories and friendships that they do has to do with the energy and passion of the people involved in bringing them into the organization. That starts with the volunteer coordinator, (who has an uncanny knack for putting together groups of people that not only blend well, but fit into each class), and continues with everyone a new volunteer meets from that first day they walk into the office. Everyone who works or volunteers with HOOP is there because they want to be and because they believe in the work they do, and I really believe that that translates into a space that people with similar energies are simply drawn to.
L: She is actually a gem though, and the best joke spouse ever. Thanks for challenging me constantly and for getting me outside of my comfort zone on the daily. Oh, and for bringing me coffee in bed and teaching me to floss.
I definitely think that the culture of HOOP has a lot to do with why Claire and I were able to become so close, and why so many strong friendships are formed in general. The staff and the volunteers all treat each other with such great respect, acceptance and warmth. Being led by that example, despite being initially puzzled by how people who had only known each other a few weeks/months could have embraced one another so wholeheartedly, before long I was doing it too. No matter how short a time you commit to HOOP, it ends up feeling like you spent a small lifetime there (in a good way). Time moves strangely, it warps and shrinks and before you know it you don’t only feel at home, but you actually are. This feeling lets you open up to connections and friendships in a really holistic way because, for a time, you forget that you’ll eventually leave. You make friends like they’re for life, and if you’re as lucky as Claire and I, they will be.
What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering with HOOP but is slightly apprehensive about making friends and fitting in?
C: I would say that that’s perfectly normal and to take the plunge anyway. Laura and I got on incredibly well right out of the gate, but it took me about three weeks before I felt like I had found my rhythm and place in the organization as a whole. As a person, I can be a strange mix of friendly and reserved, which manifests differently every time I meet a new group of people. What sets HOOP apart from my experiences with every other new group setting I’ve ever been in is how comfortable everyone is with themselves; that kind of environment makes it much easier to relax. It also helps if you like food; post-combi churro and/or dinner stops are a pretty regular thing.
L: To echo Claire: that’s totally normal. Do it anyway. You will make friends. You will fit in. In fact, it would be pretty hard not to. I have seen HOOP charm the shyest, most reserved people into the team. The organisation draws in such a diverse group of beautiful, strange, passionate individuals. You will be befriended by people you would never dream of crossing paths with at home, and you’ll be better for it.
And finally, what is the greatest lesson you both have learnt during your time here?
C: Oh man, I could seriously write an essay-response on this question, but I’ll try really hard not to. Can’t settle on just one, so here are a few: Sometimes the best class is the one you’ve prepped the least for. Sometimes the worst class is the one you’re prepped the most for. Tomorrow is a new day. Remember that everyone has a reason for having the perspective that they have. Never write off someone as a potential friend. Being friends means accepting the exasperating and frustrating aspects of their personality, and remembering that they’re doing the same for you, too. When you’re at a crossroads in life and need to make a decision, imagine you have to explain the situation to a small child—sometimes the situation just needs to be simplified for the choice to be clear.
L: Be open to all people and their perspectives, even (and especially) when they are outside of your norm. Don’t be afraid to let constant change be your only constant. Set high expectations for yourself, but be as gentle to yourself when you don’t meet them as you would a dear friend. Believe in the power you have to make a difference, but do so humbly and with humility. If you find yourself at a crossroads, don’t be in a hurry to choose a road. The crossroads is a nice place to pass some time.