Summer of service abroad for Williamsburg family

WILLIAMSBURG – At the conclusion of a summer adventure that took them to Peru, Charles Richards and daughter MaryBeth were asked to sing the U.S. national anthem. "I think we did pretty good," Charles said with a laugh. "We rocked it," agreed MaryBeth.

MaryBeth, 17, said she always wanted to do service work abroad.

"But my mom would not let me go to another country by myself," she said. "So Dad got to come. I got Dad all to myself for once."

MaryBeth is one of five children and recently graduated from Jamestown High School. She will enroll at Brigham Young University in January with plans to become a dental hygienist.

The duo spent 18 days in Peru with Humanitarian Experience for Youth. The organization hosts three sessions of students throughout summer who work on the same project. The Richards were part of the final group and finished the completion of a soup kitchen and the first floor of a medical clinic. MaryBeth has since seen photos on Facebook of the soup kitchen successfully operating.

"We love traveling," MaryBeth said.

"But all of our previous trips outside of the country have been for recreation, not service," added Charles.

MaryBeth said she loves Latin American culture and enjoyed practicing her Spanish speaking skills. However, her favorite part of the journey was getting to know the locals. "One day a few of us visited a school," she said. "As the leader was opening the door she said, 'brace yourself' and about twenty kids poured out and started hugging us and wanting attention."

MaryBeth enjoyed reading to the children in Spanish and was awed by their generosity.

"At lunch they all had maybe a fistful of food each," she said. "But they were all trying to give it away to me."

Charles shared MaryBeth's love for the people.

"They were so humble and grateful," he said. "They were hospitable, spoke slow for us and worked hard to understand our Spanish." He said the entire experience resulted in an incredible amount of gratitude.

The volunteer group consisted of twenty 16- and 17-year-olds and two adult leaders. They spent much of their day mixing concrete by hand and digging out a foundation using only pickaxes and shovels. The church-affiliated group spent evenings with the community playing soccer, putting on dances and attending scripture lessons offered by the locals.

On their first day in Peru – before the construction labor began – the Richards embarked on another strenuous task, purposefully. They climbed Machu Pichu.

"Learning about their history is different than in a place like Williamsburg," Charles said. "It's so ancient a lot of the information is just what they think happened. Also, here you often can't go inside historic houses. There we were walking on the temple grounds where sacrifices were done and you can touch almost everything in the buildings."

The Richardses returned to Williamsburg in late July. Charles believes every young person who applied his or her self came away different in a positive way.

"We became so humble and grateful for what we have here, we are so blessed," MaryBeth said. "But we also saw how to be happy with little."

She recommends service trips to peers who are willing to work hard. "You'll get out of it whatever you put in," she said.

Though the Richards do not have any plans to return to Peru in the near future, they intend to continue sending supplies to the village and MaryBeth has been keeping in touch with her new friends.

More – See a video documenting the trip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySBWzYec45k