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Organising Voluntary Projects Overseas for GROUPS since 1994.


Group Size:
6 students
Destination Country: Peru
Type of Programme: Community Development in the Amazon Rainforest.

Six students from the College of Engineering (COE) embarked on an adventure to Peru from August 10-20, 2013. The trip was concentrated in the city of Cuzco as well as in the Manu Biosphere Reserve in the Amazon Rainforest, both designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Students involved were Stephanie Kerrigan, biosystems engineering major; Bryan Medina, biomedical engineering major; Mark Nichols and Drew Keller, both civil engineering majors; and Shivam Zaveri and Nathan Siler, industrial engineering majors.

Read Mark Nichols' report on the Peru trip
Read Nathan Siler's report on the Peru trip

The host organization asked for help in the design and construction of an observation platform, to be used by researchers collecting data at an oxbow lake. In addition to review by students, COE professors Dr. John Schwartz, Dr. James Mason, and Dr. Masood Parang provided assistance in the design.

Upon arrival in country, the group took a walking tour of the city of Cuzco, the historical capital of Peru, which has an elevation of 11,200 feet. After a traditional Peruvian lunch, they enjoyed shopping in an artisans’ market and tasted indigenous fruit at the produce market.

The next day, they took a two-hour car ride and a two-hour train ride to the historic site of Machu Picchu, the fifteenth-century “Lost City of the Incas”, through which they were guided by a specialist who pointed out construction techniques, discussed mummification and sacrifice, and told of day-to-day life in the ancient city, which was abandoned by the Incas just prior to the Spanish Conquest.

The bulk of the trip was spent on the service project in the Amazon. The research center, accessible only by boat, was host to citizens from Ireland, England, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States during our time there. The Center staff gave a lecture on the history and mission of their organization (“Supporting a Sustainable Amazon”), provided data on plant and animal species on-site, and shared photographs of pumas, jaguars, and ocelots, captured on film by camera traps.

Students helped set posts in concrete as well as moved hundreds of pounds of river sand and rock to the site for use in the construction. They also had a two-hour hike to a primary forest, a significant focus since portions of the area suffer from deforestation.


If you ever get the opportunity to visit Peru, go!

My Peruvian adventure began in the Lima airport, a very intimidating place if you speak little Spanish (like me). The minute I reached the main terminal, I was swarmed by taxi drivers insisting that I needed a cab. After politely saying “no” and receiving the boarding pass for my connecting flight to Cuzco, I headed to the departure gate. When it came time to board the plane, I noticed another American and asked him the obvious question of where he was going. Sure enough, he was going to Cuzco. We talked about his week-long stay in Lima, how similar the city was to New York, and about why he came to Peru. Dan, if I remember correctly, was a high school history teacher from Los Angeles who had taken a month off of work to explore the country and experience the culture. We intermittently talked about our travel plans on the hour-long flight until we reached Cuzco. Dan and I said our goodbyes, and I exited the airport and met our temporary guide Jandy. She very easily got us a cab and took us to the hostel we would be staying at for the next few days.

After a refreshing nap, Jandy took us out to explore the city of Cuzco. and visit the markets. First we visited the textile market, which housed many independent sellers selling everything from homemade sweaters crafted from alpaca fur to prepackaged t-shirts made from machine-sewn cotton. Later we went to San Pedro, an open-air food market frequented by the locals. Jandy took us over to a fruit stand and let us sample about a dozen different fruits mostly unique to South America. The rest of the day was spent wandering around the city seeing important landmarks and taking hundreds of pictures.

The next morning we woke up at 4:00 a.m. for a two-hour bus ride to the train station. The train ride to Machu Picchu was gorgeous. Along the way were beautiful snow-capped mountaintops and small farming towns. Once we arrived to the town at the base of Machu Picchu, we hopped on a small bus that would take us to the top; the road up was perilous at best. After that, we took a small hike and reached the top. Our guide, who was very knowledgeable about the history of Machu Picchu, gave us an hour-long tour of the site. He explained the religious significance of the once Incan capital and the series of small plateaus used for farming and to collect water. Once our tour was over, we headed to the exit to get our passports stamped and to make our way back to the hostel.

After a good night’s sleep, we boarded another bus to make the ten-hour journey to the Manu Biosphere Reserve. The ride was filled with mostly unpaved, zigzagging roads through the Andean Mountains. Nine and a half hours later, we reached the Madre de Dios River where we began a half-hour boat ride. The smooth ride was a pleasant change from our hot, bumpy bus. Thirty minutes later we arrived at the Manu Reserve, a collection of five medium-sized buildings, pods as they called them, which were nestled along the river. After a brief tour, an introduction to the rest of the volunteers, and a hardy dinner, I went right to bed and fell asleep in a matter of minutes. Our pod was a few feet from a fast-flowing creek; the relaxing sound of water and the pleasant noises of wildlife made for a good night’s sleep.

We woke up the next morning to the thundering sound of heavy rain. We hung around the reserve for a few hours hoping for the rain to stop before our hike to the build site. After realizing it was not going to stop, we put on our boots and ventured out. After a short fifteen-minute walk we reached the swamp, which was the site for the new observation deck. The locations of the columns were marked with a grid of string tied to some wood, a simple yet effective setup. We did some quick surveying and then decided to head back for a quick nap before dinner. The next few days were spent gathering materials. We made about ten trips down to the creek bed to collect rocks to be used in the concrete mix. We also made a couple trips down to Madre de Dios to get a few sacks of very fine sand, weighing fifty pounds each, to add to the mix.

The next day the rain had finally stopped and we were ready to pour the footers for the two downhill columns. After we mixed the concrete and emptied the water out of the holes, we made the molds for the footers and poured the concrete with the help of local engineer Rubin and Manu employee Juven, or Rambo as we called him. Once those were poured, we went back for a quick lunch then returned to install the next two columns. We positioned the wooden posts, poured the concrete, and used a few thin logs inserted into the ground and nailed to the post to hold the column in place while the concrete dried. The next day we continued this process and installed the last two wooden columns. After finishing early, we went for a swim in the river with fellow volunteers Marcus and Dan of the United Kingdom. The water was very cold, which was perfectly acceptable on that hot of a day.

For our last day in the Amazon, our wonderful guide Ronnie took us for a long hike to the primary forest. Unlike most of the forest surrounding Manu, this area had not been heavily logged and was home to more hardwood trees and a wider variety of plant and animal life. Later that day, a soccer game broke out between all of the volunteers and we soon discovered the athletic abilities of our British and Scottish friends.

The next morning, we packed up our gear, said goodbye, and hopped on the boat back to the main road. After another exhausting bus ride, we made it back to Cuzco., where we spent our last night wandering around and purchasing food from the local grocery store. That morning, we had a few hours to kill so we went out to do some last-minute shopping and sightseeing. When it came time to leave, our guide Ronnie took us to the airport where we would say goodbye to him and catch a plane to Lima. After a not-so-exciting layover and me losing my immigration visa, we all went to our respective gates to catch our flights home.

I had an absolutely fantastic time in Peru and would gladly do it again. I am very thankful to Judith Mallory for arranging and leading this trip, as well as to the University of Tennessee for providing me and countless others the opportunity to travel the world and to experience foreign cultures.


I had a lovely time in Peru and got to experience many new things. This is a small report covering the highlights of my time during the trip.

After dealing with flights and layovers, we finally arrived in the city of Cuzco, Peru. Our guide took us all to a hostel to rest a while before we started our tour of the city. Once we were on our way, we got to see many things in Cusco, an old capital of the Incan Empire. We were staying right next to the Catedral de Cuzco, one of the most recognizable churches in Peru!

We travelled to a local market to purchase some souvenirs. This was very interesting because of the interaction with the locals and getting to negotiate prices. Also at the market, we noticed that the alpaca clothing is actually a part of the fashion there, not just meant for tourists to purchase. There are many fountains, monuments, and architectural displays throughout the city.

The Plaza de Armas is also a site worth mentioning with its many restaurants, shops, night clubs, and attractions. We stopped at a local restaurant to try the Peruvian cuisine, and took a trip to a huge local food market to try out some local fruits. Our guide was very knowledgeable of the city and took interest that we enjoyed our stay there.

The next day, we travelled to Machu Picchu and back. During the travel, we boarded a train which was a new experience for me. As we neared the wonderful mountain site, the views around us were breathtaking. At the foot of the historical city, we hiked up the mountain to see the old city. We had another terrific tour guide here that gave us astounding information about every stone we crossed! We learned of the ancient culture and many of their religious rituals and how they measured time. It was truly a breathtaking view from the top of the mountain overlooking the city and mountains nearby.

The rest of our trip was located in the rainforest. We took a van for 9 hours and a boat for another thirty minutes to reach the Manu Learning Centre. From this location, we were actually in the jungle. For our engineering project, our work was to help the engineer and employees there with the beginning installation of a platform built in the rainforest. The area for this installation is next to a swamp that is roughly a fifteen-minute hike from the lodge. We helped carry materials to the worksite that were used to make the concrete foundation. Also, we were able to help install the foot posts that will eventually support this platform. It was interesting to see how they performed some of the tasks with what little technology they could spare to use in the middle of the rainforest.

During the time at the lodge, we got to experience living in the jungle, complete with mosquito nets and cold showers. The food that was provided was different for most of us, but always appreciated after hard days of working. Our tour guide in the Manu Learning Centre was wonderful. He led us to many areas where we could see things that astonished us. He had very detailed information on many of the animals, plants, river, and forest area. There were also many other volunteers and tourists at the lodge that we interacted with and became friends with. Most people were from the United Kingdom and it was interested learning about their biological work in the Amazon.

This sums up the three main areas that we visited in Peru. For me, it was an experience to learn the culture of the Peruvian people, the jungle life, and a chance to visit a wonder of the world in Machu Picchu. I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the trip and I am glad that the University of Tennessee is working to make similar experiences available to the students.


Read about Argoed School's
trip itinerary in South Africa

College of Engineering students traveled to Peru in August, 2013. Students and workers are shown here at the work site overlooking an oxbow lake in the jungle. From left are: Nathan Siler, Drew Keller, Shivam Zaveri, two Peruvian workers, Stephanie Kerrigan, Mark Nichols, and Bryan Medina.

Mark Nichols visits Machu Picchu, Peru.

COE students dig in to help construct a research platform with staff from the Manu Learning Center in Peru. From left, foreground, are Mark Nichols, Shivam Zaveri, Stephanie Kerrigan, Drew Keller, Nathan Siler, and Bryan Medina.

Nathan Siler ascends the Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu, Peru

I had an absolutely fantastic time in Peru and would gladly do it again. I am very thankful to Judith Mallory for arranging and leading this trip, as well as to the University of Tennessee for providing me and countless others the opportunity to travel the world and to experience foreign cultures. Mark Nichols

Accommodation for Travellers Volunteers on our Peru Projects

And the food is fantastic!