Jumping at the Chance to Help
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Jumping at the Chance to Help

OAT travelers Jim and Jackie Showalter fund improvements to a Peruvian school's basketball court

For evidence of the impact of American culture on the people of other lands, look no farther than the Pachar school of Peru. Located in the Sacred Valley, an ancient Inca center in the Peruvian highlands, the small village of Pachar seems almost untouched by time. It is a village where local residents still build their homes with adobe bricks and plow their farmlands with oxen. And a one-room schoolhouse served about 150 students, ages six to 13, until Grand Circle Foundation funds helped to build a second classroom to help focus the children's learning experience.

Growing up on a farm in northern Indiana, Jim Showalter had enjoyed reading his Grandpa's copy of Richard Halliburton's Book of Marvels and developed a lifelong passion for one of Peru's—and the world's—premier travel destinations: Machu Picchu, which is featured in the book. "Almost 50 years later, my wife and I were talking about the book, and she got me a used copy," he says from his home in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. "A light came on, and I figured, 'Why not? I've always wanted to go.'"

Several friends had enjoyed OAT trips, so Jim and his wife Jackie chose OAT's Real Affordable Peru adventure as their means of realizing Jim's lifelong dream, primarily because it offered a two-day visit to Machu Picchu. "Machu Picchu was unbelievable. The construction was fascinating to me," Jim recalls.

But it was only one highlight of the trip for Jim. The other was the school visit. "We went there toward the end of the trip," he recalls. "We were escorted into a room where the students greeted us and sang two or three songs. Afterward, we walked out to the soccer field to have lunch. I was looking around at all the kids and adults mixed in together, when suddenly someone grabbed my thumb. It was the littlest guy in the class, and he wouldn't let go."

Another student attached himself to Jackie, and the couple enjoyed their lunch with their newfound friends. Lunch was served in Styrofoam boxes, and Jim was touched that the smaller of the boys kept storing food in his box so that he could bring it back to his family.

Jim was further impressed by the need in the community as the Showalters and their pint-sized companions strolled back to the school past a basketball court where the baskets had broken rims and the backboards were in poor repair. Jokingly, Jim pointed to himself and said, "Michael Jordan." The boys erupted in laughter. "They didn't speak any English," he points out, "but I'm a six-foot, blond, blue-eyed German, and they certainly knew who Michael Jordan was—and that I wasn't him!"

Jim himself had grown up "shooting hoops in one of the haymows in our barn," as he puts it, and the Showalters' son Travis had advanced from high school basketball star to the profession of high school coach and athletic director. So, as Jim and Jackie talked about their school visit after their return to California, they decided they wanted to do something about the Pachar School's basketball court and help the children enjoy fresh air and exercise. They sent Grand Circle Foundation $1,000 earmarked for replacing the basketball court's rims, backboards, and balls.

"We saw a picture of the new baskets and the students enjoying the equipment and were very pleased," says Jim, adding, "The world is growing smaller. Sports and a lot of other things we do are becoming worldwide. A little country school in Peru made that obvious."

True, Michael Jordan had made an impact on Peruvian schoolboys. But real impact is made by acts of generosity and kindness, like that of OAT travelers Jim and Jackie Showalter.

Featured in our December 2011 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.