We flew from Miami to Costa Rica, and had a short layover there before advancing on to Lima. Costa Rica is absolutely beautiful from the air. So lush and green.
But the greenery was short-lived. The first view of Lima after leaving the airport:
And that wasn't an isolated area. It's all concrete and dirt. No grass, and because the mountains are just dirt the air is filled with dust, and when you breathe you can feel it in your throat and lungs. It looks like smog, but it's dust from the mountains. When you blow your nose the mucus is black.
The cab ride from Lima to Chaclacayo was an adventure of its own. Manhattan has nothing on Peru when it comes to driving. Me, Sean and Teruko (one of my USF classmates that came with us) were terrified for the entire drive. The drivers turn two lanes to 3-4 lanes with no hesitation. There are basically no rules, and it is as if the drivers are all in a race to be in front of one another. We were happy to get to the house.
Upon walking through the front door of the Hogar the desolation that I felt up until that point disappeared. The children were just finishing dinner, and when they saw new volunteers they ran to us with open arms.
There are 52 children here at the Hogar; 10 infants and the rest range in age from 4-25. The reasons that they are here range from leukemia to cleft lip and palate. There are quite a few with severe burns (mostly upper body and facial/head), several with missing legs, and a few with cerebral palsy. Victor, a nine year old boy who will be living here at the Hogar until he is an adult, has no arms and only one leg.
Our first day here was quite a blur. We arrived just as the children were finishing dinner. All 42 of the older children sit together. They are responsible for setting the table, making sure the youngers have their hands washed, and for ensuring that each child has the proper plate. Before any of them touches a bite of food Dr. Tony says the blessing, and the children repeat. After eating the children wash, rinse, dry and put away the dishes from all 42 children (with a bit of help from us volunteers). It is also their responsibility to sweep ALL of the floors following each meal, and they do this regardless of disability and without having to be told. It is the single most well-behaved group of children I have EVER witnessed in my life, and to imagine that there are 52 of them in this house is amazing at times. If you close your eyes and just listen you will hear the laughter throughout the house; you will hear children playing, but it is not chaotic. The Hogar runs on a very strict daily schedule, and nobody disobeys it.
The daily schedule involves breakfast at 7am, lunch at noon, and dinner at 5pm. The Hogar has two full time cooks, Clotilde and Irma, and they prepare all three meals each day from scratch (for 50+ people since Dr. Tony and the volunteers are fed, too). The two women start cooking before 6am and are in the kitchen until dinner is served at 5pm. They don't leave. The food is absolutely amazing. Everything is purchased from the local market each week, and items like bread are made from scratch every couple of days, too.
As volunteers there is never any shortage of things to do. We are expected to be up and at the table with the children at 7am, and the same is expected of each of the two later meals. We play with the children, take them to the park, walk them to Mass on Sunday, color and do puzzles, help with homework, and play with toys, but we also wipe bottoms and noses, hold urinals (for those confined to wheelchairs), help remove prosthetics, assist with feeding (those confined to the beds that cannot sit up) and anything else that needs to be done. There are no rules. Whenever someone needs help, no matter what it is, we do it. And the most amazing thing about it is that there is so much given in return for all of the help that we provide. These children accept us into their home here at the Hogar; they love on us, tell us we are beautiful, share their time and affection with us, and trust us with the most personal parts of their lives with no reservations. These children, who come from the most poverty stricken areas of Peru and whose parents could not afford to care for them medically, are the most amazing children I have ever had the privilege of knowing. I get emotional, and sometimes have to walk away so that they don't see my tears. I watch them all interact together as one family and it makes me break down. They were once complete strangers, but due to an unfortunate health issue they have become the family of the Hogar. There is a sense of family here that you simply cannot feel anywhere else, and everyone, no matter how disabled, helps everyone else. A child with cerebral palsy will push the wheelchair of another child who cannot walk. A child with multiple afflictions with sit at the bedside of another who is confined due to hip surgery to feed her and ensure that she has everything she needs. And they do this with no hesitation and without ever being asked. They do it because they love one another as family, and because they know the struggle that each of the others are going through.
Dr. Tony is an amazing man. He truly does have the patience of a Saint, and so many children owe their lives to him. He bought this home and will turn away no child that needs medical care. He works around the clock to ensure that they receive the best medical care possible either here at the Hogar or at the hospital in Lima (volunteers take children each day). These children receive this medical care at no cost. Dr. Tony gave up a distinguished medical career in Atlanta, Georgia to buy this home and provide care for the seriously ill children of Peru whose parents cannot afford care. He has given his life to these children, and despite the fact that most of them will return to their families once they are healthy enough to do so, he still calls them his children. And the children respect him in a way that you cannot imagine. Each and every child thanks him after every meal; they are aware that he is the sole reason that they have a roof over their heads, three hot meals each day, and the medical care that will keep them alive. You can see it in the eyes of the children-the love they have for Dr. Tony is beyond description, and testament to this is the fact that many of the children who were once patients of Dr. Tony come back to volunteer here on a regular basis.
I'll be writing, hopefully, on a daily basis for the rest of my stay here at the Hogar. I'll show you what we do with the children each day, and although the pictures may be difficult to look at sometimes I would urge you to look at them anyway. Although the faces of some of the children may be disfigured I can assure you that the beauty within each and every one of them is the most beautiful thing you could ever witness.
Yulisa and Sebastian. Yulisa has severe cerebral palsy, and has no control of any part of her body. She is confined to a wheelchair unless we carry her to a chair or couch. Sebastian is a recent recipient surgery to repair his cleft lip and palate. He is a major snuggle bunny.
Andrea was born with her fingers and skull fused together as a result of Apert Syndrome. She had her skull separated so that her brain can grow, and so far has had surgery on one hand to separate her fingers. She will have the other hand done, too. She is a very sweet natured girl and loves to rock the baby dolls.
Luis Sanchez and Axel playing a fishing game that we brought. Luis suffers from severe burns, and Axel suffers from cerebral palsy.
Gian has cerebral palsy, but that doesn't stop him. He has very weak legs, but still gets around with the assistance of your hand.
Flor is 11 years old. She's very shy, but finally asked me to take her picture. She has a severe infection in her lower abdomen, and as a result has a colostomy bag. She also has spina bifida.
The view from the third floor where our room is located. That is not smog-it's dust from the mountains.
Sean and Miriam at the local smoothie shop. Those massive smoothies that you see in their hands are made only with fresh fruit-no added yogurt, milk or ice-and they are 300 sole (equivalent to about $1.00)!!!! Miriam is a volunteer from Germany.
"Sheriff" Jefferson. He is an old man stuck in a little kids body, and he is totally in charge of everything all of the time. As you can see he is a burn victim.
Some of the kids in the classroom here at the Hogar. They have class for three hours, twice each day.
One of Sean's best buddies, Jordan. He has severe cerebral palsy, and cannot walk unassisted. Such a sweet boy.
This is Sean's room-he gets his own room since he is the only male volunteer. His bunkbeds are in the storage room that holds all of the clothes that are donated to the Hogar. This is Sean and Demi one evening. After the kids go to bed, and we are done for the day, we (all the volunteers) hang out in Sean's room to chat, laugh, and relax. Demi is a volunteer from Newcastle, England and is spending five weeks here.
Lizbeth. She had hip surgery and is in a cast from her hips down one leg. She is confined to her bed until it heals. I was sitting in her bed doing a puzzle with her on this day. She is so quiet, gentle and sweet, and I love my time with her every day.
Jefferson (l) and Victor (r). Victor is doing a dot to dot with his only limb-his left leg/foot. His writing is better than most of the children. He eats, drinks, writes, draws, and uses the computer with his foot.
Rolando with Luis laying on him. Rolando has a missing hand and disfigured other arm/hand from a severe burn. Luis is blind and deaf.
(l-r) Deanna, Laura, Molly, Teruko, Demi, and Miriam during one of our daily trips to the smoothie shop. It's one block from the Hogar.
The house next door to the Hogar. The owner has beautiful birds out front all day, and several are not in cages. They say "Hola" as we walk by.
I'm showing you this picture of me with Gian (pronounced Yawn) because of the condition of the stroller. They are in desperate need of a few umbrella strollers like this. They are all falling apart.
The coffee shop, La Morochita, where we go for coffee every day from 4-5 with Dr. Tony. Only he and the volunteers go, and it's great spending time like that with him.
See how well Victor uses his foot? The dots are connected perfectly.
At the local market getting a pisco sour-the drink of Peru.
At the local market getting a pisco sour-the drink of Peru.
Walking to Mass. Xiomara (l) and Angela (r). Xiomara has a repaired cleft lip and palate and speech problems, and Angela is missing her right leg. She prefers to walk with one crutch instead of using the wheelchair, and quite often gives up the crutch, too. She will just hop on one leg. Most of the time she refuses help of any kind because she is determined to do it on her own.
The roof of the house. This is where all of the washing is done, and also where the rooms for the volunteers are located.
One of the five washing basins. The clothes for all of the children are hand washed with the board and a scrub brush, and laundry is done every day.
Esmerelda. She is mentally handicapped and has very weak muscles in her upper body that prohibit her from sitting on her own. She is one of the sweetest children in the home, and I love just sitting and holding her. She doesn't speak, but if you are lucky you get a smile.
Mayer. He is four years old, but the same size as a one year old. He was starved, but is slowly being brought up to normal weight. He rarely moves because he has no energy to do anything.
Sean with Victor. Victor has a prosthetic leg that he uses to walk, but he has to wear a helmet because if he falls he cannot catch himself since he has no arms. It doesn't stop him. If he does fall he gets himself right back up.
Dennis. He is Mr. Cool, and loves it when I take his picture. He has a malformed hand that has had surgery.
The olders doing the laundry on the roof. It is their job, along with one of the daily helpers, to do all of the laundry for the day. They wash and hang it, and then when it is dry it is brought down to the house for the youngers to fold and distribute.
Jose Luis. He is blind in both eyes, but he knows his way around this house with no hands out in front of him or anything. He's been here for a few years, and knows all three levels with no problem. He is an amazing guitar player.
Julia. She has leukemia, and has been in the house for four years. She has relapsed once, and is currently in remission. However, since she has relapsed once the prognosis is not very good, and the doctors suspect that she also has TB. I have become very close to Julia, and I spend a lot of time with her. She is so loving and she loves to snuggle.
Julia doesn't use a wheelchair, but she was very tired this day and just wanted to sit in Segundo's chair. She just watched everyone.
Julia had a sole (one sole), and so she walked across the street to the little market and bought a bag of chips. Before she ate any of them she walked back across the street and passed them out to the other children. She ate the remaining.
Demi and Sean with some of the kids on the teeter totter.