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The first time that we went to the San Judas Chico Orphanage, the astonishing noise of the airplanes deafened us for a few seconds. A strong, deafening sound made the whole place shake so hard we felt it in our bones and the same question came to everyone's mind: How was it possible to live next to the take-off runway of an airport without going crazy?
One week later, none of us noticed the thunderous sound that we heard every day during our work shifts. Like they say, man is a creature of habit.
We can get used to a new country, new friends, and even a new family, but where is the boundary between habit and conformity? When is the moment in which we become so used to a specific reality that we stop hoping that new and different things can happen to us?
A year ago, we asked Joanna about her future. The beautiful, barely-11-year-old girl looked at us and without hesitation gave her answer: singer. She wanted to be a famous music singer that would travel all of Peru and around the world. She even had some designs for future dresses. Joanna had been living in the orphanage for less than one week.
Two weeks ago we asked her the same question, but this time she hesitated a little before answering. It seemed like the word just wouldn't leave her mouth, until with a sigh she said, Cosmetology.
Cosmetology is the only technical career that the orphanage can afford to pay for these girls that are never adopted and can't return to their parents.
Joana will soon be 13 years old, and in spite of maintaining her beautiful smile so characteristic of her, she realizes that her age combined with the fact that she has already been in the orphanage for one year, makes her chance of being adopted very slim. She doesn't dream about entering the university either. She knows all to well, just as the rest of the girls do, that when she is 18 years old, she will be forced to leave the orphanage and begin to study cosmetology one way or another because it is all that she will be able to afford. And, in the meantime, there isn't much she can do but wait for that day to come.
We also met Jessica, who in a few months will leave the orphanage behind. She turned 18 faster than she thought she would, but she's not afraid. Since she's the oldest of all the girls, she's the substitute mom on Sundays when the tutors and teachers rest. She wants to study law at the public university in Cusco and while she knows it won't be easy working as a cosmetologist to pay for her dream at least it will be hers. And, she will be able to use her degree to defend the rights of all the girls she saw growing up who were hurt from by people surrounding them.
Dreams, hopes, customs, and resignations intermix in this small place hopelessly located beside the take-off runway in Cusco's main airport. Sad and dark memories are lightened by the warm rays of sunlight that occasionally illuminate this place, a place of refuge where all the abandoned girls end up thanks to social services. Maybe the food isn't the best, or maybe the beds aren't that comfortable, but Joanna knows that her bed now is amazing compared to the one she used to have before.
It's those small things, like a wall well-painted, a new auditorium, a renovated playground, things that remind us that the new and interesting things can keep happening. That one day, someone could give you a new hat, like Judith who never thought she would ever receive a gift like that from a volunteer. Or like Letizia, who fulfilled her dream of having a Korean boy, like her k-pop idols, giving her hugs...small things that bring out smiles when we think of them.
The orphanage shines bright and new today, thanks to the volunteers' work from MEDLIFE. Even the old basketball hoop on the playground shines. Even Aslan, the old dog that just showed up one day and never wanted to leave, seems brighter. The auditorium is almost finished and all the girls will be able to use it soon.
Without letting her arms away from all the good-looking boys who visit the orphanage, Joanna smiles and then starts to braid all the girls' hair. Maybe she will be a cosmetologist, but she'll be the best cosmetologist in Peru and in all the world.
This year we will have gone ten times to the orphanage to construct, paint, repair, and bring happiness to these girls who have stolen all our hearts.
Joanna, Maria, Judith, Letizia, Jessica...These girls have learned that life isn't easy and that sometimes the best family isn't necessarily the one you share blood with, but rather the one that brings you love and warmth. And maybe the San Judas Chico Orphanage isn't the biggest or the best, but the shared dolls are enjoyed more and the second hand clothes provide just as much warmth as new clothes in the cold Cusco weather.
Pamplona Alta is one of the newest “slums” in Lima, and is home to many working mothers; they are striving to secure the welfare of their children in general and above all to provide adequate food. This is a high priority because nutritious food is the key to good development, good health, and thus a life full of opportunities. Given this priority, and in spite of their economic constraints, the women of Pamplona Alta come together to organize food for all: harnessing people power to enurse that each family has enough nutritious food. Mrs. Martha Robles is one of the amazing women who makes this happen.
For many years Martha has worked in what is locally called the comedores populares or "Soup Kitchens". This cafeteria is run by women, mostly mothers, coordinate shifts and responsibilities to prepare lunch at low and affordable prices thanks to government subsidies. Food delivered through the government program, called PRONAA (National Food Assistance Program), includes staples such as flour, rice, sugar, and beans.
Sixteen years have passed since Martha, together with other 70 mothers, founded the 'Faith and Hope' cafeteria, located in the settlement ¨Cumbre¨, where Martha has lived since its foundation. In daily shifts, four or five women voluntarily prepare food purchased with the help from PRONAA, this subsided food is delivered approximately every three or four months.
Consecutive governments have continued to support this incredible work through subsidies. All the work to keep this fantastic service running is done voluntarily by members of the community, and despite the hard work Matha still wants to do more. Lunch feeds approximately 80 people from the local area.
Martha’s dedication to this service led her to participate in a government contest to create a new soup kitchen in her community. Martha’s work at the comedores populares providing great food at an affordable price, was recognised by the judges as well as her friends, neighbours and acquaintances. Winning the contest was a milestone for Martha in what she considers to be the most important work in her life.
In spite of the quality and the love with which the work is done, it is undeniable that the facilities for this service are less than ideal. On arriving to the premises it is immediately obvious that there are many shortcomings. The floor is not properly paved, the walls and ceiling are a set of old, dirty timbers, and the cooking utensils are poor quality. In addition, some of the volunteer mothers have to bring their small children and, given the reduced space, children are put in contact with all areas of the kitchen, thus being exposed to potential health and safety dangers.
MEDLIFE, through it’s network of chapters and students, is seeking to support Martha and all the volunteer mothers. Through fundraising events MEDLIFE is hoping to raise enough money to build a new cafeteria. Providing not only an improved dining room, the planned building would ensure protection against the strong summer sun and heavy rains of winter. It would provide an adequate and fitting space for the invaluable and high-quality work taking place, and would ensure the children who come with their mothers are not in any danger. We are confident that this goal will be met, but we need YOUR help to make it happen!
Building a house in the hills of Villa Maria del Triunfo in Lima is a very difficult task. It’s finding the spot of land, breaking the stones to flatten the area, and later constructing a house so that it fits economic guidelines. This is all so that someone else will not occupy the land first. It’s the most powerful and basic law: the one who finds the land first is the one who stays.
But what happens to those who aren’t as strong? Those who have limitations or who have no one to support them?
In other blogs, we have talked about the migration phenomenon in Peru: thousands of people from the interior of the country move to Lima in search of better opportunities. Where they end up, however, is on the dusty and rocky hills that sit on the outskirts of Lima, a far view from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis city that everyone imagines Lima to be. The people who live on the outskirts have interesting, distinct stories on how they came to reside in Lima.
Of Lisaura, we don’t know much, nor do we need to know, because her eyes say everything. What we do know about her story is that it is one of pain and survival, and it has touched all of our hearts.
While inaugurating staircases in the community of 15A-1, the terrain we found was black, an opaque stain over the ground that caught our eye. A new war on land had just begun, and caught in the middle were Lisaura and her 10-year-old daughter, Mariela.
Lisaura is deaf, according to Mariela, due to a sharp fall she suffered as a child at the hands of a relative. She never studied sign language, nor how to read lips.Her daughter has created an incredible code language that only she and her mother can understand. They created their own universe -- their own language and rules. A universe that has been reducedto ashes, just like their house.
About a month ago, Lisaura’s house destroyed by a fire. The burning down of Lisaura’s house leaves us with many questions. Who burned their house? Why did they burn the house? For a house that small and humble, it is probable that someone burned down the house to scare the family so that they could leave behind a vacant lot to be occupied by someone else. Unfortunately that basic and powerful law applies, whoever finds the empty land first is the one who stays.
A distant sister has been providing housing and shelter for Lisaura and Mariela, but they have numbered days in the household. Their salaries are not enough to reconstruct a house destroyed by a fire: Lisaura as a clothes washer and Mariela as a helper in an internet cafe. No materials in the house survived the fire, neither the clothes nor the bed.
Now, Lisaura and Mariela need support from all of us: through MEDLIFE we have the possibility to give her the home that she deserves.
Though she cannot speak, from the emotional weight of her gaze, Lisaura tells many stories, and building a new home would be the best thing for her and her daughter.
Walking through the "pueblos jovenes" of Lima is never an easy task either physically or emotionally. Working in these areas you will learn about people's stories and situations that can make you feel small and powerless, yet at the same you get to know incredible people who are full of hope and a desire for change.
During a Lima summer, it is excruciatingly sunny. The ground is dry and hot, and the relentless sun never lets you forget that you are in the center of a desert. Winter by contrast is humid and seemingly endless. Filled with grey skies and rainy days, the humidity brings the cold directly into the local homes and a chill cuts straight to the bone. For many of these families they have only a thin wall to protect them from these elements.
Such are the winters for Kiara, for which being inside or out of the house is the same; both places are wet, cold, and smell of garbage. At six years old, Kiara has learned to make due with her surroundings. Pretending that large stones are her own personal ponies, that the flowers she used to water are actually cactuses, and that her secondhand dolls have seen better days. Kiara's imagination has no limit, she continues every day smiling and doing her hair like a princess.
Dakota is different. She does not smile as much. At age four she does not understand much, but knows that things are not good. She knows that there are children who sleep in dry beds and whose houses are not full of holes in the walls. If you ask her if she prefers summer to the cold winters, she does not know how to respond. The heat is overwhelming, especially when you share the only bed with three other people.
They are two different children but at the same time are equal, as both have infinite love for their mother. Their mother tries daily to get ahead, to better her family's life. Mónica Coquinchi came to Lima from the Tigre River in the Amazon at age 18, after a five day boat ride and her first and only ride in a plane. They told her that Lima is full of jobs, success, and was her best option.
Love can at the same time be a blessing and a curse. Carlita, two years old, is proof that love forgives all, but can also be blind. Once you take off the blindfold, the truth can be painful. Two years of trial and tribulation to obtain sufficient food is the result.
But Monica's dreams and her preservation are what we really love about her. Her desire to improve her life is so strong that when she enrolled in a free course on Geriatrics. She was such a good student that her teacher let her bring her three daughters to class. Come graduation day, a friend gave her a new pair of shoes, another a nice blouse. But Mónica did not use either; she is keeping them for a more special occasion.
When it comes to beautiful things, perception is relative. For some it may be the sky at sunset, for others it is colorful flowers. For us, it is when we see Monica's eyes after telling her we would build her family a new house. A house without holes and with windows. Cool in the summer and warm in winter.
The Development Corps volunteers are changing lives, fulfilling dreams, and giving hope to people that things can get better. It reminds us that we should not give up and that we need to continue our efforts. We are proud to say that this Friday we will not just be inaugurating a house; we will be inaugurating a home.
"Laderas de Nueva Esperanza” is a community that has never disappointed us. Full of hardworking, honest, and eager people ready to move forward for a better future.
We found out about a problem they had with the playground when Nancy Helguera, the community leader, asked for our help. Our assistance was important as this playground was used by dozens of children in the area.
We don't think twice about writing a blog and publishing the project on our "sponsor a project” section in the website. Never did we think that this recent project would be completed by our first group of Development Corps .
Participating Development Corps is demanding but very rewarding. This new form of project allows you to be a participant and to leave a mark that changes the lives of people for a long time.
For us who work with MEDLIFE it is a amazing to be able to meet old friends again in the community. We have recently been able to build 7 staircases in a single community and that allows us to remain much closer to its inhabitants.
Working in the communities allows us to meet amazingly humble people like Reynaldo, father of our patient Jimena. Reynaldo did not hesitate to leave his job as a delivery man for a week to be able to support our Development Corps without expecting anything in return.
Or like Mr. Fonseca who always full of wisdom and no doubt one of the leaders in all construction to occur in his community. If you ask him kindly, he will teach you all the tricks of the trade that he knows about construction.
This is our first group of Development Core participants and while they still have all week to complete their projects, we are sure there will be many new experiences for both the participants and the community.