Villa la Paz – Home of Peace

Last month I did another one of my “let’s do something more” internet searches for volunteer opportunities. I ran across the website of the Villa La Paz Foundation which runs Hogar San Francisco de Asis, a home that cares for children that cannot afford medical care and more importantly also pays for their medical care.

Then he took a little child, stood him in the midst, and putting his arms around him, said to them, “Whoever welcomes a child such as this for my sake welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes, not me, but Him who sent me”. –  Mark 9:36-37 (via the Villa la Paz website)

I found their volunteers facebook group and found out more information about Hogar – they typically have 40 – 50 kids at a time, they are looking for in-kind donations, and they provided updates on kids that were there and ones that had gone home.  I procrastinated but I finally reached out to them sending in a volunteer application last week. I received an email back the following day from Dr. Lazzara who runs Hogar asking me to visit on Monday for their 17th Anniversary Party.  Of course I accepted the invitation.

Monday, January 16th, was ironically Martin Luther King Day. “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

That day I woke up and got on a combi to the colectivo (a taxi that picks up multiple people). Surprisingly the taxi is a really nice new Honda, and I got a window seat =). I told the man who ushered me quickly into to the car that I was going to Chaclacayo (they also ride to Chosica). The ride went smoothly, I rode through a few small towns and had a not so scenic mountain view. About an hour later the taxi driver asks where everyone is going, I give him the address – we’ve passed it already.  Oh well no problem I get out get in a combi going the opposite direction, and in broken Spanish I asked the cobrador to let me know when I needed to get out. I was extremely lucky (they are all over the place in the little vans) he told me when to get off and the direction to head in. I walked to the Hogar with no idea what to expect as I have never volunteered with sick children before.

I was greeted at the door by a mother and her son with a colorful hand-made paper pen to commemorate their anniversary. I walked in and everyone was facing the window for the backyard which was filled with parents and kids and young man in a wheel chair that was singing a beautiful song with a great voice. What he was singing I have no idea. I walked up to someone who was obviously a fellow gringo and I assumed she was a volunteer. Sarah greeted me, she had volunteered at Hogar for 3 months last year and was back again for a month this year. There were also several other volunteers there- some staying for two days, some for two weeks, and other various scenarios. I found out that your volunteer job is pretty much to help the kids. In the mornings they help with breakfast, they play with the babies from 9am- 11am, help with lunch, some then take the younger kids to the park, play with the babies for two hours again, help with dinner, and that’s the schedule. In addition they help children that are not ambulatory get around and go to the bathroom.

After the first kid finishes one of  the volunteers and a few of the older kids do what’s called the Marinera -a coastal Peruvian dance, where the girl uses her long skirt to accentuate the dance, and both the girl and the boy have a handkerchief that they parade around with. From what I understand its very difficult to learn and it was quite a feat for the American volunteer to learn how to do this. Following that everyone started moving around and it was time for lunch.  I had the chance to meet Dr. Lazarra and he told me that he would give me a tour of the house once everything settled down.

At this point I finally get to see and meet the kids that live there. They are girls and boys of all ages, with various medical conditions, from burns,  to cerebal palsy, facial malformations, and a variety of other health issues that you wouldn’t wish on anyone especially a child. But you have all of 2 seconds to get over this and realize they are not their problem they are a child, a child that is full of joy and that just wants your attention and a hug. It was an eye-opening experience to see these kids laugh, play, and have fun together. So often we are exposed to children that have these various health problems in commercials asking for help or in documentaries that display children in such a sad state. Hogar gives these a place to be a kid and to be loved.

Lunch was being served and I came because I wanted to volunteer; I asked where I can help and found out that it’s pretty much a place where you get in where you fit in. So I went into the kitchen and grabbed a tray of food to pass out to the guest that were there. I gave a plate to a girl who was sitting in a chair her legs were sticking out in cast and she had a blanket over her. Walked around then came back to her and realized she needed my tray. Because her legs were actually in cast but also with a rod in-between them. She didn’t say any anything when I just gave her the plate, she tried to manage the situation without complaints. She said thank you flashing a sweetest smile so genuine – only for me giving her a tray and adjusting it on her lap. These children are so sweet, and so thankful.

Later on the doctor gave me a tour of the house. He showed me the girls room, the boy’s room, the nurses station, and the babies room. The babies room housed about 10 babies, all of them very adorable of course and each of  them with his/her own struggle. The babies had illnesses such as facial hemangioma of the face, cerebral palsy, autism, mental retardation, clef lip and palate, malnutrition, CLOVES syndrome, and seizures, among other things. Oh it absolutely breaks your heart, but again you are snapped out of it in about 2 seconds. Because how does that help? What helps is your time, your love, and your attention. The volunteers, the nurses, the teachers, the therapists, and of course Dr. Lazarra who founded and still runs this place are the people who provide it.

The rest of the day consisted of birthday cake for Hogar, dancing with the kids, volunteers, staff, and parents, speaking in Spanglish to the parents, and drinking shot glass sized cups of sangria. We danced and danced and danced. Made circles around each other whooing the main performer; danced in circles around to the left, around to the right, run to the middle and back again; and just dance and danced and danced. The parents talked to the me and the other volunteers wanting to know who we were, where we were from, how long we were going to be there, and a billion other questions – of course they needed to know who were the daily care takers of their babies. As I was speaking to one of the parents, her son Donte (that looked just like her), and one of Donte’s friends d I leaned over talking to the kids (8 & 11)  and one of them just decided that he needed to feel my hair. I just rolled with it lol, they tugged on it a little just trying to figure it out. Kids are so curious. I also spoke with a few of the volunteers all from different places – Eilis, came all the way from Ireland and this was her second time here. They were all very welcoming, and really took the time to help me understand what happens there at Hogar. Ivet, a volunteer even invited me to go with her and her friends to go to Cataratas de Surco (a waterfall) the next Sunday.

If you are wondering how you can help there are two ways:

Monetary donations on their website:

If you are in Peru these are a few in-kind items:

  1. An elevator (yes they need a lift for the kids that are immobile)
  2. Flip flops. For both the females and Males…remember…their feet are really small!!
  3. hair accessories for the girls, and maybe gels and thing for the older adolescents.
  4.  the plastic diapers for the babies. (They are like plastic pants to put over the cloth nappies/diapers they use in the Hogar)
  5. Shoes (mainly for female adolescents) are needed. Peruvians have pretty small feet!
  6.   little boys’ belts
  7.  cloth scarves not the winter kind! Some of the girls are asking for them to cover up burns and infections.  Cotton preferred! (as of 1/9/12)
  8. The home always needs infant formula, pediasure, and insure.

Of course your time:

Happy Anniversary Hogar San Francisco de Asis!

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