The first four months of our new partnership with Sagrada Familia in Ventanilla, Peru has enabled volunteers to integrate fully into the daily rhythms and activities of the children’s lives. From a collection of team journal excerpts, a picture emerges of the opportunities for leaving your mark on this special part of the world.
Message of the Day: “A true community is not just about being geographically close to someone or part of the same social web network. It’s about feeling connected and responsible for what happens. Humanity is our ultimate community, and everyone plays a crucial role.” Yehuda Berg
Global Volunteer Tracy, an October 2018 team member, described the first day at Sagrada Familia: “Upon arrival, we encountered the founder of la Sagrada Familia, Miguel, directing staff and greeting children. He stopped to greet each of us with a hug and a kiss. Casey was especially proud to meet him and told him so. What happened next was the highlight of the day for me. As we were standing outside of the main office, a teacher and her class approached us, with the children walking in two neat lines. Before we knew it, all of the children came up the stairs and greeted each of us with an “hola,” a handshake, and a kiss on the cheek. Yes, each student stopped to kiss and/or shake hands with the seven of us volunteers before moving on to kiss Miguel. It was the sweetest welcome I’ve ever experienced. There were smiles all around; Laura even shed some tears. It was truly a sublime moment.
We then met with Miguel briefly to discuss our assignments for the day. Those of us who have teaching experience – Kathryn, Laura and myself – were quickly whisked away and tasked with doing so…for the entire day. After my experiences in the classroom, I was struck by the orderliness of it all. Gone were the children who couldn’t sit still, who asked to go the bathroom every 5 minutes, who threw things at one other, and who repeatedly ignored requests to be silent during class. What will tomorrow bring at la Sagrada Familia? I don’t know, but I hope I can find more patience and compassion, knowing that I am incredibly blessed to be a member of this wonderful team that has been granted an amazing opportunity to serve.”
A Variety of Service Projects
Labor: In October, Casey worked with a local crew prepping for the installation of a new kitchen… scraping old paint and finish. His great love of children made him a favorite. He always had an entourage wherever he worked. In December, the primary labor project was preparing desks for re-finishing and repairing before the winter school break is over. From the December journal: We had quite a few girls from the community and their tutor helping with the sanding and repairing. At one point, some magical paint remover appeared, and that was a relief. The girls were excited and entertained us with the “flossing dance” as a reward. There was progress made at the Desk Repair Department today! Meanwhile, Beverly and Carrie worked on the flowers at the entrance of the Center. “We wrapped them around wire and fencing to ensure they would grow upwards and eventually create a beautiful trellis. For a short while some of the children helped us and we tried to explain why it was important for them to have clean leaves in order to help them receive more sun and breathe.”
Kitchen Help: In October, Laura and Tracy helped in the kitchen most days – peeling, slicing, and preparing vegetables for dinner and the next day’s lunch. They said it was “hard, but fulfilling work, and so necessary for feeding the 1000+ children who depend on Sagrada Familia every day.” This project continued for two volunteers on each team in December, January and February. One day in December, the community received a donation of four pigs heads. “Hence, the lunch was plentiful and children had second helpings with great help of the lime squeezing team of Beverly and Thomasina. Laura and Tracy have carrot cutting down to a science. First you scrape carrots for 1,200 and then chop. I think Tracy wants to go back. I want to stand up and applaud her.”
Teaching: In October, Kathryn worked in Miss Kelly’s class using styluses to punch out egg shapes, since scissors aren’t available. The kids then arranged the eggs in the correct-sized nests. Kathryn said she was amazed by “how bright they are and what a wonderful teacher Miss Kelly is.” In December, Thomasina held two-hour English classes in the morning – repeating and reinforcing many of the conversation starter phrases that other volunteers had begun earlier in the week. She noted: “After lunch we were told the kids were tired and needed to nap, so no English lessons were held in the afternoon.” Must have been some robust English classes!
Health Care: In October, Kim helped Estefany triage the patients. She took weights and blood pressures, cleaned and dressed some abrasions, and got to observe the electronic medical record system. In December, Chetna provided much needed dental hygiene care to as many children as she could possible see every day of our service program—often missing lunch in order to help just one more child. Ana assisted Chetna each day to interpret for her and to make detailed notes on each child’s dental health and/or issues to leave behind for the Clinicia’s dentist.
Message of the Day: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi
The Work Day – as it Unfolds for one Team
A glimpse of the December team’s journal describes the volunteers’ day: “Although it was Christmas Eve, our ‘welcoming committee’ of children were still happy to greet us. So happy in fact, they couldn’t wait for us to get out of the van and instead squeezed in to give us our morning kisses.
We played kick ball, monkey bars and read from books. In between games, we taught them some English and tried to answer some of their questions: Why do you have no children, why do you have bruises, why is your skin color like mine, etc… Generally, these questions might seem invasive, but you could see in their eyes and hear in their tone the concern and authenticity of their questions. The love they show us is very warming!
By lunch, many of us were physically exhausted from sanding desks hunched over, peeling potatoes and carrots, playing with very active children, or sitting a bit too long examining the mouths of little ones. How easy we have it in our everyday worlds!
Lunch at Sagrada Familia was again, great! Us six volunteers plus Daniel, our team leader and over 1,000 children between the younger and older dining halls. Everyday it’s new and always great fun!
In the afternoon, the labor team returned to sanding desks. Needless to say, by 4 o clock, I was covered in red dust. Thomasina did an amazing job in the kitchen today, helping to make what was basically chicken noodle soup and rice. Tyler, Shannon, and Beverly took the morning to teach a few of the kids English, and when they lost interest, introduced them to chess and other board games. They also taught one of the children how to jump rope. The community had new windows donated, so we started the project of replacing them today. Beverly, Shannon and Thomasina had a new task this afternoon of demolishing existing windows at the Suzuki House. In the evening, we all walked over to a nice restaurant and had dinner, a good conclusion to a great day.
In conclusion, we accomplished enough for all of us to feel proud of our contributions. Although the tough job of stripping, sanding and repainting the desks did not get completed on our service program, we still were able to teach some English with the children, got the Earth Boxes project started, played with the preschool children, played and interacted with the older children a few times through the English lessons and games/activities Shannon, Tyler and Beverly brought for them. We also helped prepare lunch each day for all the children, staff and volunteers, hung up the Bougainvillea bushes in the front entrance to the campus, played volleyball with the children and Lilly, and tore out the windows and frames in the upper floors of the girls’ dormitories in preparation of new windows donated by another group from the US. Chetna provided much needed dental hygiene care to as many children as she could possible see every day of our service program—often missing lunch in order to help just one more child. Ana assisted Chetna each day to interpret for her and to make detailed notes on each child’s dental health and/or issues to leave behind for the Clinicia’s dentist.
It was a very good day for all of us, albeit a sad day. The children kept saying to us, ‘Please don’t forget about us’. None of us could ever forget about these precious children. They are so very blessed to have Miguel, Lily, the dorm caretakers, the rest of the staff at Sagrada Familia, as well as all the groups of volunteers from various organizations and countries, taking care of them.”
Message of the Day: “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” Mark Twain
Working With Preschoolers
Kathryn, a team member of the October 2018 program professed: “I want to personally say how much I enjoyed the Pre-K children. I saw 23 children with a teacher and aide make magic. Everything they did was just plain learning. Legos were used for hand manipulation, counting and colors. They picked them up and put them away without asking and went to the next learning task. This went on for the morning. They took themselves to the bathroom only to come back to wash their hands. Snacks were brought from home and each little bag had a piece of cloth to be used for drying clean hands and a place mat and a table wipe at end of meal. All taken care of by four- and five-year-olds. They were loud and rambunctious, until a gentle hand guided them where they needed to be.
In the January team journal, Gail remarked: “Since I have spent a good amount of time in the daycare, I was pondering today about how all children are similar no matter where they live or the economic status. All children struggle with sharing, it is often tough to playing nice, there is the occasional hair pulling, pinching and even biting if we don’t get our way. There are leaders and this is often ranked by age and they know it and use their status. That is until mom walks in the room when the youngest isn’t getting his way. There are the constant bumps and bruises but the crying is always much harder if they know someone is watching. I came to Peru wanting to experience the Peruvian culture, expecting to see a vast differences, but when it comes down to it, there are few differences. We all want the best for our children no matter where we are in the world.”
Message of the Day: “Sometimes, you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” Dr. Seuss
A Day in the Clinic
Chetna, a dental volunteer on the December 2018 program detailed a typical day at the clinic. “I start my day with Anna at the dental operatory at the health clinic, which is situated right at the entrance of the campus. Anna, Daniel’s wife, has been a blessing of help in every way. She is my administrator, my translator and my emotional support. We have seen 47 children thus far, from two of the five houses, providing dental cleanings, fluoride treatments, much needed homecare instructions on how to brush, how many times a day etc., and nutritional counseling.
Our day at the clinic starts with Anna stopping at the pharmacy to have someone unlock the dental operatories for us. I work in one of the two operatories in the morning and switch to the other after lunch. Once the operatory is unlocked, we set-up for the day as the children start piling up (sometimes on each other) outside our door. They come in with a smile on their faces and are well-behaved in the dental chair. Today Gabriela, who is six years old, was being a Curious George. She was one of the first girls I saw in the morning, as I rotated through the group with whom she arrived, she was tippy-toeing over my right shoulder the whole time to see what I was doing. Having gone through the process and Fluoride instructions herself, she would then tell all the girls those instructions after I applied fluoride for them. It was quite adorable, I’m hoping she is inspired to become a dentist one day. Most children have some level of dental decay. Some have advanced decay and are in pain. Almost all of them need thorough dental cleanings.
All in all, it is immensely precious to interact and talk with the faces I would see out the window of our van upon our arrival each day. These faces take on a different persona when they are in the dental chair with me on the other side of it. They become little adults with a plethora of life lessons and dimensions to them – by which I am humbled.”
Message of the Day: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Count Leo Tolstoy
Excerpts from the January 2019 Team Journal
It was about a 15 minute drive to the community. You always have a preconceived idea of what to expect and it is typically not correct. My first impressions were all good, I was impressed with the organization of the community, it is its own little complex.
Today cannot be summarized by listing the things that we all did today. Rather, everything can best be described by the passion that all of us are putting into this team effort. As a team, we have a fierce passion that is increasing each day.
The medical team is a force of their own! Three incredibly bright, dynamic, accomplished ladies have come to Peru to help the clinic staff. I know they are accomplishing a great deal, seeing so many patients in a short period of time. All of the children are fortunate to have come to the clinic while Penny, Annette and Carolyn are here. Listening at dinner to their stories from the day gives real insight into the love and laughter that they share with each other and every patient they see.
Volunteers are enjoying current assignments but also becoming comfortable in exploring some new roles. We’re getting more comfortable with what we are doing and the individuals that we are working with. For the day, we all had similar roles to what we had been doing, however several of us started branching out a bit to observe what others are doing.
Clinic: Claire did a great job helping Penny and interpreter Maria. Penny’s class with the girls in the afternoon was a big hit.
English classes with Lois and Don were very active especially in the afternoon where there were a lot of boys. The children are learning American hits like the hokey pokey and head shoulders knees and toes, knees and toes.
Child care: Gail started there in the morning then varnished desks in the afternoon. After her stint in the clinic, Claire returned to the child care.
Carolyn observed the English class and then went to Penny’s class in the afternoon. Annette started in clinic but wandered off to take photographs and chitchat with people.
Lunch was delicious, Dinner even more so. We enjoyed each other’s company tremendously. Annette and Carolyn spoke about their week (since they depart for home tonight) and we all spoke about our connections with each other.
Miguel asked to meet with us and he shared his amazing, heartfelt, selfless story with us. We were treated with a traditional Peruvian meal backed in a hole in the ground with hot stones – Pachamaca – a wonderful and very tasty combination of chicken, beef, choclo, potatoes, and the sweetest, most luscious sweet potatoes I have ever had. Miguel further treated us with a cooling yogurt-like desert that he made in what looked like some type of hand-crank ice cream machine. After lunch was time spent with the kids in child care taking selfies. They all seem to feel that screaming loudly, along with their huge grins, would make for better photos. We had our final dinner with Daniel after a short excursion to take in the magnificent view of the beach in Ancon from up in the mountain. We all thanked Daniel for everything and said our goodbyes.
Message of the Day: “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” Vince Lombardi.