A family home visit in a shanty town outside Lima and a conversation with a displaced child’s grandfather raises conflicting questions for Peru volunteers Jody and David.

Our final day of volunteering has come WAY too quickly! I’m honestly conflicted, feeling we’ve experienced so much in such a short time, but at the same time have barely scratched the surface! Today was profound to say the least, and has left a lasting impression on the hearts and minds of both David and me.

We departed the hotel early to pick up Elizabeth, the social worker from PPA.  For nearly two hours we chugged through the congested streets of Lima to the Até district in search of one of the families of a 5-year-old boy from the PPA. Elizabeth explained that at 2 years old, the boy was found wandering alone in an open market. Apparently his grandmother lost track of him, and he was found by a police officer. For more than 2 years, the family had been searching for him, and finally learned he was living at the PPA.   They’re trying to get him back. Arriving at the base of the mountain where his family lives, it is difficult to imagine how anyone survives in these conditions. Elizabeth had to ask several people which “house” (really loose term here) was the one of the desired family, and we were pointed in the direction of UP!

family home visit

PPA social worker Elizabeth leads volunteers on the home visit outside Lima.

Elizabeth invited us along – to climb the stairs, sometimes giant boulders, amidst bags of burnt trash along dirt path where eventually she found the boy’s grandfather. David and I, clearly out of place, tried to be respectful and low-profile while Elizabeth spoke with the child’s grandfather about the situation. I watched as a child down below was running through the dirt trying to fly an old torn plastic kite. She was laughing and running and seemed happy, oblivious to the blight and lack of her surroundings. I cannot even begin to chronicle in words the flood of emotions and sensory overload of that visit.

When we descended the mountain and climbed back into the van, Elizabeth shared what she learned. The boy’s mother was at work, but the grandfather was sure the mother would go to the PPA for a visit and hopefully, she could take her son back to his family on the mountainside. The boy’s grandfather said the grandmother had been selling at the market when she lost sight of the boy two years earlier. The family had been looking for him and missed him greatly.

home visit in shanty town

Shanty town where we searched for the PPA boy’s family.

I suppose it is better for a child to be with his family who loves him despite their living conditions. After seeing those conditions for myself however, I’m conflicted! Do we always need to apply our standards upon others? That child with the kite seemed happy and presumably, living amid squalor with her loving family. No answers, just further contemplation.

Needless to say, this was an eye-opening experience. After two more home visits, we journeyed back through the streets of Lima – exhausted and hungry.  Despite this being our last day of volunteering, I wished I could return to the PPA for another day (or more) – to smooch those sweet babies (Crystal, Grace, Sergio, Martin, Anna, etc.). I wanted to high-five Juisseppe and Rodrigo and give their sister Jazmin a big hug. And I wanted to thank Elizabeth one more time for trusting us to include us on that mountain visit.

While I may not get to physically return to the PPA, the seeds that were planted in my heart that week are ones I’m sure will grow and flourish and bear fruit.

“My Global Volunteers departure questionnaire asked if the experience changed my life… Surprisingly, in such a short time, it most certainly did.”

Would you like to help children in Lima?  Volunteer in Peru for one or two weeks to nurture, teach and mentor toddlers and youth.


David and I with a few PPA kids at the Larcomar mall.

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