This has become a passion of mine year-round.
Upon arrival at the Casa del Buen Trato, my daughter Mary and I are greeted with shouts of Mike! Miguel! Maria! Little girls run barefoot and in flip-flops on the dusty road to embrace us as we hug our little friends back and start-up our relationship where we left off a year ago in this remote beautiful part of Peru in the Andes.
In that in-between year, we’ve led our separate lives, they in this shelter, going to school, getting psychological care and getting prepared to re-enter the world at 17-years-old. Re-entering the world, all too often times happens with a two-to-six year-old child in tow who is a constant reminder of the abuse they suffered as mere children themselves.
We, the volunteers, who return to our largely safe, secure, suburban lives, raise money to support these kids, because the bond becomes unshakeable and to abandon them is unthinkable. This is the beginning of our return trip to work at the shelter and spend wonderful afternoon and early evening hours with the kids who live here, safe from a hostile world that created the need for a safety net.
The last week of July for the last four years my daughter, Mary and I along with a group of seven to eleven other volunteers have spent a week in Peru on a trip to support the Casa shelter. Initially, when I volunteered for Recovering Hope Project, I only expected that we would be helping poor people in Peru. I had little idea about what was to come, which has become transformational for those of us who both volunteer at the shelter in Huánuco and also back in the US as fundraisers to support the welfare of these kids.
The children at Casa del Buen Trato are just that, children who need a safe place to be kids, get an education and recover hope. These little girls are victims of sexual violence and have been abandoned, neglected, or mistreated by their families.
The shelter we visit and work takes the girls in and provides them with physical and psychological care, education, and life skills. It provides adoption placement for the girls who decide to place their child with a family. Yes, these children as young as 11 years-old sometimes become pregnant as a result of being violated. Most of all the shelter provides these children with a good place to live until they are old enough to fend for themselves. What I thought would be a "one & done" for me has become so much more. I have a connection to these children.
During our week there, we provide manual labor for the first four hours of each day at the shelter while there. This year I mixed and applied stucco to buildings. In previous years I’ve torn down adobe walls with a pick-ax, built irrigation systems and cleared brush with machetes. I worried before going the first year that I would not be getting my daily work out in. I was so wrong!
In the afternoon we spend time with the children. We play games with them, teach cooking and other life skills, do arts, crafts, plays, skits and play volleyball. In general, we have fun with them.
This year, on our last night, we planned a Quinceañera for them. This is the Hispanic equivalent of a Sweet Sixteen party but held at age 15 in Peru. Unfortunately for these girls, this is a party they would never have had, given their circumstances. The shelter acquired a donation of dresses for all 27 of the girls and they all came, some with smiles and others embarrassed a bit by their sparkle that evening. We presented them with gift bags, we enjoyed party snacks and danced with our little friends for the rest of the night.
This has become a passion of mine year-round. Recovering Hope Project raises funds for the shelter to staff a full-time onsite psychologist and an attorney to ensure the safety of the girls by prosecuting those who assaulted these children.
Each year I travel to the shelter I am filled with bittersweet emotions. I feel grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to help these adolescent girls in some small way and love my time with them. Many of us have formed long-lasting bonds with these children and look forward to our week or two in Peru to see them again. Most of all I have great empathy as they take one step each day towards recovering hope and I pray that they will see better days.