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Summer 2009 Trip Log

Day 1

Hola famila y amigos (hello family and friends), 

I do not know how often I will be writing, but I will try to write at least every 5 days. I arrived at the children's hospital, El Hogar, at 1:30 monday morning. While I was fortunate enough to watch a documentary on El Hogar, nothing could fully prepare me for the condition of the city. As I whizzed though every nook and cranny in Lima at 60 mph (traffic laws are just a suggestion here), I was surrounded by shanty homes, trash, graffiti and brokenness. Even some of the nice areas are worse than Tampa´s worst neighborhoods. All I could think was that the conditions in Lima are the same for most people in the world-America is the exception to most standards of living. This has made me feel all the more thankful and blessed to be living in a country like America. 

After getting about 3 hours of sleep, I woke up to my first day in El Hogar, and boy did this day feel like a year! While I am having a blast practicing my Spanish, not being able to communicate with others is very difficult and at time a little scary (such as at the airport when I thought I missed going through customs!). However, I think my Spanish has greatly improved now that I am forced to rely on it. 

Currently, I am the only volunteer staying in El Hogar. But, there are several other volunteers, one from Ireland and a school group from Indiana, who are living in hostels. They, as well people within the community, come in shifts to help. The children are wonderful, although they do still act like children at times and don´t listen. I have spend a lot of time just giving hugs and playing with them. Right now, I am still learning the ropes, but in future updates I will write more specifics about the children and my time. 


Days 2-5

Greetings again! 

Well, I think I have adjusted to life in El Hogar. Everyday, I wake up about 6:30 and go down stairs from the 3rd floor. There, I am bombarded with hugs, kisses and "buenas dias" ("good morning") by about 10 of the youngest children. If anyone ever needs to feel loved and needed, all they have to do is spend one day in El Hogar. The children light up when anyone pays attention to them. At 7:00, I help the children with their breakfast and help get them ready for school. Most of the children go to local schools, but some go to a school set up in El Hogar. For the rest of the day, I help wherever I am needed, whether it is physical theraphy, reading with the children, watching the babies in the garden, going to the park, helping with homework or washing dishes. At 4:00 sharp, all the volunteers leave El Hogar for coffee break with Dr. Tony. This is a time when the volunteers get to talk to Dr. Tony and get away from the kids. The day usually winds down about 8:00 when the entire Hogar gathers in the living room for music and prayer. I usually get back to my room between 9-9:30, where I read and then go to sleep. 

It is a lot of work, but Dr.Tony keeps a tight schedule, so it is easy to find time for a break. There is an Internet Cafe about a 4 minute walk from El Hogar. It costs 25 cents to use the Internet and 35 cents to call the U.S. for 10 minutes! The town I am in, Chaclacayo, is much safer than Lima. It is a more wealthy area and is primarily residential. The town does a nice job of keeping the streets clean, but this part of Peru is very dusty and dirty. There is a permanent haze in the air from all the dirt. Chaclacayo is right at the base of the Andes. But here the Andes just look like a giant pile of dirt, kind of like what you see at construction sites, only super sized. 

I am really enjoying my time here and love the children. Tomorrow, I am going into Lima with some of the children for doctor´s appointments, so I should have some interesting stories for the next update. 


Days 6 & 7

Hola, 

So, everything finally caught up with me. Between the food, water, traveling, and living with 50 sick children, I got sick. Unfortunately, I missed going into Lima on Friday and I got to spend the whole day in my room with the flu. I don´t remember the last time I was that sick. Thankfully, it only lasted about a day and I feel much better now. 

Saturday, was cleaning and market day. One thing I have learned in my time here, is that nothing goes to waste. The mops, for example,are made of a broom and old clothes with a hole in it. You place the broom handle through the hole in the clothes, the clothes hang over the end of the broom and viola, you have a mop! On Saturday, I also got to go to a near by market with Dr.Tony. It was really neat, but I think an American health inspector would have a heart attack. Everything, including meat, was out in the open and there were dogs all over the place, I even saw a dead rat laying around. But, Dr. Tony knows which stands are good and the mamitas (the cooks) clean the food very well. I enjoyed seeing all the things that normally happen behind the scenes in American supermarkets. Such as seeing eggs developing inside a chicken (did you know they are orange?). 

The food here is pretty good, so far I have enjoyed everything. Usually, there is soup (sopa), salad (ensalada), rice (arroz) and some form of beans (frijoles). We also have some sort of meat for one of the meal´s; either chicken (pollo), fish (pescado) or beef (bistec). On special occasions, we will have chocolate or ice cream (helado). Saturday is also the day the children go to mass. Although I couldn't understand most of what the Priest was saying, it was still enjoyable. Especially, when everyone sang. 

Hopefully, this week I will get to travel to Lima. Feel free to ask me any questions, I am able to check my use the Internet nearly everyday. ¡Adios for now! 


Days 8-10

Hola, 

Now that I have a hang of the schedule, the days seem to blur together. I some ways it feels I have just arrived, but in others if feels like it´s been a month. I think most of the kids have gotten used to me and now know my name. Currently, there are about 45 kids in the house, 8 of which are babies. A lot of the children are here because of burns. Many live in poorly build homes made of wood or mud without electricity , so they must use candles. As a result, fires are a commonality. But, the saddest part is that many times they not only lose their homes, but family members as well. There is an 8 year old boy, Luis, who lost his sister and whose entire body was burned when someone set fire to his house. He is so sweet and has sort of become my little buddy. He likes for me to read to him and to just be held. There is also a brother and a sister with burns who also lost a sibling. 

However, despite what they are going through, the kids are amazingly resilient. Few ever cry out of pain or discomfort. Instead, the house is usually filled with laughter and happy, playing children. They make the best out of what many would call a depressing situation, always helping each other along the way. For example, one little boy with only one good leg will help another who can´t use either of his legs into his wheelchair. The children do not let their disabilities limit their happiness or participation. One of the happiest boys in the house is confound to only his bed or the couch because of a recent operation for his cerebral palsy. While many of the kids futures are uncertain, there is always a ray of hope and happiness in El Hogar. And, I think it is this ray that brings people back and makes a special place in the hearts of everyone who is blessed enough to spend time in El Hogar. It is only half way through my stay, but I know this place has certainly changed me and will always be special. 

Hopefully, I will get to go to Lima this week. I am scheduled to go Thursday and Friday. 

Until then, adios! 

Days 11-13

Hola, 

I finally got to go to Lima on Friday! And boy, was it the ride of my life. When the children go into Lima for doctors appointments, they are transported via bus by one staff member and at least one volunteer. However, buses in Peru are completely different than in America. The bus stops are not very distinct and getting one to stop is more like flagging down a taxi. The buses are privately owned, so they compete against all the other buses for business. Each has a driver and a door person, but the door person acts more like a sales person trying to coerce you into riding their bus. Once you get the bus to stop, getting on is a whole other task, because they start driving away before you can completely get on (now try doing that with a baby in your arms). After you finally make it to a seat, all you can do is pray. Peruvian driving is horrible. It´s a high speed race to see who can fit through the smallest spaces in traffic. There were several times when I could have easily shaken hands with the people in the vehicle next to me. I even got a little motion sick for part of the ride. 

It took about two hours and one bus transfer to finally get to the children´s hospital. In that time, I saw some of the best and worst of Lima. One area was horrible. There were piles of trash everywhere that were either on fire or had people digging through it. Every inch of space was consumed by shacks and shanty homes. In fact, when we first pulled into this area of town, I thought I saw trees on the side of the mountain. However, when the haze and mist cleared, I realized that it was rows and rows of shack homes stacked along the entire face of the mountain. I don´t think I have ever seen something that depressing in my entire life. It is one thing to see people living like that on TV, but when it´s right in front of you, it is difficult to ignore or forget. 

When I finally arrived at the children´s hospital, my job was to take one of the babies (actually she is 6 years old, but she is the size of a 3 year old. Her name is Valaria. Her twin, Brigett, came as well) to have her blood drawn This was one of the most difficult things I have done since arriving at El Hogar. I had to physically restrain Valaria´s entire body during the procedure. But the hardest part is the fact that Valaria is deaf and blind, so she had no idea what was happening and I could not comfort her because I was busy keeping her still. 

The total duration of the trip was about 6 hours. When I arrived back at El Hogar, we had a Father´s Day celebration for Dr. Tony. At that time, I thought all of the excitement for the day was over. However, I got another shot of adrenaline when I took a bus to return some party costumes to a market in the next town. Another volunteer and I were accompanied by the Hogar´s in home teacher. But on the return trip (by the way, it was now night), we were put on a random bus and told to find our way back! On top of that, the other volunteer had just arrived the day before and could not speak any Spanish, so getting us back was completely on me. Thankfully, my Spanish has greatly improved and I can now have a conversation with others. I got us back and met a couple of really neat people along the way. 

Now that there are a couple more volunteers in El Hogar, I have been able to experience more of the Peruvian culture. On Saturday, three of us went to a local restaurant and I tried Cuy, which is a traditional Peruvian dish made with Guinea Pig. It sounds horrible, but I couldn´t come to Peru without trying it once (it tasted like chicken). 

This will probably be my last update while I am in Peru (I leave Wednesday). I plan to send one last overview and include a couple of pictures when I return home. 

¡Hasta la proxima! (see you soon!) 



Final Days and After Thoughts

Hola, 

I have finally settled in and caught up from my trip. The last several days of my stay went well and I was even able to do a little sight seeing! The Tuesday before I left, I tagged along with a missionary named Terri on her trip to Lima. There, I saw a Convent started by Mother Teresa, ate at the Central Square of Lima, and did a little souvenir shopping. The convent, Hogar de la Paz (Home of Peace), was in the same horrible area of town I wrote about in my last letter about my bus ride to Lima. The streets were filthy and it smelled of rotting waste, I even saw people urinating on the side of the road. The inside of the convent, however, was a drastic contrast to the neighborhood around it. The first thing one sees when they enter is a beautiful garden filled with flowers, trees, singing birds and statues of the Virgin Mary, Jesus and Mother Teresa. It had an odd way of drowning out all of the chaos happening around outside of the convent. I spend about an hour walking around and meeting patients. This convent only served young boys and men and most of them had intellectual disabilities. After leaving the convent, I had lunch at Club de la Union in Central Lima. Until 50 years ago Club de la Union only served politicians and international delegates and until 10 years ago, women were not even allowed to enter the building! After lunch, I walked around the main square and saw the Cathedral of Lima and the President's residence. It was nice to see the historical part of Lima and was a great end to my trip.

Since returning home, I have definitely gained much more appreciation for my life in America (especially being able to flush toilet paper down the toilet). There are many small luxuries we have that I had never thought of as a luxury. Such as having toilet paper in public bathrooms, or public drinking fountains (I was very surprised to learn that the Lima airport did not have a water fountain) or being able to take a hot shower any time of the day. These things seem small and are easily taken for granted until they are not there. Although some days were very difficult, I enjoyed my trip and hope to return. I learned a lot about myself and this has re-enforced my desire to help others in the future. During my trip, the missionary, Terri, and another volunteer who is a doctor and is currently completing seminary, inspired me. I am now planning to double major in Microbiology and Religious Studies. I am not entirely sure what it is exactly that I want to do, maybe a medical missionary. I am still very interested in medicine and know that whatever I do it will involve helping others and spreading God's love. 

Thank you for your support and many prayers during my trip. I think it is absolutely amazing that a person can wake up in one country and go to sleep 2,000 miles away on a completely different continent. I feel so blessed to have been born at a time where I can meet other people and experience the world with such ease.
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