Sunday, November 13, 2005

April 2005 Trip




May 2005

Dear Friends of the Becky Fund,

I have just returned from Peru and wanted to update you on what was accomplished on this second trip. I was fortunate to be accompanied by Amy Mahowald, my stepdaughter from St. Paul, Christina and Ross, my sister and her husband from New Zealand, and an old friend from many Habitat for Humanity builds, Ann, and her daughter, Marie from Boston. We were an energetic and efficient team!

This year we provided individual school supplies to over 3000 children and teacher materials to almost 60 schools. Our format is for each child to get a plastic bag and then go through our “assembly line”. They receive notebooks, pencils, eraser, sharpener, ruler, colored pencils and bread. From the looks on their faces you would think we were giving a trip to Disneyland. They are incredulous that they have something of their very own. The school receives a box of materials, including several kinds of paper, masking tape, glue, scissors, markers, pens dictionary, story books, puzzles, tempera paint, etc. These basic items are all the schools have to work with, and usually the teachers must purchase them from their meager salaries of a few hundred dollars a month. The big hit though is the volley and soccer balls that we give to each school; it is the only thing that they have to play with.

This year we were able to get to some schools that are very remote (sometimes by pushing the van through mud holes, clearing rocks, etc.). Several of these are located where there are no roads. The children, teachers and some of the parents would walk several hours to meet us at the end of the road. It was such a moving sight to see a village coming down out of the mountains, often with a horse to carry the things back. That is certainly indicative of how much they value the help that we bring them. One village that came down became separated and we had to wait for them all to arrive. We had some balloons so we started playing with the children. They were reluctant at first to join in, or maybe they didn’t know what we were doing, but they soon got into it with great glee. I heard real belly laughs for the first time from these children. The look on the mothers’ faces as they watched their children laugh and play was worth the whole trip.

Another day we traveled 3 hours to a town up the mountain. Along the way the driver of our van would honk his horn and kids would come running up the mountain from their homes. He would tell them in Quechuan, the indigenous language, that we would be back in a couple of hours and they should get the village together to meet us. When we arrived at our first rendezvous the village was there to meet us, all dressed in their indigenous clothing. The president of the parents association opened his cloth pack he carried on his back.his wife had sent lunch, Guinea pigs and potatoes. When we got back to the town we met a teacher who apologized that her school had not been able to walk down, as the 5 hour trip was too much for her 3-5 year olds. She told us that the walk up is 7 hours, (after the three hour bus ride) which she does with her 1-year-old child on her back. We were happy to leave the materials with her, which the parents would take back on horseback. Amy and I were so moved by this woman’s dedication that we both gave her our shoes. On the return trip they were waiting for us along the way, pouring up, or down, the mountainside. We stopped and gave out school materials, clothes and bread. It was amazing.

At one of the schools the mothers wanted to cook a meal for us in appreciation for our help. We came back the next day after our work for the party. They were cooking in a kitchen with a dirt floor over an open fire. We were seated in the tiny nursery school size chairs and served a beautiful meal of stuffed peppers, potatoes, rice beet salad, and the dreaded Inca Cola. They had a local musician playing the Andean harp, his brother sang, and later we all danced in the dark because they have no electricity. Again, it is so humbling to have people who have so little share the best of what they have.

Maybe the most exciting accomplishment this year was the establishment of the “guinea pig project”. I had been very concerned about the lack of good nutrition for the children, which contributes to their delayed mental and physical development. I had thought that having the schools raise chickens would be a good solution to this problem. After a long discussion with many teachers and other local people it was decided that that idea was a bad one. But, what did make sense was to do the same thing with guinea pigs. They are considered a delicacy, food is plentiful and free, the people know how to raise them, and they are extremely high in protein. A plan was presented to the schools that if the parents and teachers would construct the habitat we would provide the animals. We took precautions to ensure that this would belong to the children and the schools, the mothers or the teachers would commit to make a meal for the children, and this would be an on-going resource. When we left there were 6 schools that were ready to go, and money was left for other schools that wished to participate. It is likely that several other nursery schools will join the project, which is particularly beneficial if better nutrition can be provided at a younger age.

Of course, all the schools want to know when we are coming back! The only thing I am able to tell them is that if we have money we will return. All the things we did this year, and there are many I haven’t mentioned, was done with only $7000. So, the future is up to you all, and your continued generosity. We are all plotting and scheming to figure out other ways to make money, such as adventure travel groups to the area that would include a donation to the Becky Fund, and building a school, etc. as part of the trip. If you have ideas, please pass them on. A big, huge thank-you to all of your for your love and support that made all this happen and brought some big smiles to some very poor children!!!

Dinny

2 comments:

Xtina said...

Alex,
Looks fantastic!!!!!
We are getting ready for next year. Doesn't seem possible that it is only 4 months away.
Chris and Ross

Aims said...

Alex,
Great Job. I think the site looks wonderful. What a GREAT PHOTOGRAPHER :)
Brings me back to those bus rides on the edge of the mountains.
Amy