Thursday, May 17, 2012

2012 Trip Report

It was a lucky find stumbling across The Becky Fund blog through a series of links and after being thoroughly inspired by the life of Becky and the work being done in her memory I contacted Dinny and was sold. I met the group for the 2012 project in Cuzco- Alex and his wife Angela from Alaska and their kids Sophie and Elena, plus some other first-timers like me; the Bower family from New Mexico; Kristi, Max and their little ones Aly and Jack. And Dinny; in whom I saw from the first day the determination and compassion for which Becky was so admired. I was a little apprehensive on that first day; having traveled solo through Peru for 3 weeks I knew it would be a real change of scene, but it turned out to be one of my most rewarding experiences.
We spent the first day rounding up goods for the trip to The Sacred Valley and that’s when it first struck me that this was a serious operation. The vast quantity of books and stationary we were stacking and their numbers on paper made me instantly connect these materials to real people’s donations and I felt a sudden sense of responsibility to those donors.

The 2 weeks that followed were a whirlwind of long winding roads at often hair-raising heights (remember Kristi; if you don’t look it’s not really happening!) interspersed with visits to many schools in some of the most remote and impoverished areas I have seen, where the magic of The Becky Fund really became apparent. Through a million memorable moments, those that stick hard in my mind are the first sight of the children knowing our presence on the hills above their schools. They ran like their lives depended on it; in the thin, high air I was astounded and wanted to shout 'stop, we're not going anywhere!' Their beautifully garish traditional clothes running over the mountains contrasted their often harrowingly poor physical conditions. Many children wore clothes totally inadequate for the harsh cold climate; all wore ill-fitting leather sandals exposing cracked and infected feet. At the smaller schools we were able to distribute what clothes we had, giving every child a piece. Most memorable of all were the grins on their faces when they keenly accepted gifts of notebooks and pencils handed out enthusiastically by the kids in our group. It was heart-warming to see connections being made between the children from the Becky Fund and the kids from the schools despite their differences; as time passed Sophie, Elena, Aly and Jack were quick to deal out toys, stickers, hair accessories and giggles.

Of course there were some obligatory bust-ups. A broken down minibus on the one of the first days spelled trouble, but riding in the back on the open topped truck with everyone perched on boxes of pencils was a certain bonding experience. Potentially rabid dogs and sticker riots aside, the general running of the show was smooth, thanks largely to the unwavering kindness of our Peruvian hosts whose input was invaluable.

One of the most powerful reflections of the communities need for donations was the number of unannounced guests who graced the steps of our Calca home every evening. Each greeted Dinny like their beloved and accepted rolls of papers, soccer balls and pencils with hearty smiles and sincere hugs. It struck me that many of these teachers had come from far, walking for hours as they do to their schools every day. It’s impossible to make comparisons between our own social and professional norms and those in a less developed country, but I would be surprised if I found British teachers rushing up Mount Snowdon for gifts for their pupils. Their gratefulness was humbling. 
At the end of our Peruvian venture we had reached over 4000 children and 300 teachers, a great achievement. A number of schools received special assistance by means of specifically requested items including a propane tank, cook top, a mini-pharmacy, cooking utensils, bowls, cups, spoons, and sheets for a local hospital.

It’s too easy to leave such vivid sights like those children in poverty and return to our own lives of comfort, but it’s not without a sense of guilt that I do so. I always think and often say that if fate had chosen so I could well have been one of those children and be in that life now, as we all could be. So though we may not all have the opportunity to see in real life the grateful faces of those touched by these 2 weeks of distributions, I hope this reflection of my experience might portray the significance of these small acts of kindness and the appreciation of the children who benefited from them. I sincerely hope that kind donations will continue to allow The Becky Fund trips to keep bringing smiles to the faces (and socks to the feet!) of these children and eventually to the thousands beyond them who may one day be reached.
                                                         Katherine Allen