In March, Ty and I were blessed to travel with some of our Junior Huddle kids (and some Seniors from our church too) to Lima, Peru. Our church supports an orphanage there that has over 900 kids! I've been doing behind-the-scenes work for the orphanage for the last 3 or so years and was planning to go a few summers ago, when we were surprised by Tatum's pregnancy, so ended up not going after all. I was SO excited to finally be able to go serve and love on these kids who have been on my heart the last several years.
This is Miguel, who began the orphanage in his own home after the death of his son. He took in a few kids, who brought their friends, who brought their friends... and eventually had to move out of his home to the acreage where he is now. When he moved to the land, he was out in the middle of nowhere. Now he is surrounded by impoverished neighborhoods. Miguel and his kids have built all of the numerous buildings that are now on the property - several casas (dorms), a school, a medical clinic that services the neighborhood as well as the orphanage, workshops, dining hall, and chapel.
This is one of the bunk rooms in a casa. There were like 14 bunk beds in this tiny room!
This is the community closet in the casa. Everyone shares clothes and toys.
The orphanage sits on a hillside, so has two main thoroughfares running horizontally across the property. This is the upper sidewalk that gives access to the casas.
The kids on the see-saws at the orphanage. There is very little grass in Peru, so what you see is Astro-turf.
Each day we would gather in the chapel for worship - 900 kids packed into this room!
How do you get enough income to meet the needs of 900 orphans? Miguel has devised a plan to bring in money while also teaching usable skills to his kids. They have a workshop where they make furniture - beds, tables, chairs - and sell them.
They also have a sewing building where they make their own school uniforms. They have a contract with a name-brand clothing manufacturer to make the garments that they sell in the US. The orphanage also has a bakery where they bake bread for themselves and also sell to the community.
The building on the left is the dining hall. The green building on the right is the school. They are currently adding on to expand it. The school provides a quality education and was recently recognized by the Peruvian government. Miguel has opened up the school to some of the kids from the surrounding neighborhood. He currently has over 100 kids in University as well!
This is the "soccer field" just outside of the dining hall.
One of many gardens throughout the property. They grow their own vegetables (I think they eat very few) and have many beautiful flowering bushes around. I can't remember exactly, but their meals consist mostly of rice, beans and a protein. I think they get one milk a day and one fruit a day.
Another garden outside ABC casa.
Chickens provide eggs.
Obviously they hand wash their clothing and don't have a drier, so they hang their clothes on a line to dry. With over 900 people living there, clothes are always hanging out to dry.
Anyway, enough about the physical facility and on to the kids...!
Every morning we were greeted by many many hugs. What a great way to start the day! The kids came in droves to give us hugs, even on the first day when they didn't even know us. They were so glad we had come and were full of love to share.
Here is a precious baby in the baby casa. This poor kid has flies all over him, but that didn't keep him from sleeping soundly.
These are the youngest children eating their lunch.
My good friend Kellie is helping to feed one of the kids. I was so glad that she was able to go on this trip and I really enjoyed our long conversations on the way to and from the orphanage every day.
When we first arrived at La Comunidad, the boys were getting their hair cut outside the school by some volunteers. Miguel later joked that they were doing a bad job (they really were!), but that he couldn't turn away any help.
I was assigned to running a craft station. Each day the kids cycled through a craft, Bible story, Bible application, and game station. Here are the kids in the dining room making an angel craft on this particular day. They don't have access to art supplies on a regular basis, so really enjoyed this time each day.
On our 2nd day in Peru, my camera fell out of my camera bag and the lens shattered. Yikes! I only brought one lens because I reasoned I would be fine with one and didn't want to risk breaking the other one or getting it stolen. That ended up being a bad gamble. One of my tasks in Peru was to help take portraits of the 900+ orphans for sponsorship purposes, and so the kids could have a picture of themselves. I needed to get my lens replaced and quick. One of the interpreters was kind enough to take me around town and help negotiate for the cost of the lens. Thanks, Karina! I definitely needed her help because taxi drivers and even the guy at the Nikon store wanted to charge me more because I am a gringo. This is my first pic with my new lens - the salesman at the store.
Here are two of our fabulous huddle kids, Laurel and Zach with our Suzuki casa girls at the zoo.
And our whole group. I loved getting to know so many of these folks better!
Two of the days in Peru, we took the kids to the zoo. The first day we took the girls. They were interested in the animals, but really wanted me to take pictures of them and their friends the ENTIRE day. Apparently, about 16 or so girls didn't make it back to the buses at the end of the day and made a bus wait 3 hours for them. Needless to say, the boys were in ship shape the next day when it was their turn!
Here are some sweet girls I connected with.
And some more. Love my Suzuki girls!
The next day, the boys mainly wanted me to take pictures of the animals. It's funny how different they were from the girls.
This is Abraham and Uriel, two little boys who held my hands the entire day at the zoo. I was happy to be able to escort them that day.
Even though we were all hot, sweaty and tired at the zoo, two little guys clung on to Ty and he was so great to carry them for a little while.
Here is our fearless leader, Cyndy. She is such a role model to me in so many ways. Most of all I love how she heard of the need to help these kids and has really grown the support of our church to feed the kids and provide quality weeks of VBS type activities for the Peruvians. I am trying to be like Cyndy and really inquire and listen and ultimately respond when God shows me the people He has in mind for me to serve.
Here I am with my buds again. On the day we left, Abraham gave me a bracelet he had made in Bible reflection. He told me it was the colors of Peru and asked me to always keep him in my heart. I wish that I was better able to communicate with him that I will never forget him and let him know how precious he is to God as well - he will never be alone.
Ty was assigned to the oldest boys casa. Here he is with a few of the guys.
We had a dozen or so translators that accompanied us to the orphanage each day. This was invaluable to me as it had been over 15 years since I had taken Spanish in school. Ty seemed to do just fine and enjoyed practicing his linguistics. Anyway, one of the translators, Franco, loved sharing with us about the Peruvian culture on our bus rides. As our friendship with him formed, he could see something different in our lives and began inquiring as to what that was. Christian shared with him about Jesus and Franco was baptized the next day. I know it was hard for Franco to accept Christ as his Savior, then for us to leave the next day. We did connect him with some American missionaries before we left, but I know it's still a challenge for him to figure out how to live out his new faith. Please keep him in your prayers as he grows and faces challenges in Lima.
The last day at La Comunidad we celebrated with a fiesta! They have their own award-winning band that had just returned from a performance in Spain.
We danced and danced and had so much fun.
I love this picture. If you look closely, you can see Miguel in the top right window. He's on the phone looking down over all of his kids at the fiesta. To me, this mirrors God's love for us. He may be busy taking care of business elsewhere, but he is still watching over us all the time and takes great delight in us!
The girls loved dancing with Ty :)
At the end of the fiesta, the kids lined up from the front gate through the orphanage. We then had to walk the "gauntlet" to our awaiting bus. It was so great to get to say goodbye to each and every one of the kids and hug on their necks, but definitely difficult to know that we wouldn't be seeing them again anytime soon. The kids kept asking us if we were coming back in July or next year and it was hard to not be able to say yes. I felt like one more person who has run out on their lives. The hardest part of the goodbyes was when Abraham hung on my neck, crying, not wanting me to go. In that moment I too burst into tears, wanting so badly to remain. By week's end, I was longing to go home to my own children, but I hurt so badly for these kids that did nothing to deserve their orphan status. These are some great kids who deserve the same love and opportunities as my own children!
Fortunately, these kids aren't truly abandoned. Miguel has created a rich life for them. They have 3 meals a day, a roof over their heads, clean clothes to wear, they are learning marketable skills and have an exceptional school to attend. This is more than they had prior to coming to La Comunidad. Miguel considers each of them as his own and has really created a loving family environment.
A typical street near the orphanage. The buildings all look like they are (or should be) abandoned. But never fear, these are all occupied homes and businesses. Due to the poverty in Peru, 80% of the kids have been left at the orphanage because their biological parents can't afford to feed and clothe them. Domestic violence is also a huge problem in this country causing children to flee their homes. Because they still have a living parent(s), some of them are able to see their families from time to time. There is a lot of hurt in some of the kids because they have been abandoned while other siblings have remained at home.
Peru is a country with a widening social/economic gap. There are still hundreds of thousands of people with no running water or electricity. Here is a woman standing by the side of the road with a huge lot of trash behind her. I think she's waiting for a bus. But, could you imagine just standing next to all this trash every day at your bus stop? I'm not really sure how they collect garbage, but we did see dump trucks dumping trash into the ocean one day. Peru seems to have come so far in some areas, but I guess they still have a long way to go in others.
This is a picture of what I will remember the Peruvian countryside to look like. We drove this route on the way to the orphanage. The city was nice and right on the cliffs to the ocean, but once we got outside the city, this is what you could see for miles and miles - a mountain range dotted with low-income communities.
I'm so glad we had the opportunity to go on this mission trip. It was great to spend time with the kids at La Comunidad and love on them. It was also nice to see the orphanage, have a better idea of what is going on there, and get to listen to Miguel show us around his home. It was fun to spend a week serving others with my husband, our huddle kids and our church family. But most of all, it was refreshing to draw near to the heart of God and see the world a little bit more through His eyes than I normally make time for when I'm at home.
James 1:27 - Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.