Sometimes finding volunteer work in another country can be a little challenging, especially when we don’t speak the local language all that well. However, at times our family stumbles upon ways to help in rather unusual places. This is how we came upon Living Heart Peru, and we’re so glad we did.
While looking for a place to eat during our family’s day up at Ollantaytambo we found the Hearts Cafe, a cute little place about a block off the square. As we took a table, we saw posters along the walls highlighting the work of Living Heart Peru, an organization serving the needs of women and children in the high Andes regions. It didn’t take long for us to connect with the organization and learn more about the challenges faced in rural communities and the ways Living Heart Peru and other organizations are working to address them.
Many Peruvians in the country’s rural areas live in extreme poverty, following lifestyles similar to their ancestors of a hundred years ago. No electricity, no indoor plumbing. They harvest small crops, raise livestock and barter for other goods they need. Despite the heavy influx of tourism dollars, Peru’s education expenditures are among the lowest in all of South America. Illiteracy rates in outlying communities can reach 40% and a third of children in the Southern Andes area never complete elementary school. The few government programs in place to address education and economic gaps are extremely limited in their effectiveness. Food distributions and medical supplies often wind up misdirected into the wrong hands and resold at local markets instead of helping the citizens they were intended for.
Living Heart Peru works to get resources into the right hands. Its goal is to improve the educational and health outcomes of young people in the high Andes region. It gives monetary and staffing assistance to schools, offers medical care to families, supplements food supplies and offers various types of parent training. The organization has established relationships with five schools and reaches out to individual families to provide specific supports as needed. Like many charities working to improve the lives of people in the rural villages, Living Heart Peru scrapes together donations and resources to do everything they can.
On the day we helped at Living Heart Peru the staff was helping Jose Antonio, a young boy born with severe cerebral palsy. Carrying Jose Antonio on her back everywhere she goes, his mother brings him in for therapy at the Living Heart office in Pasic, Peru on a regular basis.
Our girls helped with Jose Antonio’s play-based therapy session. Using some of the donations we’d brought to the organization, like playdough, they all played games directed at developing his fine motor skills. Rita, the therapist at Living Heart Peru, works with Jose Antonio and his mother regularly to improve his muscular tightness, overall coordination and social skills. Sophia, the local director, works to coordinate the services for schools and families and raise the money needed to continue the organization’s programs. The two women thought the presence of three little girls would give Jose Antonio a change of pace and a smile or two during his regular therapy session. And it certainly did.
The girls were thankful to Sophia and Rita for letting them be a part of Jose’s session. They learned a lot and got to know a great kid. Jose is a fighter and an inspiration. As is usually the case, volunteering gave us a lot more benefit than it did the organization we were working to help.