Vamos a la playa!
Ah yes…the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Finally, we get to meet the kids. I thought I’d better get this post out soon as since I’m consistently getting e-mails that say “I can’t wait to hear about the orphanage.”, “What’s the orphanage like?” and “How are the kids?”. So here we are…everything you ever wanted to know about the Hogar de Luz Alba.
For starters, here’s a picture:
Yep, just a normal house in a residential neighborhood here in Arequipa named Alto Selva Alegre (upper Happy Jungle). The orphanage exists entirely on donations and volunteers…in fact, the four women who live there permanently are all unpaid volunteers. I’m not really sure how that works…I guess if your room and board is paid for you may have little need for other money? The house itself was donated and consists of space for 4 babies in cribs and 14 beds for older kids. I’m not sure what age ranges they accept but our current age range is 4 months old (they got him as a newborn) up to 9 years old. When I first started volunteering there were only 12 kids but now we’re up to 15. So let’s meet them, shall we?
Mauricio, age 2
Jhon, age 2
Jose, age 6 with Jhon
Eydan, age 1.5 and Josep, age 5
Claudia, age 9
Yenifer, age 9 (on her birthday!)
Beatriz, age 8 with Marisol in background
Rosa, age 4
Jhonekerr, age 5
Carlos, age 5
Marisol, age 8
Julio, age 2
Yazmin, age 7 months
Emerson, age 4 months
Eydan, age 1.5
The four women who live permanently in the orphanage consist of Lillian (the director), Sonya, Eugenia and Gladys. The 3 women aside from Lillian rotate major responsibilities every month…the three areas are: babies, niños and cooking. Lillian runs the show and the volunteers such as myself pitch in wherever needed. Usually, a 4 to 5 hour shift for a volunteer includes some time with the older kids, some time with the babies, ironing and washing dishes. Normally there are 1-2 volunteers in the morning and 1-2 volunteers in the afternoon though the week between Christmas and New Year’s I was the only volunteer all day so was staying from 9 until 3 every day. I’m sure you can imagine how nice it is to have more hands around to help out.
From left: Eugenia, Yenifer, Lillian, Gladys (hiding in back), Sonya and Carlos (a very frequent Peruvian volunteer)
Just after New Year’s, Lillian rustled up enough money to take the kids on a day long out to the beach at Molliendo which is about 2 hours from Arequipa by car. Wrangling kids near the strong Pacific currents is a daunting task so she asked me if I’d be willing to come along. I was happy to oblige though started to reconsider once she told me that we had to leave at 4 am. Why would we need to leave at such a ridiculous hour, you might be wondering? Well, just to give you an idea of how things are done here in Peru…we had to leave at 4 am to avoid the police checkpoints on the highways because our van driver did not have authorization to drive his vehicle outside the city limits of Arequipa. Seriously.
Fun en la piscina!
But, we made it and the kids had a blast. I was put in charge of the 3 two year-olds which is pretty much a full-time job as you might imagine. I only nearly lost one of them…Julio…when he took off down the beach chasing a guy selling churros. I was already holding a sleeping 2 year-old (Jhon) who screamed every time we tried to lay him on a blanket. Not surprisingly it took me a minute to get up and by the time I went looking for Julio…he was gone. Heart attack city let me tell you…fortunately a woman from Bolivia I had been chatting with earlier knew he was with me and saw him take off down the beach.
Gladys and kids
So off I go running…running…carrying a sleeping baby in one arm and chasing after another who acted like he hadn’t been fed in his entire life (we had just had a snack). I finally got to him, picked him up and trudged back carrying both of them. I’m sure I was quite the spectacle on the beach…tall, blond, pale gringa toting two Peruvian toddlers. I’m happy to report, however, that we all made it back in the proper number of pieces and the kids had a great time…they’re still talking about it over a week later. I’ve included some pictures here…I wish there were more but frankly I was a little tied up with the “triplets.”
Yenifer and Julio
By and large the kids at the orphanage are well-supplied and well taken care of. Occasionally the volunteers and the ladies at the orphanage disagree on how things should be done which is largely a function of some cultural differences. Obviously, we do whatever they say we should do but sometimes they care about stuff we don’t and we care about stuff they don’t. Probably the thing that drives us all the most insane is their insistence upon wrapping the babies in about a hundred layers. Now, as we learned in Peru 8…Arequipa is in a desert so only really gets cold at night. During the day there is little need for 3 layers of clothing plus a blanket. In fact, the babies are usually so hot and sweaty that we just want to undress them. Sweaty people make for chilled people…but that fact is lost here in Peru so we just roll with it.
Feliz cumpleaños Yenifer!
Aside from the beach outing we do get to take the kids on other outings sometimes. When we have enough volunteers (and for whatever reason, Lillian specifically requires at least one man) we can take them to a nearby park and usually once a month Jay and Luis organize a bigger outing on a Saturday to one of the larger Arequipa parks. They also do proper birthday parties for the kids too…as you can see in the pictures. This one is for Yenifer who turned 9 last week…all the kids get dressed up and she gets cake and a present and a grand entrance. It was really nice and really fun.
More birthday fun…
How the orphanage acquires the children is somewhat of a mystery to me. Some of the kids have parents who visit or are at least somewhat involved in their lives (though I haven’t seen a parent yet). Some get taken (or voluntarily surrendered) because their parents can’t (or won’t) take care of them. Some parents are on drugs…some are abusive. I know some of the kids’ stories…Rosa and Julio were pulled from their home after I arrived for abuse by their parents. Emerson was abandoned at the hospital by his 15 year-old mother. We have several sibling groups: Jose and Jhon, Josep and Mauricio, Rosa and Julio, Beatriz and Carlos. Claudia is actually not an “orphan”…her mom is Sonya…one of the live-in volunteers…it sounds like they had a bad situation at home which is how Sonya and Claudia came to Luz Alba.
Jhon, Jacqueline (volunteer from Australia) and Stacey
And that pretty much sums it up for now. Hopefully I’ll get some more pictures of the kids before I go so these won’t be the last that you see. Coming soon…lots of interesting stuff from Puno and Lake Titicaca. Type to later!
Tags: 9 - Peru, Arequipa, orphanage, Peru, volunteer