Column 14. Again, I've plagiarised my blog a little. Because I can.
A young man named Jose was the catalyst.
His father abandoned the family in shame when Jose was born with Down’s Syndrome – a condition considered a curse in their native Peru.
When Jose mum died years later, his auntie took him in, but it was hardly an act of kindness.
Jose lived out the back of his auntie’s modest house and he lived like an animal. His bed was nothing more than the cold hard ground and a blanket, set behind a chicken coop, among hens, pigs, mud and animal waste.
At night, Jose’s auntie would chain him up and feed him alcohol to silence his sobs.
Australian tourist Jane Gavel was a volunteer at Jose’s school and, after walking him home one day, was witness to his dire living conditions. It brought her to tears. Admirably, it also brought her to a life-changing decision, a decision not to walk away.
With the help of her Peruvian boyfriend, Selvy Ugaz, Jane had Jose out of his auntie’s place and in his own home within. He now has a paid job looking after animals at a local school and is living like a human being.
Jose was just the start of something special. In 2003, Jane and Selvy founded Peru’s Challenge - a not-for-profit organisation which works with volunteers to help improve the education and hygiene standards of children in poverty-stricken areas of Peru.
The small primary school in Pumamarca is the organisation’s third and current project.
When Peru’s Challenge moved in, there were eight students, one teacher and one classroom. Now there are 150 students, including 40 in kindergarten, eight teachers, six classrooms and a principal’s office. The list of facilities Peru’s Challenge has introduced, from running water and toilets to playground equipment and a kitchen, is endless.
This month, I will be working at Pumamarca to help extend that list even further. The ultimate goal is to build sustainable communities. I’ve been here a week now and it’s already been a grounding experience. This, in no small part, can be attributed to the gorgeous students of Pumamarca.
The five hours these kids spend at school are the happiest and most carefree of their days. There is no sign of the dire conditions which await them at home. They laugh, they play, they learn and they adore it.
It’s quite inspiring, but it’s also confronting. The difficulties facing Pumamarca residents put mine to shame, yet I, and so many people, wouldn’t come close to matching their smile count. At least it’s contagious.
Maybe one month here will help me worry less about being 27 and single, about the argument I had with my best friend, about the additional three kilos I have found this year. Pft. Who am I kidding? To the gym, fatty.