Last year Don Morrison wrote about our plans for improving digital literacy at Hogar Belen. Now, we are ready to give an update on the incredible progress we are making thanks to the gracious donations we have received from you, our supporters. Let’s look into how things are shaping up and get an in-depth look at the program in Peru.
About a year ago, through a mutual connection at Microsoft, Don Morrison and Sally Frank started sharing their experiences working on different volunteer initiatives in Peru. Don had worked with Sacred Valley Health helping them modernize their health care delivery systems and medical records, and Sally had worked at the Hogar Belen Orphanage in Moquegua helping upgrade the children’s living quarters. After comparing notes, the two decided they wanted to work together on something new: a digital literacy program at Hogar.
The duo brought the idea to Neale Bayly, who liked the idea immediately. The three then started the work to organize, plan and develop a digital literacy program.
In August 2017, Don and Neale traveled to Hogar Belen to meet with the nuns who run the orphanage to investigate just how to establish a digital literacy program. Their findings? It wouldn’t be easy, but not impossible either.
The feasibility study, authored by Don, detailed all that was needed to establish the program. We would need funds, laptops, software, curriculums for both adults and children, high speed internet connectivity and, most importantly, a Spanish-speaking trainer.
The resulting plan meant that we would have to build an on-site computer lab at the orphanage and train adults to train other adults and children. All of this in a location where just a year ago, the electrical system at Hogar Belen had been dangerously out of date and had only recently been modernized. In fact, as late as 2015, they had no running water, so a computer lab was a heady goal, indeed.
But why go to all this trouble to bring the latest technology to a hot, dusty, dry, desert orphanage? Because we can and we should. This computer lab will enable both adults and children to develop new skills, improve their employability, and spark careers paths that were previously unthinkable for adults and new educational paths for children. Those that were forgotten by society can now lead society.
The Reality of Digital Literacy
So, with a lot of tenacity, the Sisters joined forces with Don, Neale and Sally and the amazing team at BS Grupo, a Microsoft partner, based in Arequipa. We now had a common goal: to get the digital literacy program up and running in April 2018.
The first step was to provide Sisters Fabiola, Maria and Josefina with a laptop of their own and establish an Internet connection for the orphanage. The former was definitely easier than the latter. But the Wellspring team was undeterred.
Then the team at BS Grupo, Oscar Quintanilla and Jose Paz Alverez, began their work, modifying existing training curriculum to meet the unique needs of our prospective students. Donating literally hundreds of hours of time, Oscar and Jose Paz developed and delivered the curriculum to our eager students. Taking time away from their work and family, they performed this invaluable service professionally and graciously.
After arriving in Peru and completing his regular tour duties with Neale Bayly Rides, Neale purchased 5 computers for the lab. Shortly thereafter, this virtual team who had been working together for almost a year, finally met in person in Arequipa, and caravanned to Moquegua to kick off the program.
Arriving at Hogar Belen on Sunday evening, the team quickly set up the computers, loaded software and got the laptops connected to the Internet. All was ready for the 5 adult trainees at 9am sharp Monday morning.
And now the program is off and running, with 5 identified adult trainers and a handful of children for the first classes. The only real glitch was the internet speed. So, in typical fashion, Neale and Sister Fabiola solved the problem by 10:30am that Monday morning and now all the computers can be online simultaneously at reasonable speeds.
But we’re not done yet…
You’d think after all the wrangling this project took, we’d be pleased and call it a day, right?
This is just the beginning.
As we refine this digital literacy program, we hope to build a “Center of Excellence,” that not only serves as a blueprint for bringing this program to other orphanages, but becomes a community resource, offering computer literacy for anyone who needs it, on a “pay as you can” basis.
Using this approach, our trained adults can train others and get some payment in return, while infusing the community with well-trained, employable people. Additionally, this revenue stream could assist with some of the ongoing costs of the internet, software and other items.
We are also planning to provide accessibility options for differently-abled children and adults in the near future to open up their lives with the aid of technology.
How can you help?
There are still significant needs, but we can’t do it without you. If you want to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate, you can help in three ways:
- Support the Renovation of the Computer Lab – Make a one-time donation to help us renovate the computer lab. It’s currently not air conditioned and lacks appropriate security and furniture.
- Defray the On-going Costs of Running the Computer Lab – Consider a monthly donation to reduce the monthly costs of the computer lab in Moquegua and help us continue to refine and expand the program.
- Participate in the Program – Join us in bringing technology to those who need it most, by traveling to these sites yourself or underwriting the cost of other volunteers traveling to the program sites to continue the work.
Late last year Wellspring announced its plans to expand its reach to Matuu, Kenya. Our volunteers, along with the help of Sister Jiovanna, and your donations will be able to change the lives of these disabled children who otherwise would have nowhere else to turn to. As we stated before, Neale Bayly and Brandon McDearis recently took a trip to Matuu to figure out how Wellspring’s help could best be utilized.
“With this first trip to Matuu being a chance to assess the needs and strategize our plans going forward, we are happy with our findings.” – Neale Bayly, Wellspring International’s Founder
While we are still investigating how Wellspring can specifically help those in Matuu, there are quite a few leads thanks to a program called Tai Wangai.
The Sisters in Matuu are already operating health clinics, working with the disabled from funding wheelchairs to transportation to Doctors, and holding physical therapy clinics around the local area. They also have a full time physical therapist on staff at their facility in Matuu. The program the Sisters run, Tai Wangai (God’s Mercy) reaches into the rural villages with twelve individual aid workers for support.
These twelve Sisters are the main source of support for the children and families in this area. They give their time, energy, and sometimes much more to support this community.
In addition to helping with medical needs, schooling, physical therapy for those who need it, the Sisters also have programs to assist the villagers financially. They have a program where two goats are given, with one female being required for payment from the offspring and also a program to develop kitchen gardens to supplement food. There is also a small micro finance program to assist the mothers with small loans.
Brandon McDearis will lead the project in Kenya alongside Sister Jiovanna. Wellspring is still in discussions to figure out the best way to support Tai Wangai and the people of Matuu, Kenya. As stated before, this is an exciting new addition to Wellspring’s efforts and will not redirect any of our resources away from our already firmly planted projects in Peru and South Africa. However, if you would like to support this project specifically with a donation, be sure to leave the word “Kenya” with your donation.
We will hopefully have more information about Matuu and our plans for support very soon. When we do, we will update you as soon as we have something to share!
Brandon McDearis, a longtime Wellspring supporter, and Neale Bayly, Wellspring’s founder, are working together with Sister Jiovanna Lozada Beltran on a new project to help disabled children in Matuu, Kenya. Sister Jiovanna previously worked with Wellspring in Hogar Belen before shifting her focus to these children five years ago. Neale and Brandon have been helping these children privately over the years, but are now ready to fully bring Wellspring into the fold and make Kenya an official Wellspring project.
Brandon McDearis previously worked with Wellspring, and helped build Wellspring into what it is today. Neale spoke about Brandon’s previous commitments to Wellspring and what he’s been up to for the past few years:
Brandon McDearis has been a friend of mine for 10 years and made three trips to Peru with me as support truck driver and nutrionalist, providing hydration and nutrition to our riders on the journey. He was originally on the board of directors, but stepped back for a few years as he pursued a vigorous travel schedule, cooking for scientific expeditions in Antarctica to running lodges in Alaksa, and many other places in between.
And now Brandon is back to help Wellspring with this new project, alongside Neale, Sister Jiovanna, and future Wellspring volunteers.
On November 19th, Neale and Brandon will head to Matuu, Kenya to assess what kind of support is most needed from Wellspring and to leave the donations that have already been placed. Then, Brandon will continue to work as the Community Director on the project and oversee future fund raising and support efforts in Kenya. Neale also spoke a little bit about a possible future incentive for adventurous supporters and volunteers:
After we have assessed the needs with Sister Jiovanna, Brandon and I will be heading to Tanzania to hike Kilimanjaro. While this is a purely personal goal for us, we are wanting to assess the possibilities of taking people on this hike to raise money for Wellspring, in the same way I use the Neale Bayly Rides adventures to raise money for our current projects.
Of course, the hike to Kilimanjaro is still in the planning stages as to whether or not it will be available to Wellspring supporters, but hopefully we will be ready announce something soon!
We are excited to officially announce this new project in Kenya that will exist alongside our already existing projects in Peru and South Africa. If you would like to support this project specifically with a donation, be sure to leave the word “Kenya” with your donation.
Thank you so much for your support, and we hope to have more information on the Kenya project very soon!
On first glance they have nothing. Many of the residents of the Hogar Belen orphanage in Moquegua, Peru, have been abandoned by their families, suffer from severe handicaps and only own the clothes on their back. If you take some time though, and look deeper, you see that they are rich in love, community, unique skills and potential. Talk with them and you realize their power, and, like you and I, that they want to make a difference in the world. This is why I came to Hogar Belen to help them unlock their potential through high technology.
The Potential of Technology
I am partnering with Wellspring to embark on a journey to create a digital learning environment to help abandoned children in the developing world to become digitally literate. The vision is that we can create a spark of innovation, and curiosity, so they can
unlock their potential in school, the rich resources available on the Internet and learn about, and pursue, high tech careers.
Over the coming months we will buy computers for the children of Hogar Belen, connect them to the Internet, create curriculum to help them learn about computing and help digitize the Hogar Belen orphanage. As a later part of this project, we are looking forward to helping the ‘specially skilled’ students access the computers through adaptive technology.
This is a process that will take time. We completed the feasibility study during our week at Hogar Belen, and will look at computer
purchases and curriculum development over the next 4 months. That said this week was VERY productive. We’re close to completing the feasibility study, successfully arranged for Internet connectivity and purchased a new laptop as an office machine for the Sisters who run the orphanage.
I’m am personally excited to see what can be done at Hogar Belen with the partnership with Wellspring, and will share new updates with you here as we gain stronger traction.
…in 5 words:
#Love. #Acceptance. #Results. #Unplugged. #Real.
After traveling across the dusty, pockmarked, rough roads of Moquegua, Peru, we find our destination marked with the simplest of signs. Taking the turn into the “driveway” of rocks and water, we drive down this narrow path, overgrown with vegetation, that seems more appropriate for a couple of cows than a vehicle.
But this well-worn, dusty path leads to a very special place: the Hogar Belen Orphanage. I visited Hogar Belen for just one day in 2015. There was something compelling about the children, the setting and the caretakers’ ability to thrive in such dire circumstances (no running water, insufficient electricity and housing, etc), that their struggles became inscribed on my heart. I knew I wanted to help and I would be back.
So, in May, I returned with a group of 4 other-similarly inclined people: Neale Bayly, motorcycle journalist and founder of Wellspring International Outreach (WIO); Jim Miller, biker, photographer and WIO board member; Manny Pandya, biker, photographer and WIO volunteer and Michael Lust, biker and WIO volunteer. Upon arriving, we were greeting by smiling faces and excited dogs, just as I had remembered in 2015. But this time was different. Instead of just a 10-hour stay, we were here for 10 days. And instead of just lifting spirits, we were here to lift hammers, paint brushes, rakes and anything else that was needed to improve the living conditions at Hogar Belen.
At this point, it may seem that our team of 5 was comprised of selfless, do-gooders. I assure you, that is not the case. I know my reasons were purely selfish, as I needed to step away from my own life, my most recent dramas, and recalibrate. And that is what I was able to do.
From the moment we arrived, everyone – young, old and in between – greeted our group of gringos with hugs, laughter and an occasional slap on the back. I scanned the group for “my Maria,” a girl I had met in 2015, who was the same age as my daughter, with similar career aspirations. However, through the accident of birth, my daughter was attending university and fulfilling her potential and Maria was destined not to fulfill hers. When I finally saw her, we hugged for several minutes, quietly weeping and savoring our reunion.
From our initial moments at Hogar until we left, each arrival and departure was punctuated by hugs. “Never miss an opportunity for a hug,” became the unwritten rule. And as amazing as that was, we soon learned that the bonds of love go far deeper than hugs.
While we were at Hogar Belen, we saw young adults, who had grown up in the orphanage come back day after day to help with the renovation projects we initiated. What we later learned was that these young adults come back to the orphanage ALL THE TIME, the young women to help out with the care and feeding of the remaining children and staff, and the young men to help out as handymen.
It should be obvious at this point that Hogar Belen isn’t a typical orphanage. Hogar Belen is and remains a family to those who need it most. Hogar Belen is love.
A Jew, an atheist, and a half-Hindu walk into an orphanage . . . It sounds like the beginning of a joke, right? But in fact, that was the case of our merry band of volunteers.
It’s probably important to tell you at this point, that the orphanage is run by an order of nuns. However, our eclectic group was welcomed with open arms, regardless of our faith, or lack thereof. But these nuns are not typical nuns. Not only do they wear street clothes, but they operate the orphanage like an extended family, with love, discipline and most of all, acceptance of everyone. In addition to the children, there are handicapped adults and single mothers living without judgement under the wings of these living angels.
During our stay, Padre Carlos also came for a brief visit and to lead mass. Upon meeting him, he immediately blessed me (cross and all). When I divulged my Jewish faith, we all had a good laugh. When it was time for mass, I opted to stay outside the church, within earshot of the service, without participating. No one – neither Padre Carlos or Sisters Fabiola, Maria and Elise – treated me any differently or made me feel badly for not attending the service.
This was a level of acceptance that was so meaningful to me, as I’ve had more than my share of well-meaning proselytizers cross my path. Hogar Belen is acceptance.
During our 10-days of work at Hogar Belen, we:
- Renovate 2 of the rooms, one for Andrea, a 14-year-old girl and one Kathleen, a handicapped girl who is somewhere between 13-15 years old
- Install 3 new hot water heaters
- Almost fixed the tractor (although both radiators we purchased had leaks)
- Improve the grounds with some gardening around the rooms
- Started the renovation of Michael’s’ room, a severely handicapped man (finished days after our visit and also home now to Amando another disabled man)
- Took Kathleen to get measured for her new wheelchair (a 3-hour ordeal) and get her started on medical evaluation and treatment.
- Spent an entire day finding just the right one for her in neighboring Tacna
- Secured the funding for a new wheelchair for Michael, which is being sent there now
- Fixed the clutch in the Hogar work truck.
- Improved a number of minor electrical issue.
While we didn’t change the world in 10 days, these improvements are significant for the Hogar Belen family. And in a world where I spend my working hours on a computer, not producing anything tangible, seeing results like this is so meaningful, especially when you get to see the excitement in a child’s eyes because you accomplished something they never dreamed of. Hogar Belen needs results.
As I’ve mentioned, I spend my working hours on a computer. In my off hours, I also find myself tethered to my devices. But for 10 whole days, I was disconnected from the Internet except for the occasional connection at the hotel in the evenings. It was truly a vacation from the constant chatter of Facebook and Twitter and also gave me a break from the burden of my numerous work and personal email accounts.
In the course of saving precious data usage on my smartphone, I turned off all of my notifications, except texts. No constant chimes or vibrations, no constant checking my phone for something I may have missed. And guess what? I’ve not turned them back on. This is trip – and the days of disconnectedness – has reminded me that the people in the room are far more important than the people in cyberspace. I hope to stay semi-unplugged to keep people in perspective. Hogar Belen reminded me of the beauty of being unplugged and fully present.
Our 30-hour odyssey home, began in Moquegua, where we drove for 4 hours to Arequipa to pick up our first flight. With each leg of our trip, Arequipa to Lima, Lima to Miami and Miami to Charlotte, we came closer to the familiar trappings of home. And frankly, we should all be grateful everyday for the style in which we live. In just over a day, I went from seeing people struggle for basic necessities like hot water, drinking water, consistent and safe electricity and nutritional food to hearing people complain about slow wi-fi and improperly prepared steak.
The struggle for many is real, in this country, in Peru and numerous other places across the globe. I have been given the opportunity to make a small difference in the lives of a few dozen people in Moquegua, Peru. And I will go back and continue to try to raise the standard of living for those warm, wonderful, hard-working people.
Perhaps you’d like to join me, either in person or in spirit. Contact Neale Bayly
- Put in a concrete path for Michael’s wheelchair to get to the shower more smoothly
- Remodel Merlene’s (Kathleen’s caregiver) room for her and her two boys, and the two rooms next to her (the same program as we did with Kathleen’s room)
- Upgrade the electrical system for the entire Hogar Belen campus
- Tear down the old rooms out by the boys shower room as they are dangerous and too badly run down to repair
Photo credits: Manny Pandya Photography, Neale Bayly, Sally Frank
The story behind the story you saw about the Wellspring International Outreach SA Kitchen Project.
When Mark M Fincham and I left for White River, SA in hopes to build a kitchen we had little idea what we were going into. Our plans were to have the construction completed by the time our boots hit the ground. Well sometimes your hopes and the reality are very different.
When we arrived, we were told by Charles Sanderson that there were concerns about the kitchen from the Phumlani people and we would not be able to start construction. On Friday November 3, we met with the community leaders and a representative from the land owner. After much discussion about our intent, we were given the official blessing to start construction on Monday a week behind our “schedule”.
Monday morning 11/07/16, we met Roy Wakefield and his crew from Wendy Lane Homes to begin digging holes for the posts to support the structure. A heavy, but much needed rain slowed progress. By day’s end the holes had been dug, ready to start the build on Tuesday. When we returned the following morning, the holes had been mysteriously filled. The crew worked hard to dig and set the poles for construction on Wednesday.
Upon arrival Wednesday, we found the poles had been pulled and the holes refilled. The community leaders and my friend Charles were extremely upset and embarrassed by this act. Undeterred, I asked the crew to once again dig the holes and reset the poles as our riders would be arriving to help feed the children lunch.
That afternoon, we supplied the ingredients for a great lunch of chicken and rice prepared by the wonderful volunteer ladies for more than one hundred and fifty children and it was incredible! However, the worries about the build loomed over our heads like the clouds of a thunderstorm.
Our last day in White River was looking bleak with no tangible progress to show for our combined efforts, however we still needed to give the shoes to the kids. So Charles, Mark and I went back for one last visit. Much to our amazement, the holes that we dug on Wednesday were undisturbed. With forty loaves of bread, eight jars of peanut butter and a hundred pairs of shoes we were able to make the kids smile and ourselves cry with tears of joy!
Our new friend, Glory Mkhonza vowed that she would meet with all parties and resolve the issues. After meeting her and getting to know her, I knew she would!
With our flight looming overhead, we left White River feeling good but also somewhat unfulfilled that the kitchen hadn’t been completed. I then realized we built something much more valuable and enduring, the respect and a lasting relationship with the people of the Phumlani and Msholozi communities! The end result will be kitchens built, hundreds of happy kids and lasting friendships with people who very suspicious of us a week ago.
There have been so many lessons I have learned during this trip but perhaps the most important, is that Passion, Patience and Perseverance are three attributes that can overcome many of life’s obstacles!
PS: I received an email waiting for a flight yesterday from Glory stating the meeting went very well and construction is unanimously approved for Monday! So our primary objective for WIO Kitchen project will reach fruition.
Look for more progress reports and for more ways to help in the weeks, months and years to come!
With love and thanks,
About a year ago, Mark Fincham sat down and talked with Neale Bayly & Drew Alexander and learned about their project in Africa. Next week they make the journey, to continue the project and make some 50 children’s world a little better. Watch Board Member Jim Miller’s video: