Since 2015, I’ve visited the Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) orphanage in Moquegua, Peru, four times. Along with my colleagues from Wellspring International Outreach, we work on the most urgent needs at that moment. Our projects have included renovating children’s rooms, setting up a bakery, installing hot water heaters and setting up a digital literacy program.
In the process of doing this work for this community of unwanted children, 3 nuns and a few additonal caregiving adults, I have received a lot more than I have given. Each visit affects me in a different way, uncovering some basic truth that goes unnoticed in the busyness and privilege of my everyday life.
This year, I learned what it means to lend a helping hand. Now, you are probably thinking I’m about to tell you what we did this past month during our most recent trip. Not at all. I’m going to tell you what I learned from the children about helping others.
The February Flood
In February, the town of Moquegua was hit by a flood of almost biblical proportions. The entire community of about 25 children and their caregivers had to be relocated – twice – before they could return to the Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) farm. While in their mini-exile, the children clamored to go home. For many of them, the farm is the only home they have ever known. It is a place where they can be themselves. It is the epicenter of their adopted family life.
Shortly before the flood, 8 more joined the family at Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones): 7 children, including a mother of 2 children and a newborn, with nowhere else to go.
If there is a silver lining to all the turmoil that the flood caused, it is this: the children are more appreciative of their very modest home; they have become more independent; and they have bonded together even more so, sometimes in the most unexpected ways.
During our visit, I witnessed several bonding moments that were exceptional. I’ll share two.
Keeping One Another Afloat
The first one occurred during a special outing in which we took the kids to a “resort” with a couple of pools and playground. Andrea, a 14-year-old girl, gently encouraged and then supported Kathleen, a special needs child, into the pool, so Kathleen could calmly float in the water. What is extraordinary about this is that Andrea took the initiative and care to help Kathleen float, whispering to her gently the entire time with words of sweet encouragement. Furthermore, Kathleen is non-verbal, so it’s hard to know what she even understands. But Andrea was there for Kathleen in a pure and loving way, so Kathleen could also experience the joy of the swimming pool.
A Band of Brothers
The second example involves 2 long-time residents of Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) who also have special needs: Armando and Michael. Armando is a bulky 35-year old man. He is non-verbal but understands when asked to do chores around the farm, whether it’s moving something heavy or taking the laundry to the washing and drying area. Michael is also a man, non-verbal and confined to a wheelchair. (My best guess is that he has something like cerebral palsy, but I’m no medical expert.) When Michael first arrived as a child, he was able to walk unaided and ended up sticking his hand in a lawnmower. As a result of that accident, Michael lost all the fingers on one of his hands. These two, Armando and Michael, share a room at Hogar and have for years.
What I saw this time though, was their friendship. Armando rolls Michael’s wheelchair around Hogar with great care, ensuring that they don’t hit rocks or potholes. Furthermore, every night, Armando picks Michael up from his wheelchair and places him in bed. They have truly become brothers and if they could speak, they would probably tell you so.
In my world of plenty and privilege, it is easier to show kindness, but our busy lives often blind us to the opportunities to do so. But at Hogar, those compassionate, helping hands are the very foundation on which the orphanage is built.
After the Flood: Our annual Wellspring visit to Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones)
As we drive south from Arequipa after the usual long, night flight to Peru we were all uncertain what we would find in Moquegua, just weeks after a devastating flood ripped through the city, taking out bridges and destroying farms and properties in its path. We knew the Sisters and the children were safe and had been evacuated from Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) when the river broke its banks. We knew the animals were also safe, but suffering with a shortage of food. And, we knew everyone was now back on the farm, although there was still no running water -save for what they could pump from the neighboring farmer’s irrigation channel. So, the big question was “What would we find?”
Of our team this year Sally Ann Frank, Michael Lust and I have multiple visits under our belts, while for our fourth member, Rebekah Samples, it would be her first. Thanks to your help, our fundraising goals had been met, exceeded actually, and we had much needed money to apply to the most urgent projects, whatever they might be. We were still apprehensive, though, as we came out of the barren desert on the outskirts of Moquegua, the only signs of the flood being a new bridge into town and tons of fresh boulders piled in the river bed – now with only a slow trickle of water, so everything appeared almost normal. Five hundred yards from the farm it all changed and the shock set in. The damage to the neighboring farms was evident, and then the road became almost impassable. Putting the truck into four-wheel drive, after hopping out and removing a few dozen boulders from our path, we were able to limp along a narrow, rock path between the river and the road and make it to the entrance of the farm. Large machines were cleaning the riverbed, digging and clearing masses of boulders. The road to the farm was gone, as were all the walls, and the pasture was a wasteland of silt and boulders as the cows grazed on the small island of grass left by the buildings. Mercifully the water didn’t go any higher and take out all the animals and the living quarters, and while all the buildings had taken a significant pounding, there was no permanent damage.
Since our last visit, the home has received eight new residents and we arrived to find everyone as busy as ever with the business of life. Fabiola, Maria and Josephina greeted us looking extremely tired from the weeks of non-stop work, but happy to see their friends. There is always a lot of hugging at Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones), and with our greetings finally done we slipped off to check into our hotel. Three full days of travel, with very little sleep, made for a quick dinner and early night for this Gringo.
Our first order of operation the following day was to tour the farm, learn the needs from immediate to long term, and put a plan of action in place. With just six days on the ground we all felt we needed to move fast, so it wasn’t long before there were Gringos going one way, Gringas going another and the Sisters always somewhere in the mix. And that’s how it was until we rolled for home on a cool, clear desert morning, under the bluest of blue skies imaginable, exhausted but smiling inwardly from the joy we all felt.
We initially helped Fabiola battle the water company to come out and give them running water, after we purchased all the supplies for them to connect it all together. Sally and Rebekah cleared out a room and decorated it for Samuel, who is now seven years old, so he could have his own bedroom. Multiple shopping trips to the local markets stocked the Sisters up with everything from adult diapers for the handicapped to laundry detergent, light bulbs and cleaning products. With more than 20 people at Hogar it’s overwhelming to think about all the things they need on a daily basis, but the Sisters are so incredibly organized and resourceful it’s humbling. We are all happy to be able to relieve that burden for a short while.
Oscar, Angel and a team of “old boys of Hogar” went straight to work building a secured play area for the handicapped and the young children outside the Sisters common living area. We purchased all the metal and supplies in town, and soon the farm was alive with the sound of cutting and grinding, with the flash of the welder going non-stop as they custom built the fencing from scratch. It’s the same team, mostly, who did all the remodeling projects for us two years ago, so it’s wonderful for us to spend time with our friends and know they can always use the work.
We developed a plan to raise and re-roof the digital literacy study room, and add a proper drop ceiling and lights. It’s a much bigger project so the “boys” will start it after they finish the playground. Michael and I dived into the bakery and started hauling stuff to the city dump, with the help of Manual and Zackerias. With all the changes and upheavals at the farm the bakery is not in operation at the moment and has become an impromptu “storage,” so after a few dump runs, and much cleaning, the Sisters can now get in there and start to think about a plan to get it operational again. It used to bake all the bread for Hogar over the years, and we remodeled it and put a new oven in six years ago so hope to get it back up and running soon.
One of the most important aspects of our visits, I personally think, is the time we spend with the Sisters, the workers and the children. They deal with so much on a daily basis without being evacuated for the flood, we decided to take them on a mini vacation for the day. During a scouting run up the mountain Sally and I found a beautiful, peaceful and very authentic Peruvian village in the surrounding area called Torata, and just on the outskirts of this little town is a resort style hotel.
In total, there were 27 of us in two vehicles that made the trip. With nineteen adults and children, and four-month-old Abraham, in the Hogar Van, and six adults and one lad, Joey, in our truck, it was a totally Peruvian experience. On arrival we had the whole place to ourselves, which included two indoor swimming pools, children’s playground and a catered lunch. The views from the terraces over the surrounding mountains and down into Torata were stunning, and we knew we had made the right decision to bring everyone as they all got to relax and enjoy a special day out. The local tourist board lady then invited us to tour the small town, and showed the children videos and took them on a tour of the cathedral and the local catacombs. It was just one of those days you’ll never forget; and rolling back to the farm as the sun was sinking low, there were some seriously tired, but happy children that fell out of the van and went straight to their rooms that night.
Our Wellspring team was excited to see a new shower/toilet project for the children that had just been completed – not operational, of course, with no water – as well as a major project next to the dining room featuring a laundry room, two toilets for guests and a storage facility. Your donations at work again.
Even though the first couple of days were tough seeing the devastation and hearing the stories from the flood, it was so encouraging to see all the progress that is being made. With the flood now behind them, we are hopeful the Sisters can continue to not only survive, but thrive, as they work tirelessly at improving the lives of the abandoned children of Moquegua.
The time to leave came too soon, and our drive back to Arequipa was a lot more animated than our drive in. We talked excitedly about the children and how much happier and settled they all are this year. The full-time caregivers are certainly bringing a new dynamic. Our conversation inevitably leads to the many needs they have, and we will be launching a new and ambitious project in the next weeks to re-roof and remodel the kitchen, dining room and storage area. It’s all in dire need of upgrading, but on this day, spinning through the amazing desert landscape under a crystal blue sky we were all happy to see life getting back to normal for the amazing people of Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) after the flood – thanks, in part, to all your help and support.
Aftermath of the Flood at Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones)
As you may have heard, recently a rush of flood waters has devastated Moquegua and the surrounding area resulting in the children and caretakers at Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) to lose access to their home. They are safe, being kept off site thanks to relief groups in Peru, but Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) is in its worst state since the earthquake of 2001.
Neale and the crew have decided to shift their focus of the upcoming April 4th – 11th trip from Digital Literacy training to helping rebuild as much as they possibly can. This trip is now completely dedicated to getting Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) back to a live-able state as soon as possible. While we would like to continue our efforts towards digital literacy in the future, obviously technology is a luxury that cannot be afforded at the moment.
“If you would be so kind as to join us for a moment to look around you: To see the abundance that surrounds you, the food security and personal safety that you take for granted; the climate controlled, Internet-connected life you lead.” Wellspring released in a statement, “And then, the thread bare home and community you have come to rely on as your own is turned upside down by an epic flood. The bridges in and out of your town have been swept away, food; electricity, water and basic necessities are scarce.”
This is why we need your help. We will do as much as we can while in Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) to rebuild, but your donations and support go a long way towards helping this community recover and continue the amazing progress we have already made. Your support can help us get back on track towards improving the lives of these children and people who have dedicated their time to providing them a better future.
Your donations will go directly toward purchasing the materials and tools necessary to help rebuild. Please help our volunteers reach their goal of $3,000 per person to go on this trip who have been literally swept from their home. Even if you can’t donate, share this post to spread the message of hope out there into the masses. You can donate directly here on our website and share this post and more by following us on Facebook. Thank you.
We’ve Begun! The Digital Literacy Program at Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones)
Last year Don Morrison wrote about our plans for improving digital literacy at Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones). 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones), connect them to the Internet, create curriculum to help them learn about computing and help digitize the Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones), 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) with the partnership with Wellspring, and will share new updates with you here as we gain stronger traction.
Why Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) is My Happy Place
…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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) Orphanage. I visited Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones).
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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones), 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) isn’t a typical orphanage. Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) is and remains a family to those who need it most. Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) is acceptance.
During our 10-days of work at Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones), 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) 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 a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) 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