December 2008

Michelle Murphy, Volunteer

I experienced my first trip to Peru in November 2008. I travelled with my two sisters, my uncle and my friend. I had heard so much about Peru as my father Michael has been working in the shanty towns of Las Lomas for nearly five years. I had heard so much from him and from family and friends whom had been there before me. I also had seen lots and lots of photos and video footage of the families in Las Lomas. I thought prior to my trip that I knew quite a bit about Las Lomas and the work of Peru Children's Charity however on arrival to Las Lomas I knew I had a lot to learn.

As we travelled from Lima and out of the city towards Las Lomas, I was speechless (for a change!) Apart from the way Peruvian people drive (you move out of the way for every one else, no indicators are used, I was a nervous wreck!) I was speechless because as we got closer and I looked out the window all I could see on both sides of the motorway were shacks and shacks and shacks. If you could even call them that. The reality of everything had just hit me.

We turned off the motorway and made our way up to Las Lomas. When I say we made our way it was an experience. There are no roads in Las Lomas only dirt tracks. I was completely overcome by the environment. It was in fact just desert, no greenery to be seen anywhere and the heat was stifling. Out of the window of the car I could see children running and playing everywhere. The area was vast, not at all like I imagined. There were shacks and huts everywhere. I really could not believe the conditions these people were living in. My first thoughts were "and all the talk about the recession back home" I am not denying how bad things are but when you see what these people live in and the sense of community, family and friends that they have, it certainly does put things into perspective.

Our first stop was to pick up Cedilia, the interpreter, and first point of contact for these families (families drop in letters for help into Cedilia's family home). We then made our way down to see a family support centre under construction.

We arrived and all the locals that would benefit from this project were busy working. Some of the ladies were carrying between six and eight bricks in their arms down the sandy banks to the site. We looked around and Michael introduced us and spoke with the locals regarding progress of the project. Then a lady came down the hills carrying bottles of water for us that she has just bought in the shop. I really was blown away thinking that this was money she could not afford to spend, yet it was her way of expressing gratitude.

On our trip we visited various families, projects and drove around to obtain an insight. I could write a book on everyone we met, however I want to talk about the Therapy Centre. The Therapy Centre was opened in June 2008, and as I work in the area of intellectual disability I was especially excited about meeting the children and young adults there. There are currently fifteen children and young adults attending the Therapy Centre three afternoons per week. When we walked in the children and young adults had a huge welcome for us and they also had been learning to say hello and welcome in English. The atmosphere was so happy and as I looked around the Therapy Centre I thought it was so bright, fun and people focussed. The children had also made amazing progress with some of them showing us drawings, woodwork and their progress on the parallel bars with the help of Karena the physiotherapist. Again I was truly blown away by the limited resources they have however they are so creative and how they utilised the resources they had. Again I compared it to home and my job and how we complain about the Health Service cutbacks, yet what they have is minimal in comparison. We also went on a trip out to Lima with the children and young adolescents to our equivalent of Mc Donald's. The children and their families were just so happy and appreciative. When we returned to the therapy centre the children had written letters and drawn pictures about their trip, one boy, Diego, saying how he had eaten in the best restaurant ever.

I could go on and on however this is just a synopsis of my experience in Peru. It truly did give me a lot of food for thought. Yes it can be a very sad experience however one can not always look at what has to be done, we have to remain positive and look at what has been achieved. After being in Peru I will never complain about my feet being sore doing a bag pack again and I will truly value that every penny makes a huge difference, so if you are doing nothing at the end of March all volunteers welcome for bag packing in Navan!

Winner of a 2012 Rotary International Award for contribution to the Community

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