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Week One at the PPA – January 9-13
Monday, Jan 9
Breakfast of rolls, tea or coffee, eggs if we want them, fresh fruit, fresh squeezed OJ, and Mili, knowing Americans, bought cereal for us.
One of the things that we will each do is be the scribe for the group for a day. We will then write it into a journal and read it to the group at breakfast the next day and include a thought for the day. My day will come during the second week.
Mili explained at breakfast that we would not be on our regular schedule until Wednesday, as today we have a meeting with the staff and tomorrow we take a tour where most of the kids come from to get an idea of their background and challenges.
Our transport arrived. It was a school bus had traditional seating for 48, very early model, dull turquoise paint and almost unlimited air conditioning. The windows were rusted through at the top just under the luggage rack and in places were wired to hold them in place. ( ** Good news about this later in the story.) Our driver is Juan and we are picked up after he has left the children at summer school. We drive for about 10 minutes to San Isidroe, the neighborhood that is between downtown Lima and Miraflores.
The orphanage is a gated community with many two-story buildings, usually painted in light colors. The orphanage is called Puericultoria Perez Aranibar (PPA from here on) and was established in 1920. In its hay day, it served over 2000 kids, but only 550 today. We meet the staff and the new director, Roxanne, who has only been in place for 8 months. There have been a lot of different directors during the 18 months that GV has worked in Peru. The staff is lovely, mostly women except for the Brother who oversees the older boys and Napoleon, the grounds supervisor. They are all smiles and a very few have English and most of us have not much Spanish. We tour of the facility and are startled by the contrasts we see.
Most of the buildings that we see have not had any modernization and many have windowpanes missing and roofs with no integrity. The grounds have flowerbeds that have lovely flowers, but most of the other areas are sparse with grass and dusty. Most of the playground equipment is from the 50’s, rusty including a slide that as the child reaches the bottom, he or she must make a tactical maneuver to avoid being lost in the rusty hole just before you exit the slide.
One area is very different, the kindergarteners area in two wings administered by Sister Anna Maria. She is small but mighty. Her grass is green, her kids obey, her flowers are lovely, and the beds are made. We are confused because in the dorms where the kids sleep, there are toys on display on the tops of the lockers and windowsills, but the kids are not allowed to touch them. Each of the girls’ bed has a doll on the pillow, but we get the feeling that they are not to hug, they are for show.
We see the toddlers’ area and they have not gone to summer school. It is arranged in little pods with walls about 4 feet high. Each pod has a staff member and 4-6 toddlers. There are several play areas, with plastic playground stuff and toys and go-carts for toddlers. Each pod has a TV or radio and many painted murals on the walls. Most of the murals are of either typical cartoon characters or idyllic scenes with white boys and girls picking flowers and holding hands. Hhmmmmm? We were not allowed to go in but many of us felt the magnet pull us, but it was off to the boy’s bathroom.
Fifty 8-17 year olds use this bathroom with 7 toilets and only three stalls with privacy walls. The shower area is all open which is not unexpected, but there is pealing paint on the walls and ceiling. The Brother is very happy we are doing this project. The money for the project was raised by donation from a previous team member, so all we need to do is the legwork. You can always tell where the Brother is because he rides a purple bike and parks it outside the building he is in.
The orphanage, in addition to about 5 other agencies, is under the direction of a governmental agency called the Benefencia. Money generated by the PPA does not go directly back to the PPA but is pooled with the other agencies and then some of it comes back to the PPA. The PPA, however, does not know one month from the next how much they will receive. It is probably better for us to make monetary donations through GV and designate where we would like it to go, instead of giving it directly to the PPA. ** The good news about the bus is that again with previous donations, money for a new bus is available and Mili and Juan are shopping for one. One was found during our second week, but will not arrive for us to see it. We did see photos and it looks wonderful.
As we complete our tour, there is an area within the PPA that looks all spruced up. All the buildings are glistening white and all the observable windows have glass. This is an area the Benefencia rents out for weddings and meetings. Some of the money gets back to the PPA, but not all of it. Another area where this is done is the wonderful soccer field. It is green and lovely, but it is rented out to local soccer clubs and the kids are not allowed to use it.
The final stop on the tour is the Chapel that is housed in the same building as the administrative offices and the GV office. It again has been spruced up because a local important TV personality wanted her daughter to get married there and she paid for the paint and repairs. So, one way or another the PPA will get fixed up. It just comes in fits and starts!
We were waiting for the bus to return to take us to lunch, but it had not returned from summer school. Suddenly it appeared and I fell in love. The faces that showed out the windows were wonderful. We did not count them, but out they all tumbled and were so anxious to say hello and receive hugs. They were all off to their respective dorms to lunch, but not before the relationship started. Toddler heaven.
Lunch was at a restaurant named Cuba and we will eat there everyday we worked at the PPA. Mili picked it because it was close, offered two choices daily and was safe. It was also close enough for us to walk back daily, which most of us did.
In the afternoon, only two groups was ready to go, one which was the bathroom so off went Bob 1, Alicia and Barb to tear down the existing stalls in order to begin the prep work for the walls that had been ordered and would be installed next week. The other group was the older boys, so Kim and Patty went off for their first soccer game. The rest of us were without projects so most of us went to see the toddlers. Bob 2 was an instant hit and charmed everyone, especially little Carlito, 16 months old. Mitzi was also a hit with the toddlers and played with them well. I sat on the floor with about 8-10 of them and tried to identify them and learn their names. Many were very shy and hugged the walls, even when a desirable toy was being offered. There was one little boy, Bratzo, who was the little man of the bunch. He strutted around like he owned the place and mainly stole the most desirable toys from the little guys. Finally by the end, several of them would come over and allow me to talk to them and demonstrate the toys. I looked forward to the next day so that I could gain their trust.
We got to see them being fed. Even the under threes were on a schedule and when the dinner bell rang, they were all taken off to their pods to be washed fed and put to bed. One pod had 5 little guys who were each put into a little wooden high chair complete with table. Then, if they could not feed themselves, the staff member would sit in front of them and systematically feed the group.
It was fun and a little daunting and I wondered how I would do. Everyday would bring me new things.
Tuesday, Jan 10
This day began with the journal at breakfast and the thought of the day, sorry, but I didn’t keep copies of them, but we will receive an e-mail copy of the journal if anyone is interested.
We did not take the PPA bus for our tour, and just as well because we had a long way to go and the bus would have struggled. During our trip, we discussed the upcoming election for the President that will take place in June. Currently there are 24 candidates and all will be on the ballot the first go round. Then if no one has the majority, the top ones have a run off. Currently a woman is in the lead, but it is early days yet. Even Fujimoro is a candidate, even though he is in exile after being accused to taking a considerable amount of the treasury when he left office the first time.
Mili explained that while most of the kids have parents, but that the parents are very poor, probably have multiple other children and they cannot keep them. A social worker from the PPA came with us and we did several stops to see parents who were considering the PPA and to hand out literature to others. At the PPA only about 5% of the kids are actually abandoned. There are also three that have some learning disability/mental issues, which is a first for the PPA. Only about 2-3 % of the kids are up for adoption, and not many of them are adopted.
After about an hours drive, we were in a dusty area of town where most of the houses were one room, one level dwelling. Some of the neighborhoods were laid out in streets, but others just climbed up the sides of hills in a random fashion. Some of the neighborhoods had electricity, but almost none had running water. The water trucks came by 2-3 times a week and you had to buy and store water. Sanitation was pit toilets. No trees to speak of and no grass. We finally turned off the high way and went down the road into a dusty valley with several developed areas for a school, playing fields and even a manufacturing plant. You could see the coastline but the air was heavy with dust and pollution. The plant had been a Toyota factory, but it had been closed in the 70’s. We stopped in one area that was guarded by a policeman. We thought this was one of our stops to meet the parents of some of the PPA kids. The policeman at the entrances told us that this was not the neighborhood that we wanted. He also would not allow our bus to enter because he said it was not safe.
When we found the correct neighborhood, we did not find the right house, but visited one of the dining rooms. It was a rustic kitchen that served meals for 1 soles (about $.20) for 50 people twice a day. They try to focus on the old folks and children, figuring that the parents, if they work, may have a meal there. Some of their foodstuffs are supplied, but not near enough. The menu said arroz con pollo, chicken and rice. They ladies were happy to show us around and the president of the kitchen came and welcomed us. Our group made a donation in hopes that more people could be fed. Next we stopped at a preschool just as the kids were ready to have their lunch. They were all eating a slice of apple. Parents pay one soles a day per child. Most of the parents do laundry for the village, clean houses or something like that.
It would take a parent from this neighborhood at least three buses to get to the PPA. If they had more than one child, the cost could be almost a week’s wages to bring them home for a visit.
As we left the neighborhood and started back, we all had a better understanding of the situation and why some children don’t receive many visits.
We ate lunches on the bus on the way back and were told that most of us would be doing our usually afternoon tasks. Barb, Mitzi and I met with the 6 siblings that we would work with for the rest of the time. Twins, Diana and Wendy are in the same dorm, so they normally see each other. Twins, Erica and Marco, are in the same area, but in different dorms as they are segregated by sexes. The other two girls are not siblings, but they are two of the special needs children that don’t receive many visitors, so we took them as well. Carolina has Prater Willie (sp?), is learning disabled and at times appears autistic. She is really closer to 8 years of age, but has the capacity of a 4 year old. She has great ability to focus on one thing and does not like to be disturbed when she is doing it. Rosalia had a bad upbringing, of which I do not know the details, but is not very verbal except for an ear splitting shriek that brings you to your knees quickly.
So off we go to the special needs area, which is across the campus in the toddlers’ area. Inside are many games/puzzles/tools that therapists might use to test the progress of the kids. Carolina sets to work with a box with square blocks that she puts into color order. Numbers don’t count, just the colors. Mitzi and Carolina hit it off and from then on, Carolina clings to Mitzi. With coloring books and crayons in hand, coloring lasts all of 3 minutes and then is the scramble to find a small bike that has all it’s parts working at the same time. All have flat tires, some the chain is off. Some have the chain but no peddle and some are just hopeless. We find one that is passable providing an adult pushes. Empuje was the word of the day and Barb and I wear our selves out empujeing Erica and Diana around. Marco has found a little car that you push with your feet like the Flintstones and is off to the races with clay, puzzles, chalk and anything else that is available that he can load into his little car. At one point when older boys came and tried to steal his car, he called for me, senorita, to come and help him. I would not let them take it and peace reigned again. Every so often, Marco would stop the car, open the door, make a chalk X next to him on the pavement and then proceed.
I am drawn to Erica and Marco, especially Marco, who only wants to paint and drive his little car. Erica has a wonderful smile, except for the camera but has a hard time sharing and when thwarted, pouts and holds a grudge. With three adults and 6 kids, we only almost lost them once, when the little car was making it down the ramp out of our sight. I had my hands full, but luckily Barb ran and corralled the little escape artists.
When it was time to go, Carolina was very resistant and cried and whinged but finally came with us. With abrazos (hugs) and besos (kisses) we returned them to the domain of Sister Anna Maria for the day. Rosalia is a handful and resistant to team work and directions. She appears to need lots of one on one.
Most of the rest of the group went home on the bus, but Mili, Mitzi and I stayed for Sweet Dreams. The group for Monday did not get to do it because by the time they arrived, the kids were already asleep. This turns out to be a theme for this program as you cannot judge from one day to the next when is the time for them. (Flexibility again) We waited a few minutes and then were told we could go in. Three pods of kids with about 8-10 beds per pod. Mili and her brother Carlos took the wild bunch in the middle. I had the pod to the right and at the first bed, the little boy asked me to sing to him. So I gave him, and everyone after him, one refrain from Baby Mine, a hug and kiss and a Buenos noches and moved on. Some of them held on to you so tight and kept wanting you to spend more time with them. I loved it. I kept telling the group how much fun it had been. Mitzi and I finished our pods at about the same time, and Mili and Carlos’ group were literally climbing the walls and hanging on the partitions. Hard to believe but some of the kids were actually asleep by the time we left the room even with all the racket going on around them.
It was a challenging day on many levels and tomorrow will be normal schedule for most of us and a change for some including me. FLEXIBILITY!
Instead of working with the toddlers, a group of us have been asked to paint a mural in one of the large playrooms for the toddlers. Patty and I are in the lead on this and discussed a jungle scene, but ended up with a seascape. The mural across the room is over 16 feet and looks like Vermont with three colors of blue snow and houses. Right in the middle of it is a bright yellow Donald Duck cut out that was added after the fact. Mili and Carlos went and bought the paint we would need so that we could start tomorrow, as well as paint and supplies for painting the boys bathroom. Before we leave for the day, we pencil in the rock that will be far left, we have a lovely huge window in the middle and decided to put the sun on one side and the moon on the other. We found several children’s books with sea animals and Pamela, Mili’s childhood friend who is her right hand person and assisting us, is excellent at enlarging the images so that we can paint them.
Mili also called us into the office to inform us that it was likely that the school might be at the beginning of a chicken pox outbreak. Everyone already had it, except Bob 1 and he wasn’t worried about it.
Wednesday, Jan 11
Today all the programs are in full swing.
Jean and Myrna go off to summer school where they are blessing the new pool. Jean is ready with suit under clothes and can’t wait to get into the pool. It turns out to be an above ground, 3 feet deep and only about 8 feet long and 4 feet wide. After blessing by the priest and speeches, no one enters the pool. Jean does a striptease and enters the pool and is lifeguard of the day. At first, only 5 kids could be in the pool at one time. They got 45 minutes. After that they increased the kids to 25 at a time, but only 10 minutes each. Most of the time was spent getting the 150 PPAers into and out of their suits. Myrna was in another area with wading pool for the littlest and she said that splashing was the word of the day. Summer school is run by the city and includes PPA and other kids. It is not running smoothly and becomes a source of frustration, to the point where Mili pulls our involvement out during week two. Details to follow.
Painting of the mural begins and we focus on getting three layers of water in gradually lighter colors as far up the wall as possible. We manage to get the sand bar of light brown, all the blue on and the rock is a slightly darker shade of brown. Pamela is madly enlarging our creatures and we begin stenciling them on the wall with carbon paper. (Yes, it still exists). We feel at this point that there is no reason why we should not complete this project in good time.
Afternoon programs much the same except that we lost Rosalia, the shrieker (Thank you!). Carolina absolutely beams when she sees Mitzi and tells all the helpers as we pick them put that she has a visitor. (This is a rare thing for her and obviously is very special). Today we brought bubbles and paper and pencils and the bubbles are a source of competition and hard feelings. I found the bottle I took did not have a little plastic wand, so I went back to the office and found a pair of scissors that I could use. I would not let them handle the scissors, but allowed them to blow. I noticed the difference between the girls and little Marco the boy. Marco had the panache to gently blow and achieved wonderful bubbles 99% of the time. He however, did not have the technique of peddling the broken bike around. The girls spit at the bubble wand and hardly every achieved a bubble, but had peddling down like champs.
I had a brake down with Erica because I would not cave in to wishes that I be exclusive with her. She pouted and Barb went over to comfort her. We ended the day okay with me chasing them back to their dorm, literally, because they hate going back, but loved being chased.
That night we went to the Inca Market and began looking at what would be available all over in Peru. If you want erotic pottery, they have it. Also alpaca sweaters, woven goods, gourds, stone jewelry and pottery. Mili had not come with us as she had some work on her thesis to do but Pamela said she would meet us at the entrance to the market. Time is a relative thing in Peru and so when she was a few minutes late, no fear. After 30 minutes and no Mili, we got on the pay phone and called her cell and her Mom answered. No Mili. Then we called her home number and her Mom answered. No Mili. Just after we completed the call, Mili arrived looking wild eyed. She had been waiting for 40 minutes at the restaurant. As none of us had the address, we did not know where to go. After the mishap, every taxi full of us had the printed address to the restaurant. Dinner was a Chinese buffet and the Peruvians all appear to adore Chinese food
After Dinner, Jean and I met with a travel agent who would end up coordinating the remainder of my unoccupied time in Peru and Jean’s short excursion to Machu Picchu. Jean, Mary and I also decided to the weekend trip to Paracas and Nazca.
Thursday, Jan 12
It is obvious that the boys’ bathroom will require a lot more prep work, because the paint will not stick to the walls. So Carlos and Barb set off to find primer, scrapers, paint remover, goggles and such. More manpower will also be needed so Bob 2 and Alicia agree to help with the bathroom.
Painting continues and we begin with the animals. I focus on the sea horses and Patty has a trio of octopus. Bob has an idea for the starfish and we end up with two big ones and a little one in between that is sleeping. Patty has borrowed the radio/CD player from the office and our little hideaway is an island of quiet and tranquility compared to the rest of the work areas.
The afternoon is the siblings again with the 5 from yesterday and another break down with Erica. During our chase back to the area, she fell and got hurt. One of her friends defended her and tried to hit me. Sigh, I must build up my not taking things personally. Mili give us several small Spanish lessons and we all ask for assistance with phrases we need the most. Mine is Vamos en tocar tournes (We are going to take turns), sientete (sit down) and camparte (share).
Tonight we go to a traditional Peruvian buffet and show that highlights all the different cultures in Peru. If I have not mentioned before that Peruvian food is wonderful, I apologize. They still grow over 200 varieties of corn, where as the Inca’ had 2000. One of my favorites is Chicha which is purple corn that they make into a drink, or a dessert that has a pudding/jello consistency. They had that on the buffet. My other new favorite is a beef dish with cilantro called Seco and I also tried the octopus and a potato dish with cheese and spices. Yummy.
The dancing was wonderful and lasted almost two hours. That was a bit longer than Bob 1 had hoped for and he was the life of the party during the dance that ritualized the flight between the angels and the demons. One girl comes down the stairs in a white dress (similar to square dancing with big petticoats, but a lot shorter) and a silver helmet that looked like something from Norway. Bob said she looked like a cheerleader and when she blew a whistle, Bob convulsed the table into giggles, especially Mili when he said GO TEAM! Mili said she would never be able to see that dance without thinking GO TEAM!
Friday, Jan 13
The painting is coming very well and we have almost all the stencils done so now all we have to do is finish the sky and add the details to the fish. The boys’ bathroom has been scraped and primed, so it looks like they will be able to paint early next week and wait for the walls by Friday. The original contracted doubled his price, so Mili spent a full day with other contractors. It looks like the walls will begin going up next Friday.
Friday afternoon is always movie afternoon and Kim headed this project. They got Shark tale in DVD and bought popcorn and pop. We arrived after lunch ready to bag popcorn to find that they had changed kitchen on us so Mitzi, Jean and I went to the Toddlers area and waited for the corn to be ready to be bagged. We were planning for 75 kids. As we arrived with the popcorn, we handed out pops and bags of popcorn. We did not realize that the small bottle of pop, that looked like juice, were really carbonated, so be bathed the first set of little guys in gooey, sticky syrup. At he end of the movie, the kids all got a candy on the way out.
This would be our last night with three of the team, Mitzi, daughter Alicia and Barb would leave us tomorrow. I was a little panicked as that meant I had the siblings all to myself. Just as we showed our flexibility when the bathroom needed help, Mili assures me that I will not be alone.
Dinner was wonderful and we did the group picture just before we waved Mitzi and Alicia off to the airport. Jean, Mary and I have a very early morning tomorrow, so we closed down early that night. Up at 3:45 to be on the road by 4:00 for our first stop Paracas.
So at the end of week one, the team feels a little frustrated that we are not moving as quickly to completion as we had thought. I am committed to allowing the universe to help me flow through next week, especially with Erica. Little Marco has my heart and I love his energy. Off to bed.