Journal of Blythe Brockway
Care for Cusco September 2004
What an incredible time I have had so far and it is only my first day! The hogar is amazing, the children beautiful, loving, playful, and constantly smiling. We rang the bell to enter the hogar and a beautiful young woman opened the door. Smiling she let us in and I walked through an arched hallway that opened into a square. All eyes were on me, the first out into the square, waiting to see who I was. Saying “Hola” and waving to the children sent them streaming toward me with arms open. I received endless hugs and kisses before I was able to put my backpack down. What a warm welcome! Reluctantly I followed the young woman toward our rooms. I was pleased to see my room and happy that it was much warmer than it was outside. Lunch was already waiting for us downstairs, so after unpacking, we enjoyed hot soup and we got to know each other. Little eyes peered into the dining room from the windows and doorways. The children were waiting patiently for us to rejoin them.
Language didn’t seem important. We communicated easily with smiles and hugs. Amanda, one of the volunteers, knows American Sign Language and quickly taught us a few signs. The kids were so excited that they could communicate their names to us and learn ours too. The play yard was full of laughter and games for the evening and has been a great beginning to my stay here.
It is just before sunrise and the hogar is silent. It is strange to look around the square and not hear the laughter of the children. They are still snuggled in bed waiting to spend the day with the five new strangers. Laundry is still hung on the line to dry, like party decorations the bright clothes hang swaying in the wind. The smell of fresh baking bread wisps through the hogar making me eager to eat again. The sun, slowly rising behind the clouds, is warming me as I sit in the square. A humming bird finds nectar on the hibiscus tree in the garden. The hogar is beautiful this morning but is not the same without the sparkling eyes of the children.
Will I ever know the impact that I have on these children? I want to make a difference in their lives but I am realizing now how much they will affect mine. In the few hours we spent in the square last night I learned so much. The children taught me over 20 words in sign language and corrected my Spanish grammar. The most valuable thing they taught me was how far a smile and a hug can go. Something as little as a smile opens the door for these kids to share stories, play games, and give hugs. The language barrier is easily broken. Each of these children has so much to offer, a powerful inner strength and beauty that impossible to miss when you look in their bright brown eyes.
I also admire my fellow volunteers. Each interacts with the children differently but all are successful. We all have varying approaches that make us a stronger unit. In one night I have already made great friends.
Today we are taking the children to the Plaza de Armas for a parade and then to mass at the church. I get the impression that this is a special day for the kids. The hearing children leave the hogar daily to go to school, while the rest of the children stay in the hogar and only have this day as a chance to get out into the city. I am not sure how we will manage walking 70 children to and from the cathedral. We are still in the early stages of our understanding and communication with these children so I anticipate some difficulties. It is hard enough to keep 10 hearing kids in a line down a hall let alone 70 deaf children down to the center square in a crowd. It should be interesting but I have faith in the children and my fellow volunteers that today will go just fine.
We made it! The kids are amazing. They made a great effort to stay together and watch out for one another. Karina and Hermana Christina excellently and efficiently kept the kids close and organized. They could have easily done it on their own, which I think they do most of the time. We sat on the steps near the cathedral munching on popped corn watching people march by in the parade. The parade was much different than those in the States, no floats, pirates, or balloons but there was a large turn out, probably much more than a parade of this size would back home. The kids loved to get out of the hogar and spend time in the plaza with their five new friends.
The cathedral was a few blocks walk from the plaza. We gathered the children and stumbled through the crowd toward the cathedral. I don’t know how we got there with all the kids but we managed and settled the kids in the empty spots in the pews. After looking around the church I noticed we were the only tourists in the church. Surrounded by locals with a child on each arm I felt right at home. All those around me greeted me with smiles, hugs, and good blessings. It was a wonderful experience to feel part of the culture.
Later in the afternoon we went to “sexy woman”, a steep hike up behind the hogar. Although I arrived a day early to acclimatize to the altitude it was not an easy hike. The children were even out of breath and had to stop periodically to rest. Halfway up the hill to the ruins we stopped for a rest on a long bench next to the road. Across the road from where we were sitting, the children noticed an open door and were peering in to the room. I decided to investigate and noticed that it was an artisans paint shop. The children lined up at the door admiring the vibrant paintings. It was hard to pull the kids away from the door to get them moving back up the hill. They kept their eyes on the painting as long as they could but reluctantly moved up the hill.
We began up the hill at a run. The kids jumped right in and we raced up a block or two. That’s as far as our lungs would take us. Each time we began running we made it further up the hill only taking moments to rest before starting again. Not all the kids or volunteers ran with us so once we reached the top we waited for them…and we needed it! We sat on a grassy hill next to the entrance until the rest of the group showed up. We didn’t rest here long because we discover how slippery the hill was and how easy it was to slide down. This turned into another adventure exercise, sliding down the hill and running back up again and again. I couldn’t help laughing and enjoying such childish play and neither could the children. We didn’t even notice when the rest of the group joined us from their walk up the hill. Luckily they needed some rest time and were happy to wait for us while we played.
The ruins at “sexy woman” were amazing, at least what I saw of them. I was so busy playing and talking to the kids we didn’t even examine the whole of the ruins. We played chase, did cartwheels, and laughed in the large grass square for hours and didn’t even notice the ruins. The children were much more interesting and exciting than the ruins. We all played until we were hot and out of breath then we began back down the hill toward the hogar.
The walk down was a breeze. We didn’t need to take rest breaks at any point but the children found the artisan paint shop and peered into the door again. The walls were filled with various paintings from the city, all in bold colors. The painter and his wife seemed to enjoy the audience. I spoke with them for a few moments and they invited the children into the shop. About fifteen children snuggled into this tiny shop and admired the paintings. It was surprising to watch their big eyes widen at each painting. We looked until the children had their fill and then ran back to the hogar.
What an incredible day! I hope the kids had half as much fun as I did. I spent the whole time laughing and smiling. What a great first day with the kids.
We got up early this morning to help Karina get the children ready for school. Wow, she sure has her hands full with all these kids. It was sweet to watch all these tiny kids get up still sleepy, make their beds, brush their teeth, and stumble out onto the steps to get their hair done. For the girls, hair is important. They know who does their hair the way they like it and will wait for them if they are busy. Many of the girls were nervous to have me do their hair but some took the risk. I have to admit I am not the best hairdresser but I was surprised when I watched one of the kids take out my braids and stand in line for someone else. I guess they aren’t used to French braids. They have thick, black, luscious hair that felt good in my hands. I wish I had ¼ of the hair they have on their head.
At breakfast the children form two lines, boys and girls, from shortest to tallest. This is the first time I have seen all the children in one place. The girls line stretched across the square, from the dining room door past the swing set. The boys line was a little shorter in length but there were so many children all together I was stunned. I couldn’t help but look in all their eyes and wonder what brought them there. I wanted to know all of their stories, how they came to the hogar; where their parents were, did they have any other family, and how long have they lived here. Some of these children will only remember the life at the hogar. They are too young to recall much of their past, a past that will soon drift away leaving memories of the hogar and their new family there. The children seem to rely on one another. The older ones watch out and supervise the younger ones. It seems much like my family when I was a child with my brother and sister keeping me in line, making sure I had everything I needed, and kissing me when I cried. No matter the reason that they ended up here in the hogar, they didn’t lose out. It is not a sad place but a place of growth and renewal. The children undoubtedly miss their parents but by living here they have an instant family and bond with the other children.
Last night after the children went to bed, the group discussed which projects we needed to undertake. It was hard coming into the hogar cold, not knowing what they need the most or what issues needed addressing. This made it difficult to determine our course of action. We made a list of important projects we thought needed to be done, an inventory of the children’s clothing and medical supplies, inspection of the hearing testing equipment, and cleaning and painting the indoor playroom. We decided to tackle the most time consuming first…painting. The playroom was in disarray, chairs tipped and turned over, pen and pencil markings on the wall, and toys out of reach of the children. They must not use the room very much. I didn’t realize the magnitude of the task ahead of us this morning. I thought it would be easy to get this room painted but we didn’t have the right equipment or paint. This prevented us starting early in the morning but we cleaned and taped off the room until the paint arrived. We only finished half of the room today but it looks much better. It will be nice to set the room up for the children to play in on rainy and cold days.
After helping the children get ready for school Jesus drove us, the volunteers, to Pisac. It was a beautiful day for a drive out of the city to see the countryside. What an amazing place Peru is! It has been like a dreamland since I arrived, maybe it’s just the altitude playing with my head! It was nice to spend time with my fellow volunteers and see a little more of Peru. I enjoyed getting to know them more and feel lucky to be around such wonderful people.
We spent most of our day painting today. We were up at 6am to help with the kids, ate breakfast, and then we were off to the playroom to paint until lunch. I will be happy when we are done painting and can finish our other projects.
Our evenings are much different than our days. The children wait for us to return from our outings or emerge from the playroom. We spend the afternoon in the plaza playing games much like the first day. Until the sun dips behind the walls of the hogar we hug and kiss, play soccer, chase, and other various games. I don’t think it is important to them what we play, just that we are there. I feel the same. Each little game I play with the kids is fun and rewarding. I love to hear the children’s laughter so I do all I can to make them giggle. In most of my chase games, the kids ending up on the ground wiggling as I tickle them into uncontrollable laughter. I can’t help but laugh with them.
I am on the train to Machu Picchu right now. It is a slow ride up the switch backs out of Cusco and will take us over four hours to arrive in Agua Calientes. Last night I went to town to change money for this trip and I came back to hear the children had been looking for me the entire time I was gone. It was the first time I realized that I will soon have to say goodbye to them all. It was almost enough to prevent me from going on this trip up to Machu Picchu. This day is lost to the kids. We left before they woke and will not return until they are in bed.
It is hard not to fall in love with the children. They let you into their hearts and accept you even though we can’t communicate well. I am sad about leaving today, knowing that tomorrow is our last day with them and we still have painting to do. I will miss their glowing eyes, their contagious laughter, and the love that I feel when I am with them. I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to take one of them home with me. They would benefit from the educational system, healthcare, and opportunities for their future that don’t exist here in Peru. I can only imagine the loneliness one would feel taken from their large surrogate family here at the hogar and thrown into a different culture with only one pale skinned blonde to bond to. I wonder which would be more beneficial for them to stay and grow in their culture with others like them or to be picked from the group and sent to a far of country with a person they have known less than a week. I look toward the vision of their future and want to help them. They are well taken care of at the hogar, they eat well, have moderate medical care, and a family unit but there is little except daily schooling in reading and writing that prepares them to leave the hogar. What will happen to them after they grow too large for the hogar and must fend for themselves in the city of Cusco?
Tomorrow night we are throwing a party for the children with cake, ice cream, balloons, and sweets from the States. It is sort of a birthday celebration for them and a goodbye party for us. It will be sad to have to say goodbye.
We finally finished the rest of the painting and organizing of the playroom. We just had a few touch ups left and I have to admit I was happy when we put all the paint away. It was a great treat for the kids when we finally let them in to play.
While the kids were still in class we packed our bags and headed to town to see some sites. As we were leaving the hogar some of the children were heading off to school for the afternoon. I walked hand in hand with Irma to school and followed the other children down the street. It was hard for me to let go of her hand when we got to the school. I was thinking about having to say goodbye to her the next day. Although I am attached to all the children it is Irma that I feel the closest bond with and will have the most difficult time saying goodbye to. I promised her and the other children that we would wait until they came home from school to start the fiesta so they could take part in it too.
When we arrived back to the hogar the remainder of the children were sitting at tables in the square ready to eat lunch with us. It was a surprise for the volunteers and for the first time we ate a meal with the children. All the food I have eaten here was good but today it was exceptional. I am not sure if it was the ambiance, the dessert, or the fact this was our last lunch here but all of it was delicious! The rest of the afternoon was filled with games and laughter, a staple here at the hogar. Such simple fun can satisfy anyone!
Once the school kids arrived we the fiesta began. The dinning room was filled with balloons and excitement. As they waited to be served, the volunteers shared pictures from home. I was surprised how ravenously the children grabbed at the photos so eager to see what my life was like. I brought postcards and photos of my family, which they enjoyed the most. I can’t count the times I was asked if they could keep the photos of me. I couldn’t bear to give the photos to just one kid, it seemed unfair, and so I kept them. The children filled themselves on cake, ice cream, macaroni and cheese, and cookies. I think that was their dinner!!! Needless to say they were full of energy for the rest of the night. We stayed up late in the evening, much past dark, playing in the square. It was easy to forget that it was our last day here because we were having so much fun. I talked and played with each child I could find and even pulled the older boys out to play a little soccer, which is the only way I could get them involved. Time quickly passed and the kids started getting ready for bed. It would have been a sad occasion to put the kids to bed for the last time but we were off to have dinner at Maria Christina’s home in town, a great diversion from a potentially sad occasion.
I wonder what effect these weeklong visits have on the children. It is just enough time to bond with the volunteers, and then they leave. Each month a new group comes to visit but how many come back or keep in touch. This only emphasizes to me that my visit is only temporary and may not contribute to the children’s lives more than just a little entertainment for the week. I want to see the kids again. I want to keep in contact. I don’t want to lose all that I have gained while I was here and I want to continue to give to them. I think of this trip as just a taste of the life of a volunteer and I don’t doubt that I will return to the hogar and to the kids some day. It is possible to change and add to people’s lives by just being around. It isn’t important how much work you get done, especially at the hogar, but how much time you spend with them. That is what these children need most. They need adult love and attention most of all. It seems obvious to me because I spent my days here giving hugs, kisses, smiles, and attention. They never asked for anything more than that.