Four years ago I chose to sponsor a young boy from Cusco named Renzo Bryan through World Vision.
Last week, I had the privilege of meeting him here in Peru, and to witness World Vision’s amazing work in educating and building the community around him.
My afternoon visit involved meeting the team at the regional World Vision office in Cusco, meeting my sponsor child and a road trip up a mountain and into the small community village of Ponacancha to see the impact of World Vision’s work in the community.
With a team of just 11 people based in Cusco to oversee the sponsorship of more than 2700 children and the communities around them, I left with a new-found respect for the work that these guys do.
The Ponacancha community
With World Vision’s focus primarily on education, health and building leaders in the community – I was really pleased to hear that it was not simply a hand-out.
I visited two beautiful families who were proud to show me the homes they had built. With the support of World Vision, they had learned about the importance of keeping their kitchen, bathroom, guinea pig house and living spaces separate for a healthier lifestyle. In the past, they had just one room for their cooking, sleeping and living, with houses made of unsealed thin walls and loosely thatched roofs.
While this seems like a pretty basic concept for us in our modern lives, the reality is that these parents weren’t aware of the damage they were inflicting on themselves and their families by sharing their living space with thick black smoke from cooking, or mixing so closely with animals with potential diseases or lice.
Simple hygiene rules that most people learn; e.g. washing your hands after going to the bathroom, proper food handling food, etc, were habits not yet formed by this community – so World Vision has been running programs to educate and promote a better way of living.
The two families were so proud of what they had achieved and sincerely grateful for the assistance and materials provided by World Vision. I was also fortunate to meet the leader of the community who compared their new way of living to “how people live in the city”.
To be honest, I was astonished at even their new living conditions: uneven mud floor, mud walls, corrugated iron roof. It’s certainly not how you’d build a house in Australia. However, it was a solid construction with protection against the elements; and that’s what is important to them.
One man proudly showed me how he had built an oven by inserting a tin drum into a small mud box he had created next to the stove. A pipe had been run behind the stove to feed through to a sink trough, allowing the family to have some hot running water so their children could bathe more regularly.
He had also constructed a large guinea pig house that is now being used to earn an income for his family. He was so genuinely grateful to World Vision for providing him with the materials to create something for himself, and it was so great to see such a strong sense of pride in him.
Starting with just a handful of guinea pigs, he has now bred over 150 and sells them at around 15 soles (AUD$6) each.
I had never seen so many guinea pigs in one place: they made such a cute little squeal as I entered the breeding house – it’s so sad to think that Peruvians enjoy feasting on these little critters. I did learn, however, that eating guinea pigs is a bit of a speciality and generally just for festivals or special occasions such as birthdays.
After so many written exchanges with Renzo, it was amazing to meet him in person. Renzo is now 11 and even though it was a little difficult to communicate given my inadequate adoption of the Spanish language, I got the sense that he was a really happy kid.
I had a wonderful translator, Justina (pronounced Houstina), who helped me converse with him about his favourite sport (soccer), his family, food, his pets and friends.
His mother accompanied him on the visit and was really thankful that I had traveled to come and meet them. She even blessed me and said that she hopes God looks over me. So sweet!
Visiting Renzo and the community has been a major highlight of my travels in Peru so far. Being able to connect with the community and learn a little about the reality that they live in is not something I could have done through a tour or by following my guide book. The opportunity provided by World Vision to visit Renzo was ‘once-in-a-life-time’ and I’m lucky to have had the chance.
Eleanor Tan is a researcher and blogger for the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.