Jan - July 13
This has been an interesting year; busy with new projects adding some real value to the children and adults of the communities.
The subject of water filters has been discussed on and off for a number of years but finding one that was long lasting and easy to maintain was until recently not known to us. All the offers, as well as some we received only lasted a short time (up to a year) and very high maintenance to keep them working and clean. We just knew these filters would be discarded and the buckets used for other things...there aren’t a lot of buckets up in these remote communities. When we heard about these particular filters from a very generous donor who, working with the Rotary Club, was willing to buy the first batch of filters and buckets we were excited. After much discussion and how many we could potentially get (as he was going to help 3-4 charities) we went from 1-2 filters per school to one for every classroom in the school and kitchen (to wash the veggies), training the teachers and cook in how to maintain the filters with a weekly wash out taking only about 5 minutes and if done religiously the filter would last a lifetime. As you could imagine the teachers were delighted. One of the other issues with water filters is the flow rate which drops dramatically at altitude but this group had all the trials and flow rates. In practice they worked brilliantly. The biggest job was making the hole for the filter to fit into the first bucket, using the special tool supplied...they had thought of everything so other than buying the buckets we didn’t need to supply anything else. Drilling these holes and a smaller one in the top of the second bucket to allow for the fitting of the end of the filter allowing the filtered water to gather for the children to drink as often as they wanted. We had deliberately bought half the buckets with taps to make for easier pouring and no dirty hands dipping into the water with their cups. This preparation had the whole team and even visitors working hard, getting sore hands so we had all the buckets in place in every classroom, and the director and teachers of the school fully instructed within our time in the community and school hours during a one day trip. The plastic was tough but it was important to have buckets that were meant to hold liquids so non toxic. All in all it was great seeing all the children scrambling with their cups for a drink of this water. There comments were “It tastes sweeter, lovely...” and lots of grins everywhere. We were delighted with the results. On the day we had been demonstrating and getting ready to take it away water spilt on the lid of the receiving bucket. One of the kids rushed up to suck up the water before it was taken away...Seeing that we had no qualms that the water filters were a big success. In the smaller high altitude school the kids were brilliant as they watched how we assembled the filters and wanted to help, each giving the other instructions if they didn’t get it quite right. These kids are bright but face such difficult circumstances your heart goes out to them.
The teachers were reminded about the doctors visit the year before and the number of conditions that were as a result of dehydration. We asked them to please encourage the children to drink constantly throughout the day. We also asked them to change the water reservoir every day. On subsequent visits we did see some of the younger ones with their mouths over the outside tap and again reinforced to the teachers the need to encourage the children to drink from the water in their classrooms....old habits die hard.
It will be interesting to see (hear from the doctors) if this new initiative has made the difference we think it will.
BUILDING NEW RELATIONS AND NEW FUNDRAISERS
I hinted at people coming out of the woodwork in my last blog.
Early on my return in January Sonia told us someone she had met the year before wanted to celebrate her birthday in Cusco bringing in lots of her international friends for a fun week. We were to be one of the 2 charities she wanted her guests to contribute to. This was to be on the Sunday night at the start of the celebrations. I met with the lady and she was lovely. She had firm ideas of what she wanted us to bring and keep track of donations. I was therefore kept busy preparing a spreadsheet, flyers with our bank details and other ways they could donate to us. I prepared a slide show that would run on my laptop throughout the night and had a breakdown of what the programs cost. Because of the issue with the food program we wanted to push that so that was all the conversations started. Aquiles brought Rita in from the the valley and for those Spanish guests she mostly did the talking but sometimes I did too..as best I could. I seem to have got a bit stuck with my Spanish; I can communicate reasonably well but unless I am talking it all day every day it is probably not going to move forward much. I’m still practicing a little but not overly so. If and when the time is needed and I am talking it all the time, then things will move forward and I’ll study harder. Anyway we had a reasonably good night..if a little cold as we were just down from the open roof top. It was the end of March after all. I think Sonia was a little disappointed we didn’t raise more as she seemed to think it would be a very large sum. As is always the way some who promise don’t deliver which is a shame as the hostess was trying to help us in so many ways. Her company and team have continued to support LH since that night promoting the young English guy who was climbing the highest mountain in the tropics.
Luke had been all set to fundraise for an orphanage just outside Lima but when he had visited them he had been really disappointed by the management he said. Anyway their loss was our gain. He spotted our video and emailed to enquire further. This was the start of a number of early morning Skype calls. He was quite an enigmatic young guy with lots of energy and enthusiasm. He came to Cusco for a long weekend that turned out to be perfect as we were taking the water filters around the schools discussing how we thought it could work and getting the buy-in of the directors so he saw the 2 high altitude schools firsthand. He was a bit like the pied piper as the kids swarmed around him and over him! If he wasn’t bought in before he certainly was now! We set up My Donate which was something on my to-do list anyway and they couldn’t have been any more helpful in making sure we were active within a day! This allowed him to tap into all his friends and family in England. He had been working out here for 3 years but still had a lot of support at home. What he was doing was pretty risky but he seemed to be up for the task and training hard. Needless to say he achieved his goal and a lot of money for LH.
The following weekend we had visitors from Switzerland. This was again a chance occurrence. They were setting up a charity and wanted to help children in Peru but not sure how. They saw LH video and the fact that it was heart-centred we started discussions. They were meeting other NGOs in and around Lima but would fly to Cusco to spend 2 days with us. Rita and I took them around the communities ann we installed the water filters at the same time so they got very involved with helping us. They had excellent Spanish having lived in South America for a number of years which made things easy as Rita could have long conversations too. It is surprising the misconceptions and the reasons why they thought the people in these mountains are so poor. They could see vast expanses of land and assumed it was all for each family. After some explanation regarding the community land and dividing all land equally between the children thus reducing the size of each small holding considerably over time as well as visiting the communities they fully understood the position and were willing to help us. A good 2 days spent I felt.
During this same weekend I also had to meet a lovely couple from Holland who through the husband’s school had raised a huge amount from a Xmas Fayre. They wanted a short video with me (as Sonia wasn’t available) to take back and show the pupils...It was a busy weekend...again! No days off when you do the weekends either as there were always many e mails to be answered, something else to be done, and too many explanations as to why you weren’t working. It balanced out sometimes with shorter days where possible.
Later in the year another lovely couple from Holland decided their silver wedding would be all donations to LH. They had visited the cafe the year before and loved what we did. Their event sounded so beautiful, romantic and personal, it felt like a privilege to have had a little peak and they raised quite a bit of money too. Conversing with so many lovely people via e mail was definitely a part of the role I enjoyed.
VOLUNTEER GROUP- PLAYGROUND EQUIPMENT
This was a biggie as Sonia was not happy about groups of volunteers in the community. She had had some first hand experience with some young ones many years ago and the memory still haunted her. It was challenging getting this set up I must say and at times it came very close to pulling out on more than one occasion. The problems being the attitude...they thought we needed them so they could bulldoze us...EEHHH NO!! The office lady and I had a few run ins I can tell you!...a change of coordinator too and expecting me to go over everything again...again NO..my reply... read the e mails already sent, we are too far along and I have too many other things to do to start this again. There would definitely have needed to be a slightly different way of working if we were to do this again but it was great to have the playground equipment in the community schools. Even at the last minute the plug was nearly pulled - the problem being the taking of photographs in the community. Sonia was absolutely adamant about this. I could understand in some ways but thought there was a work around. Eventually it was agreed that LH team and the team leader of the volunteers were the only ones allowed to take them. There were to be 2 groups, a week apart, the second group being particularly large so we had some of them working on the greenhouse roof repair as well. The first group got on no problems despite the main challenge of building from a photograph! There weren’t any playground gyms built from wood for us to see and compare to so changes were made on the spot meaning poor Rita was visiting various types of shops in the evening. Fortunately the carpenter that helped construct the first one was willing to travel to the other site 2 hours away to help with the second construction. This larger group had a lot more issues with a third of the group being taken to hospital, laid up in bed at any one time. From what I heard some had been a little silly and drinking where they shouldn’t despite being warned. This of course had to be the English group! The Canadians and Americans seemed to be more sensible. These issues were obviously dealt with by the team leaders and not us.
At the end though we had a playground gym with monkey bars and climbing frame, and a set of 3 swings. It was brilliant to watch the kids clambering to get onto the swings as each seat was attached! It was also amazing to see how quickly they learn..from not knowing how to get onto a swing to having 3 on one swing! It was also heartwarming as they formed an orderly queue at the side of the swings and at regular intervals someone shouted “time”, one got off with no fuss and the next one got on! ..Would you see that at home...I don’t think so!! Brightly coloured paint was bought to finish the structures off and protect the wood, as well as acting as a sealant. This meant they were visible for miles...quite a sight I can tell you.
This came about as a recommendation from someone I actually knew and who didn’t realize I was now supporting LH. I had brought over clothes for her in 2010 for her work with the local hospital for which she was very grateful and we kept in touch for a short time, but as these things go we lost contact. I had always meant to give her a call but never quite managed it.
The clinics were being run by nurses specializing in eye care and 1-3 ophthalmologists too. They were looking for other communities to make a difference but with ongoing support. Robyn thought of LH. The US group bring eye medications and glasses, but more importantly they had made contact with a group from Cusco who would be willing to do some pro bono work providing cataract operations, overnight stays etc as required.
As this was the first time for this type of clinic in our communities despite previous notification of what we were doing I (who was manning the door taking names, ages and what the issues were) was turning away stomach aches, sore legs etc. I really should also remember my calculator for these days too as you work out their ages from then DNI card and I had scribbles everywhere...well my mental arithmetic was never that great! It was great to see the benefits of this clinic with prescription glasses being given making the artisan work of these women so much easier.
From the 50 people we saw 7 were identified with more severe problems and then rated for success. The cataract operations were our best bet for success if we picked the right candidates.There were a number of issues that Rita raised later regarding some of the seven. It was a shame as an impromptu meeting had been held with the eye team just before we all left each other and Rita wasn’t at it so her input came later. Her concerns were the aftercare once they were back in the community (putting in drops, away from smoky conditions etc), with small smoky houses and in a couple of cases, the care from the community would stop for certain abandoned elderly! Let me explain this one a bit further. A couple of the elderly people..I should have said most were 70+ years of age, had no family support at all so relied on kind members of the community which they seemed to have. Rita’s concern was that this would disappear if they could see well following an operation and have no food or real support. Leaving them half blind would keep this support! A hard choice but perhaps the best one under the circumstance. It was therefore decided to try the three most likely to succeed in the first instance, who had full family support. Seemingly 3 could be taken at one time and obviously with the family support it is all we could accommodate in one car down the mountain. As most of these old dears wouldn’t have left their community in years it was important they had someone with them. It would be extremely scary for them. We would only need to cover the cost of the transport to Cusco, the rest would be covered. Unfortunately all this came as I left so I’m not sure if the operations finally happened. I’d like to think so but wasn’t hopeful to be honest as a bit more coordination was needed before we were there. Hopefully ...as this would be life changing for those elderly people and word would spread so the younger people would come next year.
We had 2 over my time this year and Annie is still here. As we have no volunteer coordinator we make it very clear volunteers need to be self sufficient and come ready to help in perhaps different ways from our first discussions depending on the circumstances. Normally there is not too much deviation but with the recent changes there has been quite a change for Annie.
Linda arrived at the end of Feb for 3 months and was going to work in the cafe as most of the projects didn’t begin again until later in April. She was a lovely English lady with lots of ideas from her fundraising experience in the past which she shared with us before starting in the cafe. She did manage to visit the communities with us before she left and gave out the clothes donations as Rita and I did the heights and weights. That was a lovely and interesting day for us all. I hadn’t done the heights and weights before and was shocked at the numbers of incredibly underweight kids coming into the school that didn’t register on the scales... they were usually under 12kg. I had to lift these children and we subtracted my weight! The sad thing is I got to know despite the clothes and I automatically lifted these children. I gave Linda some hints on how to decide who needed what, clothes-wise. Basically if I needed to lift the child and to look at their legs and feet. If their woolen leggings were tattered, their sandals were the worse for wear or their skirt or trousers were tied up with string because they were too big (probably a hand me down from an older child) then they got the best stuff and if possible 2 pieces. We brought things for the children and mothers. The men tended to spend any money on themselves, especially if they were on the Inca trail, so they could attract other women, or spend it on booze! The male clothing was kept for the elderly whose clothes donations happened a little later. Linda thoroughly enjoyed the day and had wished it had come earlier so she could share with the tourists passing through the cafe. A lovely idea but the timing wasn’t right this time. She was hoping to return so we shall see if she makes it back or gets caught up (as is so easy to happen) with her life back home. She was starting a course on medicinal herbs when she got back.
Annie arrived at the start of June. She was a sound recordist in London and was here to do a lot of media stuff for us for 6 months which was great. She came just as the second volunteer group were building the playground equipment so got some great footage of that and the eye clinics the following week. With all the brouhaha that followed shortly afterwards she was panicking a little about what she would do but seems to have settled into some kind of routine. She has moved from Cusco to Urubamba and is much happier there as it is a lovely market town. Workwise she is doing some stuff for LH, filming for others and working a little in the cafe.
I wanted to share these little snippets with you so you had an idea of what I had been involved in. This and a lot of the day to day stuff, moving other stuff along it was a busy 7 months with so many changes of direction throughout this time resulting in lots of different types of documentation - financial and otherwise needing prepared...very up and down to be honest.
Now it has all finished I have kept only the things I had gathered up myself as possible useful follow ups, just in case I may need them in the future.
Until my next blog mis amigos...hasta luego.