Crazy times in Peru. Can you help?

You know I went to Peru with my daughter to serve the Sunflower Orphanage near Urubamba. After we were there, it poured rain in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, nonstop for 4 days and 4 nights. You may have heard about people being airlift-rescued out of Machu Picchu.

The hotel we stayed in? Destroyed. The restaurant we ate in? Destroyed. 30,000 homes gone. The Amazon rose to 4 times its normal height–and even when we were there, I stared at it for the 90-min. train ride to Machu Picchu, as it is the wildest river I’ve ever seen.

I’m glad to report that the orphanage (well located high on the hill) and all the kids are fine. The kids cleaned and widened the drainage systems the week before (Leo might be inspired?). Other families whose homes were destroyed climbed up to the orphanage for safety. Their school is okay. But the farm we planted in, that feeds the kids, was washed out. The clothes we sent have been given to many displaced people living in tents.

Another orphanage close by was destroyed, and 12 orphans desperately need a place to stay. Could you help by sponsoring a child? Here’s the link to do so, and may God bless you for helping:

http://www.genhu.org/greensmoothiegirl.html

Peru, part 6 with photos

I wrote earlier of a village we discovered with three people living there who are 110 to 120 years old. These are photos of one of the village elders, with the ancient Incan rings she found when she was a child on her hand.

The other photo is me with Kynet and Marco, whom I wrote about earlier. Marco is 4 years old and has cerebral palsy. Here’s my thought. If this mother in a third-world country, no recipes and no education, with a battered old blender and $200/mo. in income can feed her child a marvelous, whole-food diet . . . can we?

Peru, part 5

I did, of course, take a Total Blender along to Peru to teach the orphanage’s cook. The kids were enthralled with how high tech it is. Here’s Carlos drinking a green smoothie and a not-great photo of me making it. I went to this open-air market (that’s how you buy food in Peru) and chose a lot of interesting things, including fruits kinda like we have in the U.S. and kinda different. Tree tomatoes. Apples that are long and skinny. Little, super-sweet bananas. A variety of spinach I’ve never seen.

My big mistakes were using cactus berries, which I thought would darken up the smoothie, but which actually just made too-big chunks of seed in it that had to be spit out. (I couldn’t find any berries that are dark in color.) And not using any ice (nobody has any) or frozen fruit. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever made, to be sure.

The Sunflower Orphanage, Peru Part 4

I have much more to tell you about our trip to Peru and especially the Sunflower Orphanage. In the swings (THANK YOU to GSG reader Patti for these photos!) are Purfita, Dayana, Janina, and me.

Janina is so cute and sweet, but she is impish and lets you know EXACTLY how she wants things to be! Dayana makes beautiful jewelry and drives a hard bargain. But she also wrapped a set of earrings up with gobs of paper and tape, and she and Janina presented them to me as a gift.

When I think of how badly I would like to take one or more of these girls out of Peru, I have to turn my brain away from the thought before my heart shatters in a million pieces, as impossible as that is.

The day we finished building this swing set, it rained all afternoon. The kids, though, took turns swinging all day long and into the night. No swing ever stood still. Classmates stood above the orphanage looking in, jealously. Some of these kids have never been in a swing. (Don’t worry, they figured it out. It didn’t take them long to learn to yell, “Empujame!” Push me! And to jump out at the height of the motion.)

In this photo with Cristofer, who is 7 years old and new to The Sunflower, whom Emma and I adore, we are hauling grass and rocks away before we built an outdoor wash basin. Cristofer rode in my wheelbarrow over and over, and it’s easy to carry him since he’s the size of a 4-year old! Seventeen percent of kids in Latin America are malnourished and Cristofer came as one of them. Now he gets three meals a day thanks to the generosity of Americans who sponsor kids at the Sunflower, run by two of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.

I looked high and low for a humanitarian organization that is truly dedicated to the welfare of street children and orphans, where virtually all of your money reaches the intended cause. I already know the founders. But I wanted to go there to see it, touch it. And I asked the kids, the intern, everyone, lots of questions. This organization, and this amazing home, is the real deal. Let me tell you a couple of examples of why I love this place:

One day I was pushing kids in the swings and Gabriel saw one of the teenage girls get into a swing with a big handful of grapes. He stopped his swinging and walked over to her, to ask for some. She give him half. Then he went back to swinging but noticed 5-year old Janina standing nearby. He slowed his swing to a stop, silently reached over and gave her half of his grapes. Then he started swinging again.

He never even knew I saw this. I never saw a fight the whole time I was at the orphanage. I never heard an argument, never saw meanness or selfishness. (I wish I could say the same about my own kids.) These children were rescued from savage abuse. From hiding and trying to survive in the jungle. From begging on the streets. From alcoholic parents. Many of them don’t even know their own birthday, how old they are. Many have no memory prior to age 8 because of that magnificent ability the body has to protect us from horribly painful memories.

Nora is an MD and PhD cancer researcher at the famous Houston MD Anderson Clinic. She came with a GSG reader (and often translated for us, including letters to the kids as we left, since she is a native of Argentina). Nora decided during the trip to sponsor a beautiful, quiet girl named Margot. (That means she pays the $37/month that covers Margot’s meals, and Nora is going to skype with Margot and send her clothes and shoes.) Margot was confiding in Nora the gossip at the Sunflower. “Papi Leo,” she whispered, “might convert this place to be an orphanage!” Margot ran away from two previous orphanages. At the Sunflower, the gates are always open, but no one has ever run away. The kids seem very genuinely happy to me.

Margot has no idea the Sunflower IS an orphanage. To her, it’s just . . .

HOME.

Here’s where you sponsor one of the kids:

http://www.genhu.org/greensmoothiegirl.html

Hello from 13,000 feet up in the Andes: Part 3

I just returned from a tour of a hospital in Cusco, Peru. If anyone who reads this site / blog thinks I am anti-doctor, I’m not. I am teaching a nutrition clinic to a pediatrics practice on Jan. 15 at home. But I just gained a newfound appreciation for medical care in America. I think we should use it less, especially drugs, especially antibiotics and steroids. But I’m so thankful we have access to some of the best medical care in the world. It was a shock to see Western medicine practiced in such a primitive way.

In the obstetrics unit, the mothers are packed 6 to a room. The maternal mortality rate is the highest in the world according to the World Health Organization, in the Andean countries: Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. That’s because the women are tiny, and cervical size is directly proportional to body size. In addition to poor medical care in general, many Peruvian women are only 4′ tall, so many are lost in childbirth because of short cervixes where doctors are unable to stop bleeding. The equipment in the OB wing of the Cusco hospital is ancient, the hospital far from sterile and some might even say dirty, there are no incubators, babies must sleep with their mothers, and we gringos were allowed to wander through with our guide, an obstetrics nurse who helps run the orphanage.

Peasant mothers don’t know when they will deliver because they haven’t received any medical care, so they come down out of the mountains and often end up at the hospital for weeks, waiting, all funded by the Peruvian government.

We gave hand-knitted hats and newborn kits to the new mothers, who let us photograph their beautiful babies. One woman’s baby had died, and her daughter was sleeping on the dirty floor next to her, surrounded by other expectant and recently delivered mamas.

Then, with no warning, we were ushered into the delivery room of a first-time mother giving birth. When I realized what we were seeing, I asked my daughter, only 14, and the other 14 y.o. girl with us, if they really wanted to watch a birth, and they did. I am frankly ecstatic that they saw that. What they saw may be more helpful in discouraging poor choices than the semester of Teen Living my daughter just took, where she carried around a fake baby with batteries that cried (very annoyingly) and peed. My daughter said afterward, ”I am never having children.” She’ll get over that, but it is well documented that women with education have babies later (improving the children ´s and family ´s quality of life), and women who have babies later have more education.

Not that seeing the birth wasn’t beautiful. It was. We got to see a human being take its first breath, utter its first cry, and I was deeply moved. This mother had no anaesthesia of any kind, but didn’t make a sound. One of the midwives was putting her entire body weight on the mother’s belly to shove the baby into the world. We watched an episiotomy. We watched the six women around the mother yell, ”Es varoncito!” It’s a baby boy!

The midwives and Eunice, our nurse friend who works on the unit, dragged Linda in to take photos. We gringos (the men were down the hall, declining to watch) were horrified and begged her to come out and not take photos of this very private event. So Linda came back out, but Eunice grabbed her camera and began snapping away. We realized later that Eunice wanted that young mother to have the photos, for us to send them to her. She was there alone, no husband or boyfriend, no parents or siblings or friend–and no camera. Some of the peasant women we photographed have never owned a photo of themselves or their children.

We walked through an emergency room with appalling conditions: patients lying on stretchers with IV’s surrounded by sick people, even some with basins in their laps to throw up in–the waiting room and treatment room were one and the same. Husbands and boyfriends and children sleeping in corners and hallways everywhere.

I’m glad clean and efficient medical care is available in my country when we need it. I couldn’t help but say under my breath a few times in the hospital, ”Please God let none of us get sick in this country.” I have been rather blessed that way. All but a few of the Americans in our expedition have been ill with altitude sickness, diarrhea, vomiting, and other symptoms. I’ve been totally healthy and even have been eating lettuce salads we were warned against, and using tap water to brush my teeth.

Emma threw up at the entrance to Machu Picchu (”I threw up on one of the 8 Wonders of the World,” she likes to say) but hiked all day and has been otherwise fine.

Hello from 13,000 feet up in the Andes: Part 2

Our 11-day trip to Peru will soon be over, and it’s officially the only long trip I have ever taken where I wished I could stay. Emma and I have fallen madly in love with 34 little brown children. We just went to church with them, where some of the girls were wearing Emma and Libby’s old dresses, which delighted Em. I have seen my daughter learn and grow in a profound way (her Spanish has  improved in a quantum way because she’s so motivated to express herself to the orphans). Today we visit babies in a hospital in Cusco and give them the donations we brought.  Babies go home wrapped in newspapers there, because the families are so poor.

One thing I won’t miss: the kids all call me Shakira, and I have had to respond to demands to ¡CANTA! and ¡BAILA! oh, I don’t know, 200 times? After singing Hips Don’t Lie and Underneath Your Clothes a few times, and doing Shakira’s hip-shakin’ thing, I decided that Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba would be more appropriate to sing. The kids vastly prefer my dancing to my singing. The adults called me Barbie (including random strangers when I went running every morning, ” ¡Hola Barbie!”). Apparently the only two people the orphans and even most of the adults have been exposed to, who have long blonde hair, are Shakira and Barbie? At first the kids would take my long hair and drape it over their heads to pretend it was their hair, and they’d surreptitiously pull out a strand of my hair to keep. Then after a while they got bold and would beg me to cut off a lock of my hair. (That’s where I draw the line.)

On New Year’s Eve we had a huge party for the kids at the orphanage, with live music, crafts, fireworks like I have never seen before, and a traditional feast the expedition volunteers paid for. The younger ones could barely prop their eyes open at the end of the night but, when asked to go to bed, pleaded, ” ¡Por favor, no!”

I met the most gorgeous 4 y.o. boy, Marco, who has cerebral palsy, and I held him and danced with the others for a couple of hours to give his mother a rest. His mother Kynet had apparently been told what I do in the U.S. and asked me, shyly: Will you help me with nutrition, for Marco? She was the cook at the orphanage until carrying Marco on her back tied with a shawl (all the women here do that) became too much for her.

Yesterday I had a meeting with her, with my friend Van translating, as my Spanish is adequate but I don’t have the sophisticated vocabulary for everything I wanted to say.

Kynet is very poor and has no education, but she is one of the most motivated, intelligent, loving mothers I have ever met. She talked about how Marco’s father (her common-law husband) said, “I will never smile again until my son is well.”

Kynet juices carrots and beets for her tiny boy, who is the size my children were at 15 months. She then adds the pulp to rice–brilliant!–rather than throwing it away. She didn’t know that brown rice is much more nutritious than white rice, and the grama of the orphanage, Eunice, told her where to buy it. We discussed high calorie and high nutrition foods such as avocado and banana to feed Marco more of. I taught her how to sprout seeds and raw nuts, and I emphasized the importance of raw foods. Kynet uses a cheap blender, because Marco cannot masticate food so she blends most of it. I am going to talk to BlendTec: between us we will get a Total Blender to Kynet. I told her she is a wonderful mother, smart and attentive, the mother God chose very specifically for Marco.

Marco has winces with pain when he eats anything slightly cold or hot because of impacted teeth needing extraction. The anaesthesia used by locals could put Marco in a coma, so a pediatric oral surgeon is needed, and one does not exist in the entire state of Cusco. My friend Van and I talked for a minute about how to get such a doctor to fly to Lima, and pay for Kynet and Marco to go to Lima. Kynet looked us both in the eyes, back and forth, and whispered in Spanish,

“I plead with you.”

The love of a mother. It is profound. It made tears well up in my eyes, in Van’s, and in Kynet’s, and I have the same reaction writing this. As difficult as life will be for Marco, a severely handicapped boy in a third world country, whose father makes $200/month, his eyes shine from all the love he’s given daily. The 34 children of the Sunflower Orphanage break my heart even more.

I have had much to reflect on during many hours of physical labor at the orphanage.   We planted a vegetable garden, ploughed and planted a wheat field, painted dorms, hauled rocks, built a swing set, built an outdoor sink. And played with the children, read to them, did arts and crafts with them, loved them up. If only you could love and touch and physically give enough to a child in a week to shore up a lifetime. It takes $30K and 2 years to get a child out of a Peruvian orphanage, only if you’re lucky.

Primary among my reflections has been how significant parents are. I cannot really describe for you the effect on me–and more importantly, on my daughter–of spending an intensive week serving and loving children who have no mothers, no fathers. The children are fascinated by parents and grandparents and grilled me endlessly about mine: How old are they? Where do they live? Do you live with them?

I will post a photo of my meeting with Kynet, Van, and Marco when I get home. Give your children, if you’re blessed to have them, an extra hug from the GSG readers who are here. All the children of the world deserve parents.