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Guardian Angels

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Do I really have to let go of this bundle of love?
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One week I'm talking of falling in love, the next week I'm holding a baby! Whoah! What's going on here! Don't worry, it's not what it looks like. It's just the World Trekkers doing some service work.

One thing any visitor to Cuzco cannot help but notice is the children all over, living in the streets, selling candies or cigarettes, shining shoes, or begging. Like most tourists, I occasionally give them a little spare change or take them out to lunch. But I've had the good fortune to meet and work with two women who came here as tourists, and then returned to help these children escape the cycle of poverty and hand-to-mouth living.

Pilar and Maria are sisters from Spain who saw a problem and decided to make a difference. Two years ago, after visiting Cuzco, they returned to Spain to raise money from friends, and then came back to Cuzco and started the Hogar Transitorio Amantaní, a home for orphans and abandoned children. They now provide a home to twelve babies, six toddlers and ten school-aged children, plus two young, unwed mothers. Now that's more than a handful!

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Three of the youngest residents of Hogar Transitorio Amantaní.  How cute are they?
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I came early in the morning with Clara, a British woman who is volunteering here five mornings a week for two months. Despite the several volunteers that were there, I was immediately holding sweet little Flor, who had fallen and was crying, while trying to mediate a wordless argument between Gary and Jhon over a toy they both wanted.

You know what it's like to baby-sit little brothers and sisters, right? Well imagine six of them! And if that's not enough, remember that Mom and Dad aren't coming home.

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Flor, Jhon, and Jaime testing out their gardening talents!
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You know what it's like to baby-sit little brothers and sisters, right? Well imagine six of them! And if that's not enough, remember that Mom and Dad aren't coming home.

We spent the day with the six toddlers, changing diapers, feeding them, playing, and going to the park. I realized right away how lucky these kids are to have this place. It is clean and organized, with lots of volunteers giving much needed attention to these kids. Pilar told me that there are not enough places for these children, and if they weren't here, they would be "cared for" by the police. Could you imagine growing up in JAIL just because there was nowhere else to go!

Hogar (home) Amantaní is supposed to be a temporary home while the staff tries to find the children permanent homes and file all of the paperwork for adoption. Still, they manage to stay at their full capacity, even though they've moved twice to larger places and are planning to rent the building next door for the babies and unwed mothers. Pilar explained to me that many of the kids arrive as newborns, but that the legal process for adoption takes at least a year. Meanwhile, they stay at the Hogar and are cared for Pilar and Maria, many volunteers, and the two young mothers, who help with keeping up the house and taking care of the rest of the kids. The school-age children get tutored in the mornings, and then go to school all afternoon. While the schoolkids are at school and the toddlers are napping, the moms get tutored with their babies in their arms. That way they continue their education and can escape a life of poverty.

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Lucky Gary meets his new mom and dad!
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While I was there, a young Norwegian couple, Gunnar and Marianne, came to pick up Gary, their newly adopted son. What a lucky kid! He is going to have a new family, a new home, and an older sister, Maria, who was adopted nine years ago from Ecuador by the same parents. Without the Hogar Amantaní, Gary would never have had this opportunity, and would still be in the streets or in police custody, if he survived this long.

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Smiles all around for me, Rosa, and Percy!
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Peru has a big problem with street children and orphans, in part do to poverty and in part due to the political violence that has existed in the country. It is estimated that, in Peru, 55% of children live in poverty and 26% of the children under five and 48% of the children between the ages of six and nine suffer from chronic malnutrition. In a country with a high birth rate and a huge foreign debt, any large scale, institutional changes that would relieve this problem seem far off. James Grant, the former director of UNICEF, said, "Lines of causality can be drawn connecting the street child to an international economic system that has accelerated impoverishment and stalled development in much of the third world."

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The smile of a well-loved orphan.
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But projects like the Hogar Amantani and the Hotel Niños prove that there are things that individuals can do to make a world of difference in a seemingly indifferent world. Still, despite the success of these places, they too, are living a hand-to-mouth existence, dependent on the kindness of donations from people in wealthy, industrialized nations to survive, and volunteers who come on their own time and money.

If you are interested in donating money or coming to Cuzco to work as a volunteer at the Hogar Amantaní, contact Pilar Echevarría Pérez at Avda Brasil C-7-Urbanización Quispicanchis Cuzco, Peru, telephone: (51 84) 25 14 07, e-mail: amantani@soluservis.com.pe.

Abeja

Shawn - Home Is Where the Heart Is
Kavitha - A Clean Slate
Kevin - Working for a Living
Monica - She's at the CO-pa, CopacaBAAAANAAA!
Making A Difference - Debt, Debt and More Debt!
 
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