On Thursday, we visited the last home for orphaned/abandoned children on our itinerary, Comunidad de Ninos, la Sagrada Familia. To recap, we started our journey following Peruvian Hearts in Cuzco, then met up with the soccer-based ACPNI on Monday, el Hogar de Rebano de Jesus and el Hogar de Vida for HIV positive families on Tuesday. Each charitable organization faced a similar challenge: how to sustain itself and grow. Relying on donations doesn’t get them far in Peru, since the average family here just doesn’t have the excess of time and belongings to give. So we saw how some of these Peruvian-led organizations tried to start businesses, but with struggling starts — remember the new storefront of Rebano de Jesus, and the lunches prepared by el Hogar de Vida? La Sagrada Familia, around for 20+ years, is the one that finally figured out how to get ideas like this off the ground successfully.
The Vision: The founder Miguel Rodriguez Candia runs around like crazy and carries three cell phones, but I think he has the clearest vision of all. He started several social businesses to support his home, where he has vowed to never turn a child away. He says the Hogar’s most pressing needs are: 1. providing food, 2. providing education, 3. forming children into responsible adults and leaders, 4. having more buildings to take in more kids. He’s also built businesses where older students can work to earn their keep, and where graduates from the Hogar can later be employed, so they can successfully transition from dependent children into independent adults.
The Backstory: Miguel, who comes from a journalism background, started the Hogar with his wife and two children after his third son died of a heart attack as a six-month old baby. On his way to the hospital, he found two children abandoned on the streets. He tried to help them both, but one died. He buried this small child in the same coffin as his infant son. He took in the surviving boy, but he ran away the next day. Miguel asked him why he would do that, and he said that he couldn’t leave his friends. So Miguel took in four friends, who became twenty, and the number of children kept increasing to the point where he opened up a large Hogar for them.
The Businesses (or Talleres):
- A bread bakery: Miguel’s bakery makes the bread that Pizza Hut and KFC (these American fast food restaurants are all over Peru) use.
- A wood shop: The Hogar collects scraps of wood, all sorts of garbage, and turns them into furniture. The tables, benches, chairs are then sold at a market outside the Hogar.
- A sewing shop: The Hogar has a room of sewing machines where girls make uniforms and skirts to the best quality, to sell at markets.
- A clinic: That first boy that Miguel took in, the night his infant son died, grew up to be a doctor! He came back to the Comunidad and built this clinic for the community, and the profits support the Hogar.
- A music room: There’s a full orchestra made up of children and they’ve even put out a CD sold to benefit the Hogar. We bought one!
- A welding shop: This one is already under construction.
A Remarkable Fact: We took a plane from Lima to Cuzco our first week to see the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu, remember? Well, every January (when it’s summer here), Miguel and his graduating seniors WALK up to Machu Picchu from their town of Zapallal, two hours outside of Lima. This trek takes 17.5 days. On the way, Miguel dresses up as Santa Claus and gives those wood toys made from his shop out to needy children.
The Living Quarters: There are six houses for girls, six for boys, and one for infants. Liz has some pics of these which we’ll post when downloaded. We loved visiting the girls quarters and speaking in English with a few of them who are learning the language. They sang us a song which we recorded and will upload for you when Internet speeds cooperate! Outside the dorms were gardens, where each child is given a piece of land to plant a seed. Loved this idea because it goes back to the Inca wisdom our Cuzco guide Daniel gave us: “Plant a seed and it will grow.” Miguel also quoted the Inca’s beliefs often when speaking, especially when emphasizing the importance of doing anything to the BEST of your ability, just as the Incas did.
Schooling: Miguel built a school for the community, and if a child studies hard enough to get into university, he finds a way to pay for their tuition. We’re looking into setting up a way for She’s the First to support sponsorships.
What’s Next: The girls asked us when we would be back as we were leaving…we told them our friends from NYC are coming next week! That would be ALEGRIA, the artsy non-profit started by Shay Grabowski. A team of artists are going to work at la Comunidad this fall and teach the children to dream and achieve through visual mediums.
There’s so much more to show and say about la Sagrada Familia — more coming when we’re back to full Internet speed!