Happy last week of summer break! Remember those days growing up? One more week to fit in every last bit of fun because life is basically over once school starts. Well, lucky for me, I don’t have to go to school or do homework anymore, so I’m not enjoying this last week of freedom because of those reasons… I’m enjoying it because we’re currently kid-free. Is it bad that I’m kind of loving it? One more week to fit in every last bit of quiet, tantrum-free time because life is basically over once school starts. Okay, slight exaggeration… but it IS going to become much less relaxing.

Everyone is working this week to get things ready for the start of school/the after-school program/the overnight program. I have been assigned the task of organizing the library which, if you know me, you know that I love books. I’m more than happy to take on the challenge. Vanessa started the process of cataloging and sorting the books, and I’m finishing the work she started. I spent all of yesterday and half of today holed up in the library, listening to music, putting stickers onto books, and entering information about each one into a spreadsheet. The alone time has been great, and I always like tasks like this. It’s simple and a bit repetitive, and I get to figure out the most efficient way of getting it done. There’s nothing better than making a plan, executing it, and knowing that it was done the most effective way. Ah I love efficiency.

Library cave

I made great progress yesterday, and I think I would have finished today if I had worked on it during the morning as well. Instead, Debbie and I had the joy of cleaning the floor in our old classroom. Throughout the course of summer school, it got to be more and more of a disaster. A lot of the kids worked on their models on the floor which means that it was completely covered in glue, tape, glitter, and paint. After sweeping up whatever we could, we went at the paint spots with soapy water and scrubby brushes and the glue and tape with razor blades. Thankfully, Debbie brought some mats that had been adapted into knee pads, so we didn’t have to kneel on the floor or squat the entire time. It made things about a million times more comfortable. Over an hour later, we had a floor covered in only soap, and I felt gross. We mopped to get the soap up and then left the floor to dry. Not my favorite thing I’ve ever done, but at least I felt accomplished at the end. Plus, now it’s finished, and we won’t have to do it again!
Tomorrow I’m headed back to my library cave to finish up the rest of the books. Is it lame that I’m a little bit excited? If only there were more books… It’s too bad that I’ve been so efficient because I only need another couple hours to finish. I’d be happy doing that job all day.

We had another weekend of freedom!! It is so incredibly nice to have a break, especially with the end of summer school and the craziness of the last week, trying to get everything done. We went on another mini-adventure yesterday to make the most of our time!

From the moment I woke up, the day was already going wonderfully. Why? Because I got up at 9AM after 10 WHOLE HOURS of sleep! In the scheme of my normal life, 10 hours really isn’t that much. In the scheme of my life here, 10 hours is nearly unheard of. Same with 9AM. Ah, Saturdays! They really are the best. We intentionally planned our destination to allow for some morning relaxation time, and honestly, that was equally as nice and rejuvenating as the actual adventure. I even had time to do some reading, organize my stuff, and catch up on a few things that I had been putting off before we had to head out for the day.

Horrible picture, but this is the beginning of the dirt road to get there

Julie, Debbie, and I headed out around 11:45AM and stopped in Chilca to pick Vanessa up on our way. I was excited to have some time to hang out with her that didn’t involve talking about work/summer school! Our destination was Azpitia, a town about 45 minutes south of us. It’s just about in the middle of nowhere, and apparently, Jim and Tony randomly stumbled upon it years ago when they were doing some exploration driving where you just take turns and see where you end up. After getting there, I seriously have NO idea how they found it. You get off the highway at an exit that seems deserted, go down a skinny paved road, and then turn off onto an unpaved road that looks like a driveway. How did they even decide that it was a road? I don’t know.

First glimpse of the valley, plus a view of the road we had to take to get there

Debbie, me, Vanessa, and Julie

You drive along that mess of a road – windy, unpaved, and dusty – for maybe 10 minutes before coming around a bend and BAM you’re hit with an amazing view of a green valley. Remember, we’re in the desert here, so “green” isn’t exactly common. We’re used to a whole lot of brown, brown, brown. The reason everything is so green there is because of the river Mala that flows through the town. Early in the town’s development, the people created an irrigation system to turn this desert valley into a viable location for farming. Looking at it now, there’s no argument that it has been anything less than a huge success.

So much green! You can see the river at the bottom of the picture, but it’s a little hard to pick out because it’s so brown

We ate lunch and then spent some time walking around. You can walk along the cliff that leads down to the river, and there are a bunch of restaurants that seem precariously perched over the edge but that give you an incredible view of the valley. There’s also a fun sidewalk which is worth noting because it has trees growing out of it, situated in an irrigation channel that runs down the middle of the walkway. We took a steep staircase down to the river which is probably the brownest thing in the whole valley. I don’t know that it’s usually like that, but there has been more rain than usual this year, and a lot of the rivers are apparently higher and dirtier than in past years.

The clever irrigation sidewalks

Cool trees

Looking towards the ocean

Up close and personal with the river

We headed back to Chilca after our mini-hike. It wasn’t the longest adventure ever, but it was relaxing and beautiful and refreshingly green which was enough to make it perfect. Even better, we had plenty of time to come home, watch a stupid movie, and get to bed before the neighbors’ parties really got going.
Today was the usual Sunday routine but thankfully without the panicked last-minute prep for class. Church, grocery shopping, and time to chill before we get back to work tomorrow. I’m not completely sure what this upcoming week is going to involve, but we have a one week break to get everything ready for the start of school next week. As far as I know, my job is to just do as I’m told… I can handle that.

Can you believe it? Today was the last day of summer school! I’ll admit that part of me is a little sad, but a bigger part of me is excited for no more late nights of hot gluing antennae on 30 robots.

A turtle and a lady bug robot

Our morning was relatively uneventful. I spent about an hour fixing a couple of the robots that we ran into trouble with yesterday, including the one that started smoking when we put batteries in. I’m still not really sure what happened with that, but after I switched out the battery holder, it started working fine. I’m happy to not question it anymore and instead just be pleased with the fact that it works and is potentially no longer a hazard. I say potentially because you really never know… Who knows what happened to it this time, so who’s to say that it’s not going to happen again?
A couple of butterflies and a spotless lady bug

Anyway, not my problem anymore! All of the kids took their things home, so I wash my hands of any responsibility for the well-being of the robots. I give it a week until everyone’s robots are completely destroyed from the kids handling them like they’re indestructible. On the contrary, they are quite destructible and have already managed to be a pain in the butt with all of the repairs we’ve had to make. Granted that has something to do with the quality of assembly when we first put them together, but that’s not the point. Point is, you need to be careful with these things, and the kids are anything but careful.
The room set up. Our tables are all the way in the back of the picture

Two of the kids who volunteered to talk about their robots

Okay I’m getting sidetracked. Back to business. Since it was the last day, there was a bit of a showcase in the afternoon before the parents took their kids home. All of the teachers put out/hung up their kids’ work from the program, and the students showed off some of the things they learned. The three older classes got up and recited the weekly Bible verses that they have been working to memorize, the oldest class did a dance that they learned from Madeleine (she’s been helping Ingrid with her class), and Debbie gave a bit of an explanation about what the mini-engineers course involved.

The oldest kids’ city

The cities looked so cool!! The parents were all taking pictures, and I don’t blame them because they turned out so well. Debbie and I also had an extensive photoshoot before the showcase started. The best pictures were the ones taken at street level that kind of make it look like you’re a tiny person in a cardboard city. The older class especially did an awesome job, even adding some stop signs, traffic lights, trees, light posts, and street names.

Puff ball people on a swing set

The most epic museum. Yes, broken CDs are giving the roof its shimmer

Stop sign, light post, bottle car

The stadium with chess piece fans in the bleachers

The little kid robots from the kit. Cute, right?

After the performances and such were over, everyone was invited to walk around and check out the work. We pulled apart the city models so that the kids could take their buildings home and handed out batteries so they could finally play with their robots. I also ended up fixing something like six robots which means that, inevitably, they’re all going to break again.
Endings are when you get all sorts of surprises. For example, the kids who thank you the most and give you hugs are the ones that you thought hated class and wanted nothing to do with you. I had some good moments with a few of the kids which was nice. It’s those things that make the whole teaching thing seem like slightly less of an overall bummer. Without a little bit of positive feedback, you’re left feeling drained and tired and wondering if it was even worth the effort. Between today and what Irma said about more kids saying that they want to be engineers when they grow up, I feel pretty good about the whole teaching experience.

The municipal building, compete with balcony, streamers, and glitter
Just walking down the street…

Nice public green space

Another thing… Time here moves so much more quickly than in Ghana. There’s nothing to mark the passage of time, like new volunteers showing up, and I definitely feel like I have more of a purpose here in what I’m doing. That’s a nice feeling (but I also makes the days go by even faster). It will be interesting to see what the rest of my time here is like! I know that there are a bunch of projects they want me to get involved with before I go, so I’m not worried in the least that I’m going to find myself without anything to do. It will just be a less routine/predictable something to do than it has been during the summer program. (Don’t even talk to me about how much time I have left here. It’s something I’m consciously choosing not to thinking about.)
I know I said that last weekend was going to be a real relaxation weekend, and it mostly was, but THIS weekend is the real deal! No Sunday evening lesson planning, no random class-related tasks that need to be accomplished. We’re having an actual WEEKEND! Wish me luck… I might not know what to do with myself with so much leisure time.

Yesterday was another long and tiring day! I started writing this last night, but I was doing the whole fall-sleep-and-write-nonsense thing, so I figured that finishing it would be better left to today.

Wednesdays are usually kind of chill because we don’t have any classes, but yesterday was definitely the exception. The big activity for the day was finishing up the soldering and antennae on the C3 robots to get them ready for class today. I got started in the morning and had only finished the soldering and antennae bending by lunchtime.

The ring-passing game

The afternoon was completely booked by a birthday party for the people with January/February birthdays. The kids get to drink soda and eat candy, and there were some pretty hilarious activities. They started off with some races where each person on the team had a straw in his/her mouth, and two teams raced to pass a plastic ring from straw to straw without using their hands. After that, they did a relay race where the team members had pass a balloon over their heads and through their legs, and then afterwards, the front person waddled their way around a chair while holding the balloon in between their legs. The process repeated until the entire team got a chance to waddle.

Balloon hops

It was fun watching the kids play the games, but my favorite part (besides the cake, of course) was the dance party at the end. Ligia explained the rules: you dance around with the music while it’s playing, and once it stops, you freeze like a statue. The real fun began when the kids started to be creative with their frozen poses, the girls usually opting to hug each other and the boys pretending to fight.

Getting creative

The birthday crew

After the party, we had a little down time to work on our robots, until about 5:30 when we left for a staff bonding excursion! I wasn’t sure about going because we still had a lot to do with the robots, but I’m so glad I did! It was cool getting to spend time with everyone outside of work, plus the excursion was great.
The wrong way up

The right way up

We went to Las Salinas in Chilca to do a group hike. The first part of the hike is pretty short, and you make it to the top of the first hill where there’s a huge cross and a nice view of Chilca. There are two ways to get there: the way you’re probably supposed to go, with a bunch of switchbacks, and the way we went, with an aggressive incline (I’d guess 60 degrees) and shale-type rock pieces sliding around. I thought the view from there was cool, but then we kept going! We went up more super-steep hills until finally reaching the top… where there was a random rock wall. I was confused about why it was there until we got closer and I realized that it wasn’t just one wall, it was a square of rock walls, and inside was a rock circle with one rock in the middle. Weird. The explanation of what it is makes it no less weird: aliens.
The front of the Chilca pamphlet. Alien.

Chilca is obsessed with aliens. The tagline of the city is “Chilca es de otro mundo” or “Chilca is from another world”. There are a bunch of reports of UFO sightings, and the Chilca marketing people have run with the idea, making it the center of their marketing material. The pamphlets describing the attractions in Chilca feature pictures of a red-orange alien participating in activities from horseback riding to bathing in the lagoons that supposedly wield “energy from another galaxy” and have various healing powers (here’s the website).

The rock shrine

Julie, me, and Debbie

Vanessa said that people come from all over the world (alien-enthusiast types of people) to do rituals or something to communicate with the aliens from inside the rock shrine. There’s some claim (by a Peruvian “UFO contactee” Sixto Paz Wells… if you’re interested, here’s a weird interview with him) that they’re drawn here because Chilca is on a geological fault and the released energy creates a magnetic corridor that their ships use. Or something. I’ll let you form your own opinions about that.
Whatever the reason for their existence, they’re impressive. The walls are made from rocks just stacked on each other without cement to hold them together, and they aren’t cut into specific shapes or anything to make things easier. Whoever put that place together had a lot of time on their hands.

Anyway, the view from the alien communication square was even better than the first lookout. I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Check out the mountains in the background!

Super cool

Debbie and I still had hours of robot work to do after getting back which is why I was falling asleep last night while writing. We finished the antenna connections around 10:45PM… ugh. But now they’re finished! And the hiking break was well worth the time.
Today wasn’t extremely eventful. We had our last period with Vanessa’s class and tried to wrap up their city and robots. It mostly went fine except that one robot started smoking when we put batteries in… ehh well, we’ll figure it out. That’s a problem for tomorrow!

I had a nightmare a few nights ago. I don’t remember a lot of the details, but I do remember being in a car with my mom, driving up a very steep road. When I say steep, I’m talking probably an 80-degree incline. We were halfway up when these massive spools of wire started flying down the hill towards us, and we avoided every one of them until the very last which left a foot-long gash in our back left tire. What does this dream mean? Who knows? But if we’re taking guesses, I’m going to say that those giant spools were probably filled with solder wire, and I’m officially having robot-inspired nightmares.

Explaining/demonstrating the soldering process

It’s amazing how wrong you can be when you take a guess at how long something is going to take. These robots are one of those times. Our time estimate: 3 classes. The actual: hahahahahahahaha. TBD. We got the kids as involved as possible in the assembly process, but some things, like the soldering, are not in the scope of things we’re comfortable letting the kids do. If we had only three kids in the class and could fully supervise and give them some training, maybe it would be a different story. With these circumstances, though, Debbie and I are doing all of the soldering. That led to a late night on Friday and another late night yesterday as we tried to get the C4 kids’ robots ready for their shells to be glued on today. We also had to do some jerry rigging to get the antennae to stay in place (it involves a complex system of dental floss – the strongest thread known to man – and hot glue), and the method we came up with was way too precise for most of the kids to handle (a lot of them are still at the age where detail work is a challenge. As architect and engineer, Debbie and I are trained in painstaking detail work).
The C4 city!

Aside from the extra hours yesterday, things went very well! We only have 2 classes with each older group this week, and we need to assemble our cities!… while also finishing the robots… Yesterday, we reviewed the city project, did some city planning by deciding where we wanted to put each building, and split into teams to paint/name streets, make stop signs, traffic signals, trees, and street lights, and glue the buildings into position. Everything is starting to look really cool! We had the C4 kids again today, and their city is almost completely finished. The trees, street signs, and other details got installed today. I’m excited about the work the kids have done!! I think they have a couple things left to finish, and hopefully Ingrid will give them some time before Friday to wrap everything up.
A few of the finished robots

The last robot steps are to glue on the shells that the kids decorated and test to make sure everything is functioning correctly. It was a lot of fun to see the kids play with their robots for the first time and how excited they got when the robots ran into walls and turned around like they’re supposed to (I was also excited because it seems almost inevitable that someone’s robot out of the 29 we made shouldn’t work… but fingers crossed because at this point, we’re still doing okay). At the risk of sounding like all I ever say is that everything is “great!”/“awesome!”/“so cool!”… the robot shells that the kids made are all of the above. I’ll work on some new adjectives, but for now, I’m going to back up my claims with photo evidence so that you can all agree with me.

Some intense glitter application

The C3 kids have one more class on Thursday, and they still need to finish up the details of their city. They’ve done some awesome (yeah, I know) work so far, though. Even the kids who seemed completely disengaged produced great buildings! Debbie and I also have to finish up their robot soldering and antennae installations before class so that they can glue on their caps. Thank goodness for class-less Wednesdays!
One of the girls working on her “stores”, complete with window displays, a swingset, and little puffball people with sequin eyes.

Some intent block-work

Finally, this afternoon was our last class with each of the younger classes. Julie deserves a round of applause (and a paid vacation) for helping me out every week. We started in her class (2-3 year olds) and decided to do another lego day because our creativity was wearing thin, and we had to mentally prepare ourselves for what we were doing in the C2 (4-6 year olds) class. No matter though… the kids loved it and stayed engaged for an entire hour. You count it as a win when you have seven 2-3 year olds doing ANYTHING (besides freaking out and trying to escape) for more than 20 minutes.
Making a hand-wall to keep the robot from falling onto the floor

Laughing about their three robots getting stuck together

With the C2 class, we were making robots! Nothing to the extent of the ones we did with the two oldest classes, but it was complicated enough. Debbie found these kits online (https://www.teachersource.com/product/scooterbots/electricity-magnetism?utm_source=blog&utm_medium=blog&utm_campaign=bots) which are nice and basic. In hindsight, it would be easy to get the parts for these on your own and make them for a lot cheaper, but it was nice to have something that we didn’t have to think about. Forty minutes and a lot of troubleshooting later, we had 10 working scooter bots! The kids loved them! I thought they were kind of dumb because they just vibrate and wiggle around, but even I have to admit that they’re fun. If I was 6, I would be pumped about them. After finishing the construction, they spent the rest of class running around and finding different places to play with their robots.
I may be exhausted, but I feel really good about the last couple days! Everything is coming together, and I think I understand why people keep teaching. There are some tough days, but when you get to see your kids grow and show them something new and exciting, it’s super rewarding.

You know what else? This is my favorite thing: Irma said that a ton of the kids are saying they want to be engineers now. How cool is that?!

We had a rare treat this weekend… a day off! Actually, we technically had two days off (a normal weekend… imagine that!), but Debbie and I had to do some prep for class today, so maybe we’ll settle at a day and a half.

A cool but also semi creepy mural…

In celebration of our vacation, we planned a trip into Lima on Saturday. Debbie and Julie’s favorite part of town is the Barranco district, described by them as “hipster Lima”. It’s the part of the city where a lot of artists and musicians live, and you can definitely feel the artsy vibe (plus there are murals everywhere). There is also a famous 19th century bridge, the Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs), that crosses a ravine (“Barranco” = ravine) turned walkway to the beach (called the Bajada de los Baños). As you might imagine, this part of the district is very popular, especially during the summer months as people are actually going to the beach. The beaches in the area are PACKED, and the waves are decent so there are also a lot of surfers (fun fact: the “shores of Peru” are given a shout out in the Beach Boys song, Surfin’ Safari).

Heading down to the beach

The cliffs and the remaining part of the walkway to get all the way down to the beach

Looking at the way back up

Headed back up…

The church next to the main plaza: Parroquia La Santísima Cruz

I’m getting a little ahead of myself though… As I was saying, we decided to go into Lima, but not until around noon so that we could sleep in!! I got a whole 10 hours of sleep! Plus I had time to accomplish things before we left. It takes about an hour to get into that part of Lima from where we are, and after we got to Barranco, we ate lunch at a Mexican restaurant and did the walk down to the beach. The way down is nice and scenic, and the way up is nice and steep. As a reward for our good walk, we got some gelato and watched some spectacle that was going on in the main plaza. No one in our group seemed to know exactly what it was, but there were a bunch of groups dressed in traditional attire (someone said they were from the highlands but who knows) and doing dances. I wish I had any idea of what was going on/that we were a little closer, but it was still cool to see everyone’s outfits.

Bike ride!

Our last stop of the day was Larcomar, a shopping mall in the Miraflores district of Lima. We rented bikes, per my request, because I’m working on a bucket list goal of biking on every continent (shout out to Kristine who came up with the idea for herself and allowed it to be stolen by me). I only have Oceania/Australia and Antarctica left, and don’t even ask me how I’m going to accomplish that last one.

Early sunset from Parque del Amor

Late sunset from elsewhere along the cliffs

We biked down the road that runs along the cliffs to “Parque del Amor” (Love Park) and then paused and found a good spot to watch the sunset. The sunsets here are pretty amazing, and there are people lined up along all the good lookout spots on the cliffs (Miraflores is basically city, cliffs, beach, ocean) to enjoy the view. You can’t go wrong when you end a day by watching an awesome sunset! Afterwards, we headed back to the mall to return the bikes and then to the car to make the trek home. By the time we got back, I was wiped out. Good thing too because our neighbors kept up their perfect record of Saturday night parties, but I was so tired that I fell asleep without a problem.

Today was the usual Sunday schedule – church, grocery shopping, some relaxation time, and class planning with Debbie. As much as I’ve enjoyed teaching this class, I also won’t be too upset when we don’t have to prep for it anymore! Teaching is a lot of work! The last week of summer school starts tomorrow, so we only have 2 more classes to finish off the robot and city projects. We can do it! I think. I hope.

If I never have to solder another connection, it will be too soon. The fact that I’m going to have to do it again on Monday means that it’s DEFINITELY happening too soon. I’m going to have robot-filled nightmares tonight.

Measuring a wire before cutting and stripping it.

Next week is the last week of summer school, so we really have to get this robot project wrapped up so that we can finish the city project too.  Even though the robots aren’t finished yet, I’m happy with the progress we’ve made, and I don’t think we could have possibly worked any faster than we did. There’s just too much to explain, and every single step has to be almost fully supervised because they’re using tools and are way too likely to jump ahead and mess something up if you don’t keep an eye on them. Today, all of the groups were finally at the point where they were ready to start soldering, and there was nothing we could do to put it off any longer.
I would love for the kids to have a chance to try to solder, but I don’t know that we’re going to have the time for that. With all of the explanations and safety stuff we have to do, there’s no way that we would be able to get through all of the kids. Maybe we’ll try to at least let each of them do one connection so that they have the experience… And maybe not… We’ll have to just play it by ear and decide if we think they can handle it.

Vanessa helping with wire cutting.

We had class with the older kids in the morning, and it was a bit chaotic. I always expect the younger class to be somewhat out of control, but not this class. Someone must have been giving out pixie sticks at the door when they got to school today or something because they were all over the place. Debbie gave them the whole talk about how soldering is dangerous and the iron is very hot and they need to listen and be careful, and then as soon as we started working, the whole class was crowded around the table and touching things and stressing both of us out. She basically told them that if they couldn’t behave, they weren’t going to get to work on their robots anymore. That did the trick, at least enough to make it through the end of class without anyone getting a burn.
The younger kids were in the afternoon, and working with them was like something out of a dream (for the most part, excluding the one girl who was pouting instead of participating because “this is a boy project”. I won’t even tell you how I felt about that comment. I’m sure you can imagine). They were all so calpm, they listened and followed directions, and they did a great job. Vanessa must be working some magic on them because their behavior today vs. the first week of summer school is like having a completely different group of kids. I still think that part of it is the excitement of the robots (kids keep asking when they’re going to get to work on their robots again), but part of it is absolutely also them being much improved in general.

Debbie, finishing up the last robot of the night.

The kids got all of their wires cut and stripped, and we started soldering them during class.  We got through most everyone in the afternoon group (which is only half of the class, keep in mind), and after all of the kids left, Debbie and I decided to keep on going to finish up the connections so that next week can just be putting the finishing touches on. That was the most exhausting part of the day. All I wanted to do was snack and eat dinner, and we didn’t end up eating until 8PM.
I’m falling asleep while typing again, so I’ll do you a favor and wrap things up before my writing really starts to tank. Hooray for Friday, and hooray for weekend days when you can actually sleep in!

Now that I’ve been here for almost a month, I figure it’s time to finally get around to explaining what exactly Esperanza de Ana does.

This is a description of their work from the website:

Our passion is to strengthen families while offering a place of healing for the hearts and minds of each child and parent who has experienced trauma or is suffering crisis.  Through the education center we focus on the integral development of each child while we work to encourage parents to value each child and discover their gifts.

We offer part-time residential care for a limited time when intervention is necessary for child safety, if there is a crisis in the family that warrants the need, and/or for a time of teaching children the routines of a healthy life-style that they can take back home with them each weekend.

Above all things, we remain committed to being a hand that guides on the way to restoration and eternal hope.  Systems come and go, but children are individuals created and called by God.  Only He knows the future He has for them.  We are to be committed to uphold their rights as children and to bring justice and mercy as our Heavenly Father directs for each child and family…to bring eternal hope through Christ’s love.

The truth is that we do not know how the journey will develop for each child.  But we cling to the verse that we memorize with the children, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11.

That’s a lot to take in, and to fully understand it, I think it’s important to go over some of the history of the ministry. Throughout the 5-year construction period (2006-2010), there was a changing vision of what the mission of Esperanza de Ana would be. By the time it was ready to begin operating (2011), the thought was that it would be a children’s home. An existing children’s home across the street was closing, and the nine children who lived there were taken in.

Quickly, the missionaries and national staff realized that the children they were taking care of weren’t orphans in the literal sense of having no living parents. They were “social orphans” – kids who were separated from their parents due to trauma, crisis, or other strains on the family unit. This realization, plus the belief that every child has the right to grow up in family rather than institutionalized and feeling unwanted and unloved (abuse and other extreme cases aside), led to a shift in mission. Esperanza de Ana transformed into a family restoration and preservation program. The children’s parents were brought into the children’s lives again and became responsible for taking care of them on the weekends.

As you might imagine, this wasn’t an easy path for anyone. The parents were faced with getting to know and care for children who they had given up and hadn’t interacted with in years. The kids were adjusting to changes in every part of their lives. The missionaries and national staff were trying to figure out how to manage a program that was completely different from what they were expecting. The families all met weekly with a social worker and psychologist and slowly adjusted to the changes and new expectations.

Kids playing on a tire game that can be used to help with spelling.

Fast forward to today, and all of those original kids are living full-time in family. Pretty amazing, right? Even after kids move out of part-time residential care, the kids and parents remain in the program and continue to receive aid, including scholarships and emotional support from the staff.

The program has evolved even more and is now divided into three parts: Launching Leaders (the scholarship program), La Escuela (the after-school program), and Strong Families (the program for parents). Launching Leaders includes kids who are in part-time residential care and kids who are living with their families full-time but are still receiving support in other ways. The kids receive scholarships and school supply support as needed and attend the after-school program. La Escuela also includes kids from the community and provides lunches during the school day and education reinforcement after school. Strong Families works with the parents to develop action plans and set goals and supports them as they strive to reach those goals.

The “soccer court”

The summer school that is going on now includes both program kids and community kids. It’s cool that the ministry is really becoming an integral part of the community, through this program and the after-school program. The summer school is seriously awesome. The kids are being exposed to so many different things, and it’s fun to see how excited they get and how brilliant their ideas are. They all have so much potential inside of them, and when they have opportunities to explore their interests, learn new things, and be creative, it’s amazing to see what they’re capable of.

There are some amazing views from the property.

After meeting the people who are/were a part of making it all happen, I can see how this seemingly impossible story came together. The missionaries and national staff have such a love for God, for these kids, and for the work that they’re doing. They’re motivated and practical and have taken on challenges that seem insurmountable. I’m amazed by the team that God has assembled to do His work here and by how faithful He has been in providing exactly who and what is needed. I know it kind of sounds like I’m making them out to be saints, but that’s not my intent. They’re normal people who have listened to the call to use their skills to build this ministry, and God has equipped each of them with what they need to do so.

In conclusion, it’s a cool place to be a part of, I’m learning a lot about myself and about helping people effectively, and I’m beyond happy that I ended up here for however short a time. If you’re interested in seeing more of the work they’re doing or getting involved, definitely check out their website or their Facebook page to see updates.

I’m sure you’ll all be happy to hear this… We didn’t have any classes today, so I actually had some time to pull myself together!! You have no idea how much better I’m feeling mentally. There’s not too much to report about today (sitting at my computer accomplishing things doesn’t make for the most interesting stories).

One thing I haven’t talked much about is our morning runs. Aside from team week last week, we’ve (we being Debbie, Julie, and me) been consistently running Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and just this week we added in extra Tuesday, Thursday workouts. It’s nice to have some time to clear my head in the mornings, plus then I can eat cookies every day and not feel bad about it.

The sky on our way out this morning.

The running is always a bit of an adventure. We just run around the neighborhood, and that leaves us with the same choice each day at the first intersection: left, straight, or right? Each direction has its pros and cons.

Left is okay, but you have to run past a chicken farm for the first block. There are inevitably some of the worst smells ever during that part of the run. Otherwise, it’s almost totally fine, but it’s hard to get past the horribleness of the beginning smells.

Straight is fun, but last time (the only time…) we went that way, there were tons of dogs at the end of the street. There are stray dogs all over the place here, and I’m not keen on getting attacked by a crazy dog. No matter which way we run, we always come across stray dogs. Some of them are perfectly friendly, but others are mildly terrifying. We stop running when they start following or growling at us (annoying in the middle of a workout) and try to ignore them so they don’t feel threatened. Debbie makes this “CH!” sound that they apparently don’t like, and sometimes it does make them leave us alone. A few times, we’ve picked up rocks just in case, and they usually get the picture and go away. It’s pretty annoying though, so I’m not the biggest fan of running straight.

Right is definitely the best option, even though there are some speed bumps to go over that require you to actually pick your feet up off of the ground. The smells aren’t quite as bad as they are to the left, and there are always stray dogs, but not as many as straight. I don’t like going the same way every time, so we do sometimes go left and deal with the horrible chicken farm smell. I bet you had no idea that running could be such a dilemma, huh?

Debbie and I did take a little time to accomplish class-related things this afternoon and went to stock up on paper clips and solder for the robots. We also had an exciting quest to search for bottles and plastic caps that could be used for beetle shells on our robots. Some of the stuff we ended up with is a bit random and weird, but there’s only so much we can do. We’ll get to decorating on Friday, so that should be a whole new fun and exciting adventure.

The more I think about it, the more I realize how much the team week threw me off. I’m currently feeling a little stressed and overwhelmed, and I was trying to understand what is different about this week that has me feeling that way more than usual. I think that it’s partly because I didn’t accomplish much of anything last week since we were so busy, and now I have an extra week’s worth of things on my to do list. The other part of it is that I’m in the planning stages of a few different things (including my trip to Machu Picchu before I leave Peru, some stuff for my time in Armenia, and some randoms), and that always gives me a feeling of unrest until the planning is finished or at least underway. No need to worry about me though… I’ve done a re-write of my to do list, and that’s making me feel a bit better. Now I need to get to crossing some things off!

Robot construction in progress! Debbie has been making the kids wear safety goggles even when they’re not doing anything that even remotely requires them. It makes them look like they know what they’re doing though, doesn’t it?

Otherwise, things are going well! We had our second robot class with the oldest kids this morning, and the excitement of making robots hasn’t worn off yet (thank goodness!). The half of the class we worked with today hadn’t even started their robots yet. We got them through the entire assembly process, and they had time to get started on cutting and stripping the wires to prepare them for soldering. They all did a great job with that, and I was excited because I want the kids to do as much for themselves as possible. The older class is definitely capable of doing most of the work with just a little guidance. Soldering will happen next class, and hopefully we can figure out a way to get them involved in that as well without having any safety issues. I think they can handle it, especially if they keep behaving as well as they have been. They’re taking this project really seriously.

Spaghetti, chicken, yuca, and carapulcra.

Lunch today was spaghetti, yuca (which is apparently the same as or similar to cassava… which I spent all of my time in Ghana not knowing what it was – even though we had it at the farm and I planted some – and too lazy to look it up), chicken, and carapulcra. Carapulcra is a Peruvian stew that probably varies dramatically depending on who makes it and where you are. From what I could gather while eating it, Delia’s carapulcra consists of potatoes, sauce that I couldn’t identify even if I tried, pieces of chicken (watch out for stray bones), garlic, and I have no clue what else. I know, that description couldn’t possibly be more unhelpful. All I can say is, I’m no food connoisseur, so that’s the best I can do. In summary, it was pretty good, even though I was sure I was going to choke on a hidden chicken bone.

Julie’s class loading their boats with bears.

Tuesdays are little kid engineering afternoons, so Julie and I teamed up to make aluminum foil boats with the two youngest classes. It’s questionable how much the kids actually did in her class (the 2-4 year olds) vs. how much we did for them, but it kept them interested for close to an hour, so that’s all that really matters in my book. Each kid got a piece of foil and as much tape as they needed, and after they finished, they put their boats into a tub of water and loaded them with these little plastic bears we found in the supply closet. Julie even fit in some teaching about how the bigger boats with higher walls held more bears and got the kids to compare the numbers of bears that each boat held to see which boat worked the best.

In the slightly older class (4-6 year olds), there was a bit more chaos, but the kids actually built their own boats (some with a little help from us). They had way too much fun splashing around in the water, but somehow we survived and the kids possibly enjoyed it and learned something? We’ll just say they did. None of you were there, so I can make things up like that. Let the records show that class today went perfectly according to plan and the kids were totally under control and engaged and they built fabulous aluminum foil boats and now they all want to be engineers. Wow! We did a great job, huh?