Like a good Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, I paired Rotary visits to clubs and involvement in Rotary activities with my trip to Bolivia and Perú. I do love seeing the big touristy stuff but to be honest, I got more out of my few experiences with Rotary than the rest of my trip combined. It is so great to see how Rotary really is EVERYWHERE and it was rewarding to meet Rotarians, visit their clubs, and learn about the great work they are doing.
Rotary Cochabamba Tunari
Andrea, the 2011-2012 Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar I stayed with has worked with this club quite a bit and they meet Thursday nights, the same night we arrived into Cochabamba. We walked down to the meeting after stopping for dinner, and I was met with an entire BUILDING devoted to Rotary in Cochabamba. It was a huge jump from our tiny table at an italian restaurant in Salta!! We walked in, I met many of the Rotarians and Rotaracters who were there, and shortly thereafter the meeting began.
There was a great presentation from Rotaract about a new project they are undertaking, to raise knowledge about recycling in Cochabamba. They are donating recycling bins to many of the public schools and creating signs that explain what should go into each part (paper, plastic, etc). They also created small re-usable trash bags to go over the gear changer in cars and are handing them out at major intersections (most drivers just throw garbage out the window in Bolivia as she explained). These kinds of projects are awesome and it made me wish that Salta had a Rotaract club!
I got to do a short presentation (5 minutes) about what I am doing in Salta, the fact that I was supposed to be in Cochabamba, etc. After the meeting we stayed for a little while longer talking to the Rotarians, and of course had to take a picture with their beautiful club banner.
Overall I was very impressed with Rotary in Cochabamba. The building is a nice touch, of course, but really I saw so much internal organization that is lacking in a lot of the Argentinian clubs!!
Rotary Arequipa – Ciudad Blanca
My next planned Rotary meeting was in Arequipa, Perú, but there was a miscommunication about the date/day of the meeting to I got to Arequipa a day after the meeting took place! Nonetheless, one of my Rotarian’s friends and colleagues, Father Alex, offered to show me around anyways. Father Alex is a priest and is originally from Malta, a tiny island in the Mediterranean. Originally he worked in Pakistan but got moved to Arequipa awhile ago (I think somewhere between 15-20 years ago). He runs a parish on the outskirts of Arequipa and through the parish, also runs a bunch of different community programs including a volunteer house where volunteers come from all over every year.
One of these programs is a parish preschool, and I was lucky enough to be there for their little play to celebrate Fiestas Patrias! We walked up to the school and all the kids were getting ready for the play. They were all dressed to represent either the coast, the mountains, the jungle, the military, or the “liberator”/soldier/lady justice. It was SO CUTE.
The kids literally memorized parts of the proclamation of independence and recited it for all the parents who were there to watch! Afterwards they had a parade down the main road and separated out into their different “regions” of Perú! It was adorable.
Afterwards we went with María, who more or less is the social worker for the entire neighborhood. She does home visits all around the parish and just checks in and sees how everyone is doing. We visited a few houses. The most interesting was a woman who moved from a small town in the mountains a few years ago. She said she hasn’t been able to find work lately, although her husband usually can. They owned a HUGE, angry turkey, and a lot of chickens, along with a dog. She had a beautiful, well-kept garden in her front yard that was definitely her pride. She has 4 kids and said they barely make 30 soles (about $10) a day, but are living better in Arequipa than they did in the sierra.
My last Rotary connection was in Lima, because as I mentioned in my post about Perú, a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar lives there and we stayed with Rotarians. Felix told me that he was going to be visiting an orphanage that they were looking at starting a relationship with, and invited me to come with. I was really excited to go and learn more about the different problems the orphanage/foster care system faces in Peru.
Rather than all live in one building, the kids are divided up (age, gender, psychological health, and special needs taken into account to balance all the homes out). There is one “señora” who lives in each house and is responsible for 8-12 kids (meals, bathing, playtime, everything). The kids stay for an average of 2 years but often return because their mom/dad/family decide that they “don’t want them anymore” and send them back. It was extremely heartbreaking to hear some of their stories, but overall everything here is super well-organized and they are doing the best they can with the resources they receive from the government and from donations.
To be honest, the visit was a very sobering experience. The entire time I grappled with this insane feeling of guilt in my stomach and in the back of my throat. When we walked into a house of all girls ages 4-10, they all ran up and gave me a hug and 3 of them all grabbed my hand and arm so that they could show me “their bedroom.” The girls each have their own bed and their own closet, and a lot of them are even sleeping in rooms with all of their siblings. But it still isn’t their home.
One of the “señoras” told us the following: One of the girls could go back with her family because things were more stable at home. So she packed up all of her things and got to go “home” for the first time in a year. But less than a month after her parents got her back, they sent her back to the orphanage. As the señora explained, the parents realized things were easier without a kid around the entire time, and just decided to send her back. Because it was “easier” without her.
My parents have been amazing my entire life. I cannot imagine what things would have been like if my parents just decided to send me to an orphanage or foster home. The kids must suffer from such severe emotional, psychological, and mental issues because of simply being rejected by their own parents. I know that the foster care system in the states is completely in need of reform, but at the very least, kids in foster care are at least living with a family in some kind of apartment, duplex, or house. Here they live with 7-11 other kids and all share one mom, who lives there and provides them with meals, etc. Granted, it’s better than living on the street or living with abusive parents. But I cannot imagine spending most of my childhood in a situation like this. UGH. It hurts my heart to even write about this. Back to a happy topic.
Rotary is incredible and I am so excited that the club in Lima is going to partner with the orphanage to help get them more resources. The kids have very little things for recreation other than a TV to watch, and the club is going to look at getting them board games, cards, a ping pong table, etc. Those kinds of things seem minor, but I know that it will make a world of difference to the kids there.
I just want to repeat how deeply, deeply thankful I am for this experience. In addition to learning a lot more about myself this year, I am learning so much about the world and different issues different communities are facing… and the things Rotary is doing to help!