My winter break was one of a kind. My family went to Peru and hiked Machu Picchu, which is something I will never forget for the rest of my life.
But equally as memorable was visiting an orphanage called Juan Pablo Segundo in Cusco, Peru on Christmas Eve. We had a free day in our itinerary and our family felt visiting the orphanage would be the right way to observe the holiday.
Before we visited the orphanage, we walked to a convenience store and bought several big bags of Peruvian candy. You can see from the picture (on the right below) that the candy is different than what we have in New York.
Once we arrived the orphanage, I noticed the gate was locked, which I thought that was strange.
We later found out it’s necessary to keep the gate locked in order to keep kids from running away. There are seven homes on the property, accommodating about 60 children total. The ages of the children in each home are mixed to simulate a family. There’s even a courtyard in the middle with grass.
As we entered one of the homes, a 12-year-old girl named Alessandra immediately rushed over and embraced us. So did her two caregivers– named Martha and Martha. The two Marthas told us to relax and make ourselves at home. I played with Alessandra. We tried to make a wooden monkey from a kit, but it was very difficult, as you can see below. But she was very patient.
Andrew and my parents started playing with other children. Mario (the boy with Andrew below) is only 9 months old.
We also played with Maria del Rosario, who squealed with delight when Andrew tossed her around. She is only a year old and was all dressed up in a new Christmas outfit.
Our family also got a tour of the apartment. I was expecting it to be bare, dark and depressing. But it was actually filled with light. The kids also have plenty of toys to play with.
However, I was saddened to learn that many of the kids at the orphanage have parents who are alive. Many of those parents gave up care up their kids to the state because they couldn’t afford to take care of them or because the children have special needs.
Towards the end of our visit, another boy came to the apartment with a big smile. He immediately gave us all big hugs. He introduced himself as Rene and said he was 13 years old. That hit a nerve with me because I am 13 years old. After he hugged my mom, Rene asked her “¿Me llevas?” We were a little bit confused because in Spanish the verb llevar means to carry. My mom thought Rene wanted to be carried around the room. Turns out, he wanted to be carried home with us, which was heartbreaking. When it was time to leave, you can see Rene couldn’t stop hugging us. The photos say it all.
Thinking about the visit, I can honestly say I really loved it. Andrew and my parents did too. I know the children were very happy and felt loved by the time we left. I will never forget the amazing historical sites in Peru. But I can assure you I will also never forget the feeling of being warmly embraced by the kids in the orphanage, either.