One year ago, I went to visit an orphanage in Peru. There are 140 boys at the orphanage with only 7 adults to care for them. The boys range from five to seventeen years old.
Seeing poverty on television and reading about hunger is different from confronting the effects in real life. Whenever I feel unhappy, I remember how the orphan boys yearned for love and hugs when we visited them. They would say “I love you for being here.” I still recall the tight grasps and hugs from the boys, and the tears of joy. It mattered to them, that we had come all the way from the U.S. just to see them.
When I open my refrigerator and think, “I have nothing to eat,” or “I don’t want to eat leftovers,” I think how the boys devoured the mangoes we bought them; including the skin. They ate the skin off the fruit and sucked on the seeds, leaving nothing to throw away but the seeds.
Imprinted in my mind is the image of young boys, fearful of theft, tightly guarding their new treats and gifts. Chocolate was a real TREAT to the boys. We brought them cakes and chocolate and played a game with them by hiding the chocolate and candies.
This took me back to when I was sitting alone on a cot at a refugee camp in Guam and a young soldier, about 20 years old, came to me and gave me a Hershey chocolate bar. I looked up and smiled and he smiled back. I ate the chocolate bar and to this day I think that is the best piece of candy I have ever devoured in my life. A small gift can mean so much to the recipient.
Whenever I cannot decide what to wear from my walk-in closet, I remember that the orphan boys do not even own the clothes they wear. Rather, they get in line before showering and then an outfit is handed to them. They forced their shoes to fit, afraid that we did not bring enough for everyone. I remember the gritting of teeth and the panicked look on faces, because each wanted his shoes to fit so badly. The orphans eagerly waited while we sorted the donated clothes we brought. They acted as if the apparel were toys.
I have taken many vacations to beautiful resorts over the years. Yet, I think when one visits an orphanage, it is something that stays with you forever and the life lessons you get from the experience are so much more rewarding.
I would definitely recommend going to South America, not just on a pleasure trip but as part of a trip involving volunteer work, for a very meaningful experience. There are lots of organizations organizing volunteer in South America. Here are just a few you can look into: