We arrived in the desert city of Ica late on Monday night. Our bus had taken us south along the Pan-American highway over 5 hours from Lima. When we finally got to the Casa Girasoles, all the boys were sleeping. Only the night cuidadors (caretakers) and house parents were awake to welcome us.
It was a long day. Having left the city of Urubamba in the Sacred Valley and our other Casa Girasoles in the early hours of the morning to drive the almost two hours to the Cusco airport and our flight to Lima, we’d been on the road all day. We spoke with the house parents for a short period and planned our time together for the following day; but, some 19-hours into our day, we were exhausted and headed to bed.
I was up early the next morning, eager to see some of the children and get a quick run before we ventured into a full day of meetings. One of the first boys I saw, I’ll call him Roberto, came to the house in December. He is nine years old and terribly small and severely delayed. Roberto possess an eagerness to connect and always hugs me with great intensity every time I see him. Roberto comes from a very traumatic background. He was found wandering the streets of this desert city of almost 300,000, disheveled, covered in bug bites and without pants. I was happy to see little Roberto and assumed he was getting ready for school, so I hugged him and headed out to exercise.
When I returned from my run, I came back to the dining room to find a dozen or so boys finishing their chores and settling into a morning of watching television and completing school activities. I asked the house parents why the children were not in school. They told me the boys are so delayed in their education, the public schools will not allow them into the classrooms.
This group, boys ranging in age from 8 to 16, are all 4-6 years behind in their schooling. One boy, 12 years old, has never attended school and would be enrolled in the first grade if permitted to attend. Another is so developmentally and cognitively delayed, the schools have little to offer him. The house parents are working hard to matriculate the children into a special school that meets on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and will help them work toward a general equivalency degree. This is a big challenge and represents a huge impediment to a better life.
When we decided to take over the Casa Girasoles homes in Ica and the Sacred Valley of Cusco, we did so with a deep understanding of the responsibility and extensive experience working with the boys at the homes. Before taking over the operations of the homes, we had over 20-years involvement with the children.
However, standing in the dining room the other morning and seeing how many of the boys are in such complex circumstances, the true impact of our work finally hit me. Whereas before, we were guests in the homes and our responsibility for the future of the children was limited. Now, we are fully responsible for helping over 60 boys build the lives they deserve. We are now responsible for all aspects of their growth and development. It hit me hard. Not in a way that had me question our decision – no, it strongly hit me with a great sense of gratitude. It is such a tremendous honor to support the boys at the Casa Girasoles. Standing in the room, I was deeply humbled.
We know this will not be an easy task. We are so grateful for the many supporters who have come together to help us build futures for the Girasoles. We know it will take a village.
The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.