When people ask about giving a donation to this project they are sometimes amazed when I say, ¨Thank you but no.¨ It is not because we do not need support of every conceivable kind to continue our work here in the Peruvian Andes with the children. Much to the contrary, but it is equally important that the sponsor feels an attachment to our project and will be receiving something special, as well as the children, by way of their contribution. It is what made Changes for New Hope more than a job for me, more than a project while I am in Peru but I intended this to be my life´s work. It´s success and progress I consider my personal victory as well.
I gave nothing to the project however I shared everything I had from a place within my heart that grew larger and stronger everytime I trekked up the side of a mountain to meet with the children. It is that incredible feeling of love and ´compassion in action´ that I ask sponsors, donors and volunteers to find through our project and the children.
Sharing means that a part of you joins us, becomes one with our labor of love here and your enhanced compassion begins to touch many other parts of your life.
Every volunteer that has joined us with an attitude of sharing has found this to be absolutely true. They tell me at their farewell dinner that this experience has opened something within them that they never experienced before. It is an awareness that you can not get by saying, ¨I already gave at the office.¨
Don´t get me wrong, donations, whether cash or materials or postcards with messages of hope are all needed and deeply appreciated. We say thank you as often as possible through emails, letters and artwork made by the children and some sponsors have been surprised to find a beautiful alpaca sweater waiting for them in their mailbox.
As you shift your thinking to a sharing mode, you will find that you never ¨gave away your money¨, but that a part of you came with it, you shared it with a project full of children that are yours now too.
When you look in the mirror and feel absolutely great about who you see looking back, you will know exactly what I mean.
**** Siempre mis amigos
Boots on the ground in Huaraz Peru
Jim and a warm friend in the Andes
In 1913 at the annual running of the Kentucky Derby throughbred race, a most amazing thing happened. Roscoe Goose rode his throughbred Donerail, with 91-1 odds against them, to victory. It was the greatest longshot victory in the history of the race.
You may be asking yourself, ¨What does a horse race in Kentucky in 1913 have to do with Changes for New Hope in the Peruvian Andes?¨ Well, nothing really, with one small exception. We both grabbed onto a seemingly impossible challenge and with tenacity and determination, overcame every obstacle to achieve an initially elusive success.
There are a few differences though. While Roscoe and his noble throughbred had a finish line to cross, at Changes for New Hope, we have no finish line. I came to Peru with the intention of developing a humanitarian project that would benefit children living in desperate conditions and was well aware that I only needed a one way plane ticket. With just my own savings, a plan and no idea how I was going to do it, I propped up my tenacity with biographies of people like the Wright brothers who, with no more than I had going for them, built an airplane.
Now, anyone can become a ¨one hit wonder¨. If this project was going to simply be an event or an experiment, I could be home before anyone knew I was gone. That wasn´t the plan. This was to be and now is a long term project. One that I am currently preparing to long outlive me. After a few years of careful steps and sorting out what worked and what didn´t, we had grown from one small group of children to a second, then a third and finally a fourth. We maintained the children who were eager to learn and develop themselves. Slowly, as we began showing a track record of new successes, volunteers began arriving, Peruvian and international alike. Like the children, they shared the vision, met the challenges and stood beside me to solidify our goals and plans. Then a few sponsors appeared on our horizon. A few contributors made donations and watched as we grew, carefully into our next phase. But people are reasonably cautious as well they should be. Was our developing success a lightning strike of some incredible luck or had our tenacity, patience and determination to make this compassionate project a reality, unfolded as we planned? If you said the later, you would be right. But there is one question that everybody is asking. . . .
Will They Still Be Here A Year From Now And Beyond?
A fair question and one that needs to be answered with our current and future credibility in mind. Allow me to respond to the query this way, with each passing year, Changes for New Hope expands into new areas within the Huaraz community, but cautiously so as not to deplete our resources. For example, our recent Art Exhibition in the local museum where the children and volunteer´s art was shown was courtesy of the museum director. The reception and materials cost were minimal and much was donated. Our Sports Day event last year was a huge success and brought out many local businesses and families who donated food, water, materials and supplies to make it happen. The Annual Huaraz Benefit Chess Tournaments were sponsored by businesses in Huaraz in exchange for having their names and logos advertised as suporters at the tournaments. The citywide ¨Haz lo Correcto- Do the Right Thing¨campaign which the local press applauded as a success in the betterment of the community spirit of Huaraz was accomplished with local television press conferences and 1000 posters and 5000 stickers distributed throughout Huaraz, compliments of his honor, the mayor of Huaraz, Vladimir Meza and the Director of Tourism, Benquelo Morales. In short, we get a lot of ¨bang for the buck¨. This frees up our funds to be used directly on the children's various needs, supplies and fruits. Its not all about the money, but it isn´t at all about the money. We just do all we can to assure that we won´t fail due to a depletion of funds. This was the first bricks in building our foundation.
There is no shortage of children that need our help. Currently we have about seventy children that we meet with in four groups each week. Two of us are regular, daily faces that they see with shorter term volunteers who join us from a few days to a few months at a time. Over forty five visitor/volunteers have joined us in the past few months which came from the hostel where I currently live. It is our hope that in future years, older children who we have helped will be able to step into the role of mentor and teach the younger children how to become what they now are.
The intrinsic passion of the project within us does not diminish with time, in fact it increases like a bonfire that became all consuming. When we top the mountainside of Secsapampa for example, and smiling children come running toward us shouting our names, hugging us, we just know that we can not ever run out of tomorrows here. We are dug in here, we are a part of their community even though I am a ¨gringo¨from the United States and they are the indiginous Quechua people of the Peruvian Andes. These are some of the developments that make me most proud.
Having said that, while we may not be a Red Cross International, or a United Nations Humanitarian Aid team, one thing is for sure; just like the 91-1 odds that Roscoe Goose and Donerail faced in the 1913 Kentucky Derby, those who bet on them came out winners. We are a small NGO, for now. We measure twice and cut once. As we now enter our fourth year of operations, we are stronger now than ever before. We have the focus as well as the vision to take this project forward to reach many more children that need us while strengthening our present groups.
Your support for Changes for New Hope can help us reach out in those new directions, touch parts of the community that have been neglected by everyone else and give you the personal joy and deep satisfaction that we now share with those who we are helping and who are helping us. Whether you choose to join us by making a contribution, become a volunteer, send us a postcard which we share with the children or just follow us on Facebook, you will become part of a team that has found a purpose, a cause, that is making a difference in the lives of children that would never have had a chance in life any other way. We can all be winners.
Changes for New Hope
Volunteering with your eyes wide open........
Volunteering in countries and with projects that help the disadvantaged and destitute is a noble and admirable pursuit. Thousands of young people from all walks of life set aside a few ...weeks or months of their lives to visit a project somewhere usually in a 3rd world country for the purpose of making the world a better place. And if it was just that easy we would all be very happy campers.
As a founder and president of an NGO in Peru, Changes for New Hope, (www.changesfornewhope.org) I have seen both sides of volunteering. I have been a volunteer when I first came to Peru, worked with an NGO that was ...¨less than I expected.¨ Considering that each volunteer was paying $500 a month, one was hard pressed to determine if the NGO existed for the benefit of the children or for ulterior motivations. I left after just four months. Of course, there are good and bad in every avenue of life.
The flip side of volunteering can be just as disturbing. Imagine setting up an NGO in the Peruvian Andes that is designed to help children in unimaginable destitution. It is what I did with my own life savings because I believe that this project was important enough to merit my full time, attention and support. Not to throw flowers at myself but I live, eat and breathe Changes for New Hope. To make this project the success it should be, it will take more help, in short, volunteers. Serious inquiries only.
While having volunteers arrive is simply a matter of asking for them, the issue comes in the form of volunteers who are...shall we say .. less that fully committed to the project. Everyone has a great first week. It is important to remember that the second week and beyond is just as urgent for you to be there. There will be distractions of every sort from exciting adventures that will last a week away from the project to the Siren´s Calls. A temptation that is too great to resist for some.
Volunteering is a responsibility. The first of which is to make sure that the NGO or project you are considering is genuine and focused on its stated objectives. The second responsibility is to be the kind of volunteer that the project will remember as well as the children and staff that you came to help. Treat it as you would a well paying job. Be on time. Make yourself as valuable to the project as you possibly can be. Support its objectives. You will get out of your volunteering experience what you put into it. Nothing more and nothing less. The attitude that you approach the opportunity is extremely important. There will most likely be some sort of volunteer fees which helps to keep the project running. NGOs with exorbitant fees should be a red flag to you. Fair is a two way street. Pay the fees and be glad that you can help the project this way as well.
Your tourism part of your journey, and there should definately be a time to explore the country and culture you are in, should commence either before or after your time volunteering. When people are counting on you, you need to be there everyday for them.
Lastly, remember to stay in touch with the project after you have ended your time with them. You are not going to change the world in the month that you are there, but you can share your story, your experience and the project with others on your social websites that you belong to. This is called Virtual Volunteering. That reach is far greater than the project could do on its own. Support it financially if you can. Send a letter every so often to let them know you still fondly remember the time you spent there. You went there to do humanitarian work. Be a humanitarian and continue to make the world a better place.
It is a never ending adventure if it is your focus. And it is the most rewarding work that I could ever recommend to anyone. I know, I have been here for years doing it and I never plan on leaving Changes for New Hope, Peru or the deep feeling of purpose that this life has given me.
The concept and development of Changes for New Hope is not quite two years old at the time of this writing. I ask myself what brought us this far and what kept us from going even further by now. I refuse to become satisfied. Satisfaction is for those who are finished dreaming, done imagining and through creating what could possibly be.
The short answer is tenacity. The "stick -to-it no-matter-what" mentality that makes me keep a notepad and pen next to my bed at night and another in my back pocket during the day. I knew there would be twists and turns in the road, and I was not disappointed. It was all part of the adventure.
We were motivated by the children whose love encouraged us everyday we arrived at the project. We carry what materials we need to our several projects in backpacks, which can get quite heavy. They suddenly lighten as the children come running up to us calling out to us and holding our hands as we climb the last part of the mountainside. Smiles and love make every burden lighter.
The poverty, desperate needs and obvious lack of even the basic tools of living like soap, water, decent shoes and in many cases electricity, blankets to stay warm at night and a balanced diet will keep me here as long as I possibly can. Probably forever. We are progressing. We are beating back the insidious enemies that destroy lives, hunger, ignorance, desperation and racism. There was another thing I had to do. I had to "take out the trash".
I love Peru and consider it my home, I love the people who are happy to see me everyday and the fact I haven't had to shovel snow to find my car in years makes me a very happy man. Of course no life anywhere is exactly a Utopia. Peru is no exception.
Upon my arrival, the first NGO that I volunteered with was so far afoul from their expressed core values that I had to call it out. I learned that you don't have to tell bad people that they are bad, they know it, they will however villify you for pointing it out. I saw everything that an NGO and volunteers should never be. I left. Upon starting my own NGO to "do it right or not at all", I was saddled by locals who wanted to "volunteer" and I got a second dose of a bad thing. If I was ever going to give up, that was the time. Instead I took appropriate action and continued virtually alone for awhile.
Then volunteers began to hear about what I was doing and joined me. Lyndsey, Rebecca, Chris, William, Sarah and Katherine, to name a few. Each one added a unique quality to the shaping of the project. I am grateful for their participation and help. We also had sponsors and donors who supported us, some from their own countries, some visiting us and saw the project firsthand in action. I am just as grateful to them as the hands-on volunteers for their vital contribution to our continued success.
More children came, more groups of the project developed. It was happening. It was and is, wonderful. Still nagging me in the back of my mind was the fact that I could have done so much more in a shorter amount of time had my first year not be so dramatically filled with "user, liars and losers", as I began to refer to them. What I needed to realize was that I was "financing the past". Every minute spent thinking about how bad it was distracted me from how thinking about how good it is and how great it could be. I had to mentally and emotionally "take out the trash". It was a supreme effort and with the help of some incredibly enlightened people, I jettisoned the things that I kept recalling. I relieved myself of the burden of their misdeeds, I let go of the feeling that if I didn't "remember the past I was destined to relived it", as one philosopher said.
There was one more step. To forgive them, not because they deserved it, or even asked to be forgiven, but that it stood between me and my goals which I considered far more important. Like a hot air balloon that is only held down by sandbags, I released myself from my own self imposed burdens and began to soar, so to speak. The project took off. My comments on Facebook began to reflect my focus on the success and expansion of our project. We far surpassed those that tried to hold us back. A much stronger focus is possible when you rid yourself of distractions.
We are about to embark on several programs that will further develop our project, for the benefit of the children and the community of Huaraz. The Second Annual Huaraz Benefit Chess Tournament will be held later this year, a museum exhibit of the childrens' art work will be displayed, a short film project is in the works, The United States Embassy has been in contact and asked for our participation to develop a mutually beneficial program. We initiated the "Haz lo Correcto-Do the Right Thing" project which has been a city-wide success to raise awareness for the need of self respect and respect for everyone in the community, with the assistance and support of the mayor, Vladimir Meza and the director of Tourism Benkelo Morales. We have been asked to expand the project to other communities as well. A community center at Secsapampa was fully renovated for us and at a recent community meeting, Changes for New Hope was recognized by the community and applauded for the continued work we are doing with the children and families there. Efforts to grow chia salvia-L at our altitude, upon success, will resolve hunger by enhancing the foods it is added to and slow digestion to end hunger. Plans are underway to develop self-sufficiency projects within the communities to raise the families out of poverty. And finally, an essay contest at a local educational institute will further promote the concept of what it means to do the right thing.
Some of these things are goals, some are effective projects in action currently. Perhaps it will impact and positively affect the lives of thousands of people. One thing is for sure. Probably none of these things would have been possible had I not forgiven, rose above the negative circumstances that were holding me back and let go so that our fullest potential could unfold in front of us as it is doing now.
This is a personal essay, however, if it helps one of you reading it, to release what is holding you back, it was well worth the time to write it. We can all be humanitarians and make huge changes in the parts of the world that we can touch. Wonderful positive changes, if we first learn how to "take out the trash". Peace, siempre~~ Jim Killon