As Changes for New Hope celebrated its 4th year anniversary, it was a time for deep contemplation and we shared a sense of gratitude. Charlie, our long time coordinator, smiled at me and said, Four years! Congratulations!" My response was one of contemplative reflection, "Not yet, mi amigo, not yet." I am acutely aware that there is no finish line in the work that faces us everyday. We must be better today than we were yesterday. While we open new pathways to the children every time we gather, we are also building walls behind them to prevent regression back into old ways, old habits, bad patterns and defeatist attitudes. The neat trick is to guide their attitudes to a place where positive changes and developments are characteristics that they themselves want to step up to and look forward to becoming. The longest journey in the world is from the head to the heart, and you best pack a lunch for the trip. When you see faces light up as you arrive everyday, you know the hearts are with you.
I recently met with a volunteer coordinator of the NGO that I originally came to Peru to volunteer with back in 2009. In the 4 1/2 months that I was there I came to the disturbingly vivid conclusion that their concept of humanitarianism was severely anemic, their president/director a lecherous miscreant and donations expected to be used for the poor children were funding adult debauchery. They considered my efforts and comments to correct the situation ''inadequate and inappropriate''. We parted company deciding that what I wanted to see in an NGO, which later was the bases for Changes for New Hope, was a far cry from their objectives.
My meeting with the new volunteer coordinator was equally disturbing. Alex told me, "Jim, come on man! Do you really think that any of us are actually making real changes in the world? When volunteers come to Peru and help some kids with their homework and hug them, is it really the turning of the tide of poverty or despair? Let me tell you how it is; we bring in volunteers who pay a fee to the NGO and spend some time with children they work with. They feel good doing it and feel that they made some altruistic accomplishment to put on their resume' when they return to their home countries. It is mental masturbation for them. They pay us to feel good for a month or two in South America. If you believe anything to the contrary, you are deceiving yourself."
My response came from a vortex of passion which surprised him. "If I thought for a minute that the daily efforts that I have spent my time and personal assets developing was merely mental masturbation or that the children that we engage are not actually developing into better human beings with opportunities and intrinsic character that never before existed, I would pack up tonight and head for a beach somewhere warm. We have children who were trained little thieves, liars and con artists, who no longer consider that way of life an option. We have children with better grades in school, better attitudes, better self esteem and believe that they have a future in front of them. They are healthier because we give them vitamins and medicines, they wear clothes that fit and are not shabby. They sleep warmly under thermal blankets that we provide, use wind up lanterns that gives them light in homes where there is no electricity. School supplies, recreational games and toys, as well as love and security that we provide for them as we teach them how to become fine young men and women as they grow up.
I suppose that is the difference between believing in what you are doing as a humanitarian and just using the faces and stories of the children to create a parking space for young impressionable volunteers to arrive and spend their time and their parents money."
He said that we will have to agree to disagree.
I shared with him some numbers. While numbers are not the end-all-be-all gauge of success or progress, it has to account for something. While there is no competition among organizations, I reviewed with him that we have created a project for poor children living in desperation in October 2009 and have helped twice as many children, in four times as many locations, provided eyeglasses, medicines, vitamins, wind up lanterns which enables the children to study after dark, thermal blankets, new shoes because theirs are destroyed during each rainy season, dental help, psychological help, self esteem classes, art projects with two art exhibitions, two chess tournaments, continuous academic help, clothing, recreational games and equipment, family violence assistance, created the Haz lo Correcto-Do the Right Thing campaign which was endorsed by the mayor and became a citywide project for the betterment of Huaraz and engaged the international community in awareness to help the children and add more children as sufficient support allows. We accomplished this and much more with a fraction of the volunteer staff, and a fraction of the donations. We did it in half the time. ''By contrast,'' I concluded, '' Your NGO, by your own admission, was simply engaged in 'mental masturbation'. Meeting adjourned.
Four years. Every step has been earned. Trial and error with what works and what doesn't. Learn Spanish on the fly. Share our plans with parents and children in a credible way that they won't consider it to incredibly impossible. Make it happen. Listen to every child, learn what makes them smile and why they might be crying. Spend money on materials and specific needs of the children without knowing when or where more money is coming from. Believe, hope and trust that everything that you have invested your heart and life into will move the children toward the goals that you have set for them. And you hope that your passion moves people, some who have never met you or seen the project, to believe that what you are doing is genuine and effective to change the part of the world that you have decided to touch. Ignore every negative, approach everyday as a new opportunity. This day is better than yesterday, regardless of how good it was. Each volunteer is making a real difference, an actual shift in the wind from where the children would have been without them. Every sponsor and donor is delighted to receive a small drawing from one of the grateful children for their compassion in action that is so appreciated. Four years with no end in sight, we are not even looking for the finish line because, for us, it doesn't exist. Every stumbling block has become a stepping stone.
Charlie looked at me across a table at our monthly meeting. ''Four years, we have accomplished more than anyone could imagine. Ok amigo, what is next?" I lifted out a clipboard from my backpack, there was a starburst of circles and notes and ideas filling the sheet. "2014 looks like it is going to be a busy year, Jim" Charlie observed. His eyes widened at my response,
"Just next month amigo."
Gunvor and Mads of Denmark, heroes of the children, hearts of gold
When you volunteer with Changes for New Hope, you are touched by the
experience as much as you touch the hearts of the children. In December
2012, Gunvor and her friend Mads joined us from Denmark. More than volunteers,
they were heroes to the children. This is Gunvor's story:
I arrived in Huaraz not really knowing what to
expect from the following two weeks. I did have a lot of information about the
organisation and had been in contact with Jim, so I had an idea of what I was
getting into, but the internet can never really prepare you for the real life
experience. I knew that I would be getting to know some of the poorest people in
Peru and that I would see a completely different side of the country than the
one I had experienced in Lima and at the major touristic sites. And I was truly
looking forward to the
I arrived in Huaraz on the 8th
of December 2012, around one and a half month after I had first contacted
Changes for New Hope. Jim met me and my friend Mads, who was also volunteering,
at the bus station and led the way to the hostel, Caroline Lodging, where we
stayed while we were in Huaraz. The hostel is highly recommendable and the
family who runs it is very kind and helpful – and it’s cheap.
We arrived on a Sunday, which is the day of
the week where there is no volunteering to be done. Instead we went hiking with
Jim up one of the mountains and got an amazing view of Huaraz and the
mountainsides that surround the city. At the same time we got to know more about
Jim and the organisation and were prepared to start the work Monday
Meeting the Children and
Families (and other projects)
started Monday with helping at one of the other projects Jim is also involved
in: the comedor.
The comedor is a place where
it’s possible to buy lunch for just 1 sol and the people who come there are
generally people who have a job but who can’t afford buying lunch other places.
We helped serve the customers and washing the dishes afterwards. To my surprise
washing dishes was something you did in cold water and I doubt that any European
health organisation would have been happy about the way things were done, but
all this was made okay by the fact that the people running it and the customers
were grateful and kind people. The first day we walked in there we got a big
round of applause – just for coming. That’s something that makes you want to
After helping at the comedor we went to
the group of children closest to the hostel in the area called Challhua. I think
we had around 30 children there aged somewhere between four and 14. Jim’s helper
Charlie – a Peruvian teacher – took care of the older group while Jim, my friend
Mads and I played with and helped the younger ones. I know some Spanish which
helped me communicate with them. My friend Mads who doesn’t know more than the
very basics of the language found other ways of communication and even though
the language can be a barrier, children are amazing in the way the try to
understand you. They don’t give up just because you don’t understand them the
first five times. This first experience with the children made me happy about my
choice of coming to Huaraz and I started looking even more forward to meeting
the other groups.
The next day, Tuesday, we
went to Santa Rosa which is a small group of houses about 7 km outside of
Huaraz. This was, without doubt, the group I liked the best of the ones we
helped. Already the first day we went there we were greeted with open arms by
both the children and their parents. It’s quite extraordinary how involved the
parents of Santa Rosa are in the project. Mads and I had bought LEGO with us
from Denmark as a present to the children and they absolutely loved it. They
were very creative and also good at sharing. Before we went back to Huaraz we
played volleyball with some of the older children and parents. They were really
good at it! So if you want to practice your volley skills I can definitely
recommend this group of people. The net was put up on a slightly sloping dirt
road but this didn’t stop it from being fun. This was one of the experiences I
have clearest in my head. The fact that you don’t need a perfect pitch to play
and at the same time it made me much more appreciative of what I have in Denmark
where I come from and how lucky we are the ones of us who are born into Western
middle class families.
Another group is
located in a place called Secsapampa, it is close to Santa Rosa but further up
the hill. The road up there mainly consists of dirt which makes it impossible to
get up there when it’s raining. The same is the case for the fourth group at Rio
Seco where Changes for New Hope doesn’t have a house and therefore depends on
dry weather. At Secsapampa, after our first visit, one of the little girls
hugged me and told me that she would miss me. Again an experience that shows the
gratitude that children who are part of the project show to the volunteers who
come to them.
Seeing another side of
Volunteering with Changes for New
Hope turned out not only to be an option to help children in need but also a
chance to get a closer insight in Peruvian culture and to help other groups as
well. As an example, one of the other things we did was to go to a private
school where one of the teachers offers an enormous support to the project. To
repay his kindness we went there to an English class basically just to speak to
the children in English. We also visited local markets and restaurants. On the
second Sunday we were there Jim and the guys at the hostel helped arrange a
horseback riding tour close to Huaraz which was an amazing experience.
Jim is also very involved in art and helps the
children improve their self-esteem through artwork. We helped the children draw
and paint and also worked on sculptures. All this ended up in the biggest museum
in Huaraz where the children could see their own art displayed and which will,
hopefully, make them appreciate themselves and what they can do more.
Unfortunately for Mads and I the opening of the exhibition was right after we
left Peru, but judging from the pictures I’ve seen it was a huge success.
Another thing I noticed was how appreciative
the children of the project were. An example: giving them a little bit of
Play-Doh and you would make their day – even though they had to give it back by
the end of the session. From my experience with Danish children most of them
would probably have complained they didn’t have more colours to play with. This
is of course a natural reaction when you are used to having a lot of different
toys and getting most things you wish for at your birthday. But it was life
confirming to see that it doesn’t take a lot to make these children happy and
give them a better day, and from that starting point hopefully a better life.
My final words will be on what I liked most
about Changes for New Hope and Jim as its founder: The organisation does not
help everyone who puts their hand out. They have to show that they want to be
helped towards a better life and that they are willing to take responsibility
for their own life. The people who just want more and more and doesn’t do
anything to change the way they live to become self-supporting are not helped by
the organisation. I think this is the right way to do it. And if some people
from the last group changes their mind and wants to make an effort, then the
door is of course open to them.
all volunteering with Changes for New Hope is something I can recommend to
anyone who really wants to make a difference for Peruvian children. Volunteering
changed my view of life even though it was for such a short period of time and I
hope that the days I spent in Huaraz had a positive influence on these children
and their families.
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 following is an article written by Volunteer Match's Laura Weiss from an interview with Jim Killon, Changes for New Hope's founder and president. It shares how we got 'here' from 'there'
Jim Killon, Changes for New Hope
In 2009, Jim Killon moved to Peru, where he started a nonprofit organization to help impoverished children in the Peruvian Andes. With no funding and no Spanish, everyone told him to give up and go home. Three years later, Changes for New Hope has reached hundreds of children and helped change their despair into real hope. About Jim By Laura Weiss
After twenty years of working in sales, Baltimore native Jim Killon was so moved by the poverty in South America that he spent his life savings to start an organization to improve the livelihood of Peruvian children and permanently relocated to Huaraz, Peru.
When he first arrived in Peru in 2009, Jim was not intending to start his own organization. But when he began working as a volunteer coordinator at an NGO, he was immediately disappointed with the way the organization was run. Disillusioned with the corrupt way funds were allocated and the volunteers who seemed more interested in partying than helping, Jim decided that he needed to do more.
"I was not content to help a handful of children with their homework and send them on their way…These children wore rags; shoes were literally falling off their feet. They were suffering from malnutrition. Their hair felt like straw," Jim recalls.
So in 2009 he began Changes for New Hope
, a nonprofit organization focused on providing Peruvian youth opportunities and hope for a better future. "We had to start from scratch," he says. "Respect for themselves and each other became part of the program. Those who arrived simply for the hand-outs left as soon as they realized this was more than a give-away program. We were left with children who wanted to develop themselves into young men and women one day."
As a start-up nonprofit in a foreign country, Jim faced challenges that to most people would seem insurmountable. "I had no idea how to read a menu or make a phone call," he says. "The culture and customs were all alien to me. When people told me they eat guinea pigs as food I thought they were kidding. When I found a chicken foot in my soup I was sure it was a prank... I was told I could never succeed."
For Jim, the solution to the challenges he faced was passion. "My tenacity drew others to the project and we developed a solid base," he says. "Spanish can be learned, obstacles can be overcome. Naysayers go silent in the face of determination and success."
Jim spoke at language centers and universities in Peru to encourage more people to donate and volunteer for the cause. Local poster campaigns and testimonials from previous volunteers helped the project gain credibility and fodder.
Jim's passion is obvious to everyone around him. According to Marlie Ferron, a former volunteer with Changes for New Hope, local Huaraz residents refer to him as "Crazy Jim."
"Not crazy as in psychopath or lunatic, or out of his mind, but crazy as in one in a million who dropped his life in the United States to come to Peru and just do his best with what he could, no questions asked," Marlie writes on the CNH blog
Whereas three years ago, Jim's life was about the big-city grind, he now spends his days teaching children about the nature that surrounds them
and facilitating games of "Gringo Bingo,"
an English vocabulary game. He does art projects
with the children, some of whom have never been able to draw with crayons and paper before.
At its inception, Changes for New Hope only reached one group of children, but now Jim works with three groups – about 90 children total. And that number is constantly growing. The program continually adapts to the different teaching styles and hobbies of its volunteers. Jim notes, "Each volunteer has some skill or ability that the children have yet to experience or try. The children are eager learners now and embrace new faces."
With the invaluable assistance of volunteers from the US, the UK, Australia and more, Changes for New Hope is able to add new ideas, projects, learning games and choices as materials and donations allow.
Jim hopes that in future years, Changes for New Hope will be able to engage Peruvian families to create sustainable business models to raise themselves out of poverty. He hopes that future generations will be able to give their children more than they had as a result of Changes for New Hope. "Mostly, I am happy to see that, while poverty continues, the desperation mentality is slowly melting away… When people realize opportunities are available, hope replaces despair," he says.
It is clear that Jim's life has changed as a result of moving to Peru. He lost 60 pounds after living on a Peruvian diet. He's forgotten what "turning on the heat" means. He hasn't driven a car in almost three years. But Jim wouldn't call these changes sacrifices.
"I think that had I ever viewed it as a sacrifice, I may have been tempted to throw in the towel and head for a beach in Hawaii," he says. "The reward for me was seeing the results and development of the children and their families."
Jim's multifaceted efforts have transformed his life, but he describes it as a "win-win endeavor" that has opened his heart to the beauty and reward that comes from helping others.
"No one is telling me to go home anymore," he notes. "This is home for me now." Laura Weiss interned with VolunteerMatch during the summer of 2011. About Changes for New Hope.
Changes for New Hope reaches poor and underprivileged children and their families in the Peruvian Andes. Initially developed as an English language program, CNH has expanded to address hunger and health issues in Huaraz, Peru.
James Killon, Changes for New Hope
Ancash, Huaraz, Peru www.changesfornewhope.org
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