As I went for my morning run, I passed the cathedral “Del Sol” and noticed a small child huddled in a ball fast asleep against one of the large stones of the ancient Inca wall. She looked about 8 or 9 years old and her hair and clothing were dirty and tattered.
Quietly, I removed my camera from my pack, took her picture, and continued my run up the cobbled stone streets, but the image of the little girl cycled through my mind as I ran. I recalled there was a distinct odor that came from this tiny little one; it was a familiar smell I had remembered from people close to death from starvation and dysentery.
I resolved that on the way back down the hill I would stop and see if I could help.
I returned to the spot where the little girl had been sleeping. As I approached, my noisy size 14 EE running shoes awakened her. Struggling, she raised her shaggy head and looked at me with fright. I could see she was in the final stages of starvation.
She needed help quickly.
Scanning in every direction, I looked for someone who could watch the little girl while I went for help. I could see no one and I had no money. Trying to calm her, I told her I would go to my hotel, call for help, and get some money. She didn’t understand a word, of course.
From her style of dress I knew that she was from one of the Inca villages in the high country and spoke only Quechua, an ancient Inca language. Her expression was still filled with surprise and fear. Seeing a large man hovering over her and saying something in a strange language would frighten any little girl, but especially one so small and sick. Not knowing how to comfort her, I gave her my water bottle and hurried as fast as I could back to the hotel.
I grabbed some money, raced through the lobby, out on the street and up the hill to the little girl. My heart pounded, my lungs burned, and I sucked hard for more of the thin mountain air at 12,300 feet.
Arriving at the spot where I left the little girl, my heart sank. She was gone. I saw a trail of bloody spots on the sidewalk and followed them for about 50 yards. The spots started to fade and then disappeared completely. Frantically, I searched in all directions. It was as if she had disappeared.
Where had my little friend gone?
After about an hour of looking everywhere I could possibly think, I gave up the search. Disappointed and self accusing, I started asking myself painful questions: Why hadn’t I taken money?
Later that evening as I was transferring my photos of the day onto my computer, the heartache started all over as I saw the tiny girl huddled on those steps trying to survive in an uncaring world. The questions began once again.
Why did I leave her?
As I looked at her picture in beautiful color and fine detail, I saw a dying little girl that I could have helped. Tears began to run down my cheeks, but I wiped them away so my wife wouldn’t see what I was feeling. “It wasn’t my fault,” I rationalized, but it was my fault. Why had I done so little too late?
I resolved in my mind that I was going to do everything in my power to provide hope and encouragement to the poor people of the high Andes, so they wouldn’t be attracted to the large cities. The villagers have filthy water, no medical services, no schools, no relief from starvation, and no way to earn money, and no hope for any change in the future.
Since I found this little street girl five years ago and with the help of our donors, HOPE PROJECTS has over 120 village projects underway in villages of the high Andes. Over 350,000 people are being helped to stay in their own villages and not be lured to the big cities.
However, there are hundreds of other poor villages in the Cusco Region, and the people travel to Cusco City seeking a better life. None can read or write Spanish, none have salable work skills, none have money, and all find disaster waiting for them.
Presently there are over 14,000 homeless/orphans in the Cusco region, according to the Minister of Health. There is only room for 840 children in all of the orphanages. Existing infant/toddler orphanages can only keep children until they are five, and then they are turned over to one of four youth orphanages who can only afford to keep 50% of them for twelve months.
If they are not adopted, they are turned out into the street to make room for another child. Only one out of twenty children in any of these orphanages gets adopted. Many of these street children are kidnapped and sold by foreign human traffickers and smuggled out of Peru to be used as domestic slaves or for child prostitution rings.
The current orphanages in Cusco are plagued with problems: over payment to directors, no medical staff, poor living conditions, and no counseling after a child leaves the orphanage. Hope Projects needs to help the orphans/homeless children by building our own orphanage. We have the medical staff, the schools K-14, green house food, the leadership, and the political clout to get the government involved and make an orphanage work.
This new project for 2008 will in no way interfere with our 120 existing village projects. 100% of all donations are used as you choose either for building materials for a Hope project, farm animals, or to support an orphan. $50/month will care for an orphan and we have projects ranging from $25 for a flock of chickens to $10,000 to help a whole village.
The image of that little girl is permanently burned into my memory; I have a hope that our projects will prevent other children from suffering, and dying in the streets as that little girl did. What HOPE PROJECTS is doing is just a drop in the bucket of what can be done if more people would get involved helping the poorest of the poor help themselves. What better way is there to celebrate the Savior’s birth? During December your donation will be doubly matched by the board.