Saturday, March 14, 2015

Adios from the Peru Crew 2015

Well after a year of planning, incredible fund raising, and 2 wonderful weeks on the ground, I am coming to the end of the story telling of the Peru Mission Trip 2015.  I had never done a blog before this, but I thought it would be a great way to share the adventures while we were away.  As you know, it wasn’t without its challenges, but for me, it’s been a labour of love.  I’ve told the story many times, that I had wanted to do something like this for a long, long time.  As a Mission Team at St. Paul’s, we just weren’t sure where to begin to do an international mission.  There are so many needs in so many places in this world…..

So, back in November 2013, when I read a tiny little ad in the Village Voice about a possible mission trip to Peru, I answered it.  They invited me to come to a meeting at Knox United in Embro.  When they started telling the stories about their trips to Nicaraugua, it was magic for me.  This started the dream that unfolded in real time in February of this year.  For me, the team, the children and Machu Picchu, created a magical trip that I will never forget.  It was a simply a "Dream Team"!!  Each member of this team was “all in” in everything we did from Day 1.  We were inspired by a common dream.  We shared so much laughter, poignant moments, some challenges (ie. bug bites and a fear of heights), but everyone cared for each other from the moment we left the ground.

It has been an incredible privilege to have shared this experience with so many beautiful people.  If you have ever travelled with a group like this, you create memories that will last a lifetime.  Like my group trips to the Holy Land and Greece with Dr. Lonnie and Joan Atkinson, and many other wonderful people, you find yourself transported back to these special times and places on a regular basis.  At times, you simply break into laughter as you remember something crazy you did together.

Thank you to so many of you who regularly checked the blog.  I have received such lovely feedback, and that kept me going when the connections became a problem.  There has already been some discussion about the possibility of another trip like this down the road.  If you have been inspired at all to consider such a trip in the future, please start the conversation with any one of the team who went to Peru.  You will never regret the opportunity to see the world, and spend special moments with like-minded people.  But I think the greatest gift is the belief that perhaps you have made a positive difference in some small way in this world.  We have been greatly moved by the children in Peru, and loved being part of a team that was able to show up and demonstrate to them we cared enough to come.

I am always inspired by Margaret Mead’s beautiful quote:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Here’s a final collection of some of the special moments along the way.


Jackie Zister - what a beautiful soul!!  She gave her all to the children…...

Special friends on the ground…….:)

Jackie and Kieran worked so hard for the children.  For them - a labour of love…………")

We just couldn't get enough of these dear children!!!

They were just so precious!!!

What ever would we have done without our banker??  Day after day someone would come and ask the same question, "Charlie, do you have any small soles?"  I'm sure we were driving him crazy, but he just smiled and went and got what we needed.  Thanks so much, Charlie, for taking care of all the funds.  You rocked on that job!!!

The sand fleas were certainly a challenge for some of the team  members!!  Kathy and Marg thought they would "compare notes"!!  By mid week, Kathy had developed a thick rash on both ankles.  In fact, we were even having a hard time finding our ankles!!!  Some of us were starting to get concerned our legs would never be the same again…. However, thanks to some incredible care by many team members, who offered up Cortisone cream, Derma-Gel, After-Bite, Benadryl (you name it, we tried it!!), our legs have recovered.  The good news is, we've rediscovered our ankles again………:)  Loved Sonya's term for the problem: "Cankles"!! Who knew this term was actually in the "Urban Dictionary"???  Yes, I will admit that I looked it up:)

We loved the dogs when they were sleeping!.  Although we will admit we loved Keisha any time.  She just plunked herself down anywhere for a snooze.
Many of the spots looked anything but comfortable…….  Nice life:)

Travelling through Peru, you develop a great appreciation for toilet paper - especially when it is more that "1 ply" and can simply be tossed in the toilet…….
Funny how you take the "little things" for granted!!

We fell in love with the people of Cusco.  This beautiful woman and her precious daughter were so lovely.  She so appreciated that we bought several paintings created by her husband…….:)

Our incredible team leader!!   I'm sure we drove him crazy some days.  He'd tell us the plan for the day, and immediately, someone would go up and ask him what we were doing.  He'd explain it again, and someone would go up and ask him what we were doing.  I'm sure, at times, he just wanted to yell, "Seriously, people!!!!!".  Yet, he never did.  Here, he could still smile on the last night……… 
We can only say a sincere thank you for all his hard work and 
tremendous organizational skills on this trip.
 Job well done, Chris!!! :)

Enjoying life in Cusco!!!!

And then, once again, back in Lima…….

Our "last supper"……..

Last night in Lima -  3:15 am flights can certainly be challenging…...

Ok, in fairness they did work hard……. 

Just had to add one more sunset!!  There is some benefit in being the blog writer!!!! :)

Adios from the Peru Crew 2015!!!!!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Machu Picchu

It is honestly hard to know where to begin to describe our trip to Machu Picchu!!  I think I speak for the group when I say that the dream of the trip was to take the mission trip to the orphanage.  Machu Picchu was the bonus.  And what a spectacular bonus it was.  This is a trip on many peoples' bucket lists, and it was a dream to go.  Some of us continue to say that we couldn't believe we were actually there.  After taking about 200 pictures there (editing will be required:) it was hard to choose which pictures to show.  Here's a few:

Our guide, "J" was fantastic.  He was a seasoned trekker, and has been guiding daily tours up Machu Picchu for several years.  These days, he does 6 a week, and takes one day off.  He was in incredible shape!!  He had a walking stick, and tied a "white flag" on one end.  When he wanted us to follow him, he would raise the flag and say, "Ok, Family, follow me".  Quite lovely really…..

We arrived about 7:00 am that day, and it was misty.  The fog would go in and out.  It created an almost mystical feeling that just enveloped you…..

The clouds were simply amazing!!

The grass was quite manicured on the terraced areas.  Here are the the "grounds keepers".  
Nice looking group don't you think?    After viewing the initial ruins, we stopped for a group picture.  This group was amazing working up the mountain - helping each other, supporting each other, and encouraging each other that we could indeed make it.  

Then we were given a choice of 2 alternate trips.  These were to take a further hike up:

Huayna Picchu and Intipunku
"J" described Huayna (aka Wayna Picchu) while not quite as high as Intipunku (the Sun Gate), it was much steeper, and those who were going to tackle it needed to be in "reasonable physical shape"!!

Here's the troopers that tackled this one:

All I can say to these pictures is, "Holy Crap!!!!" :)

Pretty impressive, guys!!!
Our "young" trekkers - Evan and Sonya!!  At one point, Charlie said to Evan, "Could you at least "pretend" that you are slightly winded!!!  They were such good sports putting up with their parents' vintage!!  They also made us try a whole lot harder because they made it all look so easy……..:)

The other group tackled the "higher" but gentler Intipinku (aka the Sun Gate).    For those who know me, I love the Inukshuks built by the Canadian First Nations people.  They are directional markers or "guide posts".  I never expected to find one along this path…...

Taking "breathing" breaks along the path was very important!!
Chris was incredible!!  At some point along the way up this 1 hour climb, he decided he was going to "get there first" - and he did!!  Chris, I won't share your age here, but all I can say is that you were pretty impressive up there!!

Nancy and I admitted to each other before we went to Machu Picchu that we were "afraid of heights"!!  It's actually the "fear of falling".  I'm good as long as I'm not near the edge.  We opted, as a result, to do the "gentler" climb.  We were doing pretty well until the last 10 minutes.   Initially,  the  path was likely about 5 to 6 feet wide, and that was quite manageable.  The last 10 minutes, the path narrowed to about 3 feet with an 8,000 foot drop off the cliff!!!  Nancy, is it fair to say we were terrified??  We were hugging the rock wall beside us for dear life!!  It was one of those "OMG" moments, where the voice inside your head said, "What on earth were you thinking??"

Here we are pretty proud that we actually made it to the top.  The good news was, we did it!!  The bad news was, we had to go back down………  Our dear guide, "J" walked with his back to the edge beside us in the worst parts, making sure we were ok.  He was simply fantastic!!  We both admitted, if we had known it was going to be that narrow, we WOULD NOT have started up.  That said, we did it!!   Call it our "fear factor" moment!!!
Here's the crew that conquered Intipunku!!  Did I say that this was the "higher" trek????

As I said before, at times we could not believe we were actually up on Machu Picchu!!! We could not get enough of the view!!  It was just a magical place!!!!

The "traditional" Machu Picchu picture!!  I only took about 50 of them!!!

It was a spectacular day for us.  Machu Picchu is in the rain forest, and we were there in the rainy season.  We expected rain, and were ready with our "rain ponchos"!!  It rained the night before, but it was just cloudy when we got there.  When we came back down the mountain in the afternoon, the sun came out here.  It was fantastic, and was certainly one of the highlights of our week.  

For anyone who may be considering tackling Machu Picchu, our advice?  Don't wait!!  We learned so much about the Incan civilization, the history there, and the advanced technology they clearly understood.  It was such an adventure!!

Well, I think it is just about time to wrap this blog up!!  We have appreciated you continuing to check it out!!  Our final post will be a few final reflections about this trip - the team, the mission, and the future…...  We'll finish it off in the next couple of days.  Hasta Luego!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Saying Good Bye to the Children…….

During our week at the orphanage, each one of us had different encounters with children that touched us deeply.  In some cases we were able to try to talk, sharing words of understanding in each other's language.  In other cases, this wasn't possible.  Yet, we came to learn that a smile, a hug, a laugh transcends language, and we were able to understand one another.  Day after day, we came to understand just what kind of loving family environment this really was for the children, and it was a privilege to be able to spend time with them.  Here's some of the wonderful memories of that week.
One of my favourite pictures……. The children just loved Bill:)

After only a week, it was sad to say good bye to these beautiful children:)
We all knew just how hard it was for Jackie to say good bye.
Beautiful children - beautiful volunteers.  We loved them all……:)

This little charmer made sure everyone, and we mean every last one of us, gave him a kiss on both cheeks, and Annalise too!!  He will break hearts when he is older…..:)

The week went so quickly at the orphanage.  We complained about the bugs, the roosters and the dogs, but I think I speak for the team in saying we would do it again in a heart beat.  Believing we have helped these special children in some small way made it ALL worthwhile.  It was a beautiful experience.  Just before we left the orphanage, we stopped for a final picture in front of the security gate at the front of the property.  The founder of the Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH) orphanage network, Father Wasson, is pictured here.

Onward to Machu Picchu.  Now back at work, it is a little challenging to keep at the blog, but my goal is to show you some of our Machu Picchu adventure no later than the weekend…..  Again, we so appreciate you keeping in touch.  You will not be disappointed by the MP pictures.  It was magic:)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Our Finished Projects - Part 2

Another activity that several of our team shared with many of the girls one afternoon was a "Spa Day".  Several of the team had purchased different kinds of make up, nail polish, etc., and then just had fun pampering the girls by doing their nails, their hair, and watching them get excited to realize that they were free to also partake in trying different things out.  They loved it!!

You can imagine how we proud Canadians were thrilled to see this jersey!!    The Canadians  have made many trips to this orphanage, and have left a strong foot print there…….

For those who got to know Marion, in everything she does, she is "ALL IN"!!!  What a beautiful soul:)
Here's who Marion was pampering.  Muy bonita!!!! We came to learn that smiles broke all language barriers, and simply warmed your heart……..

Okay, here's where I needed to rely on the help of many of the men on our team…….  As I said previously, "tools" really are not my thing……..  Still don't quite get the excitement, but that's just me………. :)

Charlie, Chris and John very ably stepped up to help me explain a significant contribution we were able to make.  With over $15,000 that we raised through a year of fundraising, and support from so many of you, we purchased some pretty amazing tools.  Take a look…….

Top Row - L to R:  Bench grinder, metal cut-off saw, random orbital sander, heavy duty extension cord.
Middle Row - L to R:  Bench drill press, heavy-duty hammer drill, compound mitre saw.
Bottom Row - L to R:  Welder, welding mask, welding accessories.

The guys also told me this:

The Dewalt metal saw (chop saw) was used to cut the steel to make the gates in the picture below.  This just makes it so much better and more accurate to cut the steel, straight and on angles….. They used the welder to weld the steel pieces together for the gates.  The Dewalt mitre saw was used to cut the wood pieces to make the benches and shoe racks in the picture below.  The sander was used to smooth the wood pieces before putting them together, reducing the chance of slivers…… So much of work like this had always been done by hand, and took SO much longer…… The Makita hammer drill will be used to help mount the gates onto the concrete walls of the houses.  The drill press was used to drill holes in the metal pieces, where required, and again, allows for much greater accuracy when drilling into metal or wood.

The compound mitre saw makes it so much easier, quicker and more accurate to make straight and angle cuts for any project, such as the benches you will see shortly, with angled braces.

The orbital sander is great for finishing projects, again, compared to HAND sanding!!! ugh……..

The hammer drill is needed for drilling into concrete.  ALL the houses are made out of concrete….
On the children's houses, there were alcoves on the outside, with a ladder leading to the roof.  Well, kids will be kids, and the children were starting to climb these ladders creating considerable risk.  So, our "Steelworkers" union welded and built gates to go on each one of these houses.  There are 7 houses, soon to be 8……. I understand that "each" house was not always square, so they customized each one to fit.  Nice work, gentlemen!!!
Here's our "wood worker's" union sitting on one of their projects!!  The other "union" members said they actually sat down quite a bit!!!!  (just kidding:)  I think they were quite pleased with their work……. And they should be.  Here's some more of their accomplishments….. Fantastic effort!!!

Our dear friend, Kieran, had a dream to build a music program at the orphanage.  It's up and going, and these benches and shoe cupboards will be so helpful in this room.  We were so impressed with the Peruvian people.  Even in the smallest of spaces, they were SO neat and tidy!!

Charlie also shared the story of going to Sodimac (a Home Depot like store).  They took, David, the maintenance man, with them.  Charlie said he was like a "kid in a candy store" as they bought the tools for the orphanage.  He had a big smile on his face.  Charlie noted on the day we were packing up and leaving, David was already in the workshop with one of the older boys, using the tools to build a wooden box with wheels to protect new speakers which were also purchased for the music room.  Someone was also going to come and teach one of the older boys how to weld.  This is also part of the goals of the orphanage - to teach the children life skills…...

The bantering and "rivalries" among these two unions was so fun to listen to……..  They worked away and clearly loved what they were doing…… It was a regular occurrence that one of us would have to go over to their area, and say, "Guys, come for lunch…….."  Great work - ALL of you:)

I think it is fair to say that one of the projects that we are all so proud of is a beautiful mural sketched by our beautifully gifted artist, Susan.  Susan and her very talented assistant, Marg, worked away most of the week creating this beautiful mural in the baby "stimulation" room.  Some of the sad moments were in hearing the stories of some of the children's lives before they came to the orphanage.  Some of the babies had been left for long periods, and may not have even learned basic development steps, like crawling.  The "stimulation" room is a place to help them recapture these  important developmental milestones.

Day after day we watched this mural come to life, and we were thrilled when Susan and Margaret wanted each one of us to come in and paint a part of the mural.  Take a look at the area BEHIND Noah and his wife……. This writer added her 2 cents to this masterpiece there….

When we "unveiled" this to the children they could not have been more excited!!  They would try to reach and touch the animals, and we think they were trying to say the names.  What a beautiful legacy that we could leave for these dear little children.  Like the message of the story of Noah's Ark, may this be a message of hope for their futures……

Finally, with our funds, we were able to purchase 2 fans for each house (8 houses) to keep the environment comfortable.  We purchased 2 for the office, and the staff could not tell us enough what a difference that made for their comfort in working EVERY day….

We purchased some sports equipment for a games day we had for the children, but perhaps some of the most moving moments came when we learned we could pay for a young boy's dental expenses.  Just the week before, he had lost his 2 front teeth playing soccer.  However, there was no money in their budget to cover this for him.  It was a unanimous team decision to cover the $500 US it would cost to replace his front teeth.  Think about the positive impact that will have on his self image, his self esteem and his overall health in the future…..

After all of the above, we had $4,000 remaining, Jackie told us that, because of cuts to the budget here, the children  are only provided white bread.  As well, at times, they need to "water down" the milk for the babies to have enough to go around.  So, with these additional dollars, we have been able to top up their funds to provide whole wheat bread and "undiluted" milk for the babies, in Jackie's words "for the foreseeable future".

If people ask us, "Do you think you made a difference there, if the health and development of these dear children was impacted in a positive, I think we can say "Yes, we did!!"…….

Next post will be saying good bye to them………… stay tuned:)
Thanks so much for keeping with us!!