Monday, June 7, 2010

Final Thoughts

"For me this trip meant a lot in many different ways. First and foremost, I was glad to be able to return to Peru after so many years, since it is my country of birth. On top of that it was really rewarding to give back to my country seeing as how I have been able to do service of this type here in the states with Bryant as well as with my high school. The experience itself was also rewarding in a way that I have never experienced before, this is because it was definitely the most hands on service I have done by far. Never have I had the opportunity to do such a difference in someone´s life. Even though, all we did was just helped out around the Casa in everything that they were in need of, such as painting, cooking, cleaning, watching over the kids in the nursery, etc. I love the experience overall and would do it again in a heartbeat. I have learned much from the trip, it was a big eye opener for me especially because it showed that as much as my life may get difficult at times, it cannot compare to how other people have it. Therefore, I should cherish it as much as possible."

-Chris Flores '12
Hartford, CT

"Aside from going to pre-Passport Canada, I have never left the country. While my service background is extensive at home, the Peru trip gave me the perfect opportunity to exercise my service abilities abroad. My first thoughts were that this trip, or at least the demands of the mothers , would not be that difficult (I have a four year old nephew at home; it can’t be that different). I imagined asset mapping, going through the 501 (c)(3) process (non-profit charter), and looking at the Casa de Mantay from a completely business perspective. I could not have been more wrong. The challenges faced by the madres on a daily basis, such as cooking, cleaning and taking care of the kids, dominated most of the time and was equal parts exhausting and rewarding. To be a mother at twelve years old is something that I could never imagine doing. I got only a small slice of the time and effort it takes to do even simple tasks like washing the dishes. I feel rewarded in that we painted the outside wall, something they have wanted to do for a long time, but also in the simple things we were able to do over the course of the week. Going to school with Mark, playing with Carlos, developing an efficient system for washing dishes, trying (and failing, I might add) my hand at drawing the angels, and playing at the park with the madres are all parts of this trip that combine to make it an unforgettable experience. While our help to the mothers surely gave them a break from their daily rigors, I feel that we were able to take away much more from this trip than the help we may have provided to them. Molly talked about Maccu Picchu being a “life-changing experience,” and along with the rest of the service trip to Peru, I can confidently say I came back a different person. Thank you to all of those who made this trip possible: to Katrin for seeing the need for volunteering in the first place, to Professor Gomez for taking on the role of responsibility, to Melanie, Marcia, Chris, Molly and Bridget for all of your hard work, to all the donors, the supporters, our families and our friends. This trip could not have been made possible without all of your help."

- Chris Brida '12
Southampton, MA

"This trip was a lot more than what I first imagined. Even from day one, I knew it was going to be the adventure of a lifetime. The ability to help the Casa Mantay first hand was something I didn't imagine. At first, the madres at the casa were very hesitant with us, but after a day & some playing soccer they were more than excited to see us. Its hard to imagine that just being able to spend time, play and listen to these woman and their children mean the world to them. By doing the tedious painting we are able to brighten their day and make them smile. Going to the Casa Mantay was much more than helping out and doing work. It was being able to bring a smile to children faces, relieve the stress of the regular daily duties and make a little impact without even knowing how many hearts you've touched. I miss the madres, the children, and the sound of their laughter."

- Melanie Simas '11
Swansea, MA

"The conclusion of our time in Peru definitely made me think about everything we had accomplished there in ten days. It's amazing to think that we helped paint a wall (no short wall either), helped prepare lunches for over fifty people, helped to feed hungry babies and even entertain some very energetic kids! Honestly I didn't know what to expect before we landed in Peru but now I can understand how performing small acts, like those I listed before, can really help and encourage a group of women to trust and relate to eight "strangers" from America. I had an amazing time at the Casa with the women and children and it really made me understand how lucky I am to have everything that I do and to appreciate only having to worry about my needs on a daily basis. These women are powerful and strong to be able to deal with what has happened to them, work at the casa and raise a child all at the same time. Not only did I meet wonderful women there but I made seven new friends who I might not have met otherwise. I can also safely say that I have the best Spanish professor at Bryant who helped to make the trip so amazing for all of us."

- Molly Sweeney '13
Ridgewood, NJ

"My final thoughts after leaving Peru and the Casa are with the mothers of the children in Casa de Mantay. I went into the experience imagining them as victims. I could not fathom the trauma they had been through, let alone learning to love a child that was a result of such a horrible experience. However, after spending time at the Casa I quickly realized things I had never thought of, such as; where the "mothers" had come from, and their age. After spending so much time helping take care of the babies and children I soon learned that the mothers are children themselves. They were playful, laughing, and just young girls who needed attention and someone to take care of them as well. They did not seem to shy away from boys, but instead seemed like typical school girls. Additionally I never thought about how many of them are not actually from the city of Cusco, but from remote areas of the mountains or jungle. Many probably were never educated about sex, especially at such a young age of 11 or 12, let alone the fact that rape (often times by family members) is even wrong. The girls are not only learning to care for and love their children, but they are learning how to properly care for themselves.

I am so proud that in addition to learning what many consider to be the basics, the Casa provides schooling for the mothers and their children, as well as counseling and additional care takers. I am most excited about the fact that we were able to not only paint, cook, and help with the kids, but mainly the mothers. Giving them time away from their kids, and the pressures of preparing for the real world, and allowing them to play soccer and go to the park. I truly hope the mothers were able to feel like normal teenage girls again, if only for a short time."

- Bridget McNulty '11
Madison, CT

"It's surprising to me that my second trip to the Casa was just as emotional, informative, and influential in my life as the first, if not more so. This time, I came back to see changes that had occured over the past twelve months, kids that were a little bigger than I remembered, and remnants of what we accomplished last year (an exquisitely painted dining room, for example, or the mothers' and kids' clothes and shoes that looked oddly familiar from their days in my own closet). It's weirdly comforting to know that an experience like this is still life-changing and meaningful, even the second (or third, fourth, etc. - hopefully) time around.

As much as I'm proud of our group for bringing double the amount of money as last year, and for making a meaningful impact with our work again, the best thing for me was noticing how the experience affected us as individuals, students, and as a group. Our conversations went from revolving around Celtics games and movies early on, to discussing the issues the Casa deals with and asking important questions about such issues (just as an example: "What the f**k would we do if we were eleven-year-old rape victims, pregnant with our attacker's baby, with no social support network whatsoever, hostility from family members and the community, no access to abortion and limited access to state-sponsored adoption (not to mention legal obstacles to such an option), no money, skills, or decent job prospects, and nowhere to turn for help?").

In their book, Half the Sky, New York Times reporters Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn make an important point about volunteer trips like ours: that they serve the dual purpose of providing aid to communities and organizations in need, as well as changing the outlooks and attitudes of the volunteers themselves in positive ways, by exposing them to diverse people, families, and populations with many goals, but also many obstacles that aren't necessarily encountered in the U.S. I think our project is a case in point - I know that the experience changed every single one of us for the better."

- Katie Gorham '10
Baltimore, MD

"Reflecting the planning and organization of Peru 2010 has involved a lot of hard work and persistence. The project went forth thanks to several departments and people at Bryant. I have been committed to this project since its initiation last year, but definitely not alone. I am thankful to Kilo, (Katie) who has been the heart and soul of this project since day one. She is to be admired for her dedication and never giving up, without her constant assistance we would not have made it happen.

Peru’s 2010 students made my job easy and I am thankful to them for being dedicated students and never losing site of our goal for being in Peru. They knew from the beginning that the women and children of Casa Mantay was our purpose for being there. All of our students this year were energetic from the moment that they were chosen and did a fantastic job in raising funds in such a short time. For this reason we were able to double numbers from last year for the Casa. I am sure all of this year’s group would agree that this is a trip that will be difficult to forget. The group bonded in ways as we were faced with challenges along the way, Mel getting sick in the hospital is just one example, but I found that they never lost sight.

Going back to the Casa and seeing all the improvements that have been made in the last year is something that really made me happy, it was like going back and visiting friends. Seeing some of those children and mothers from last year and how they have grown and how happy they were to welcome us back; it was quite a treat. They celebrated their 10th anniversary this last May and it was the icing on the cake for us to live a little of this with Raquel and Sergio, owners of the Casa. We left this year with our biggest job completed, a 1000 foot wall painted purple with 10 angels, representing their 10 year existence. This has given the Casa a better representation when walking into this community of hope for the women and children. It was satisfying for all of us knowing that they are proud of their home and that we could make that happen. I lastly want to thank my 7 kids, Kilo (Katie), Cinnabon (Chris B), Mel, Molly, Chris F, Marcia, Bridget (Vicky) and Bryant for the opportunity; it is this part of my job that I thank God for everyday and for this reason wouldn’t change my profession for anything."

- Professor Gomez

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fotos de una Aventura

After nearly 24 hours of travelling, we finally made it back to New York yesterday morning at 8:35 am. The flights and layovers were long, but gave us all some time to reflect on the trip. From our first breathtaking views of the Andes and Cusco, to the first giggles from the madres and hijos, to the final sad goodbyes, we all have grown from our experiences - and we hope the Casa has gotten at least as much from our visit as we have (although we have a sneaking feeling that we're the ones who have benefitted the most, but more on that later).

Now that we're back to the U.S. and a faster internet connection, we wanted to share some photos of the experience (as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words) - enjoy!

Pre-departure at La Guardia.

Our view of Cusco from the hostel's balcony.

Flags of Cusco and Peru flying in Plaza de Armas, Cusco.

Main Catholic church in Cusco, in Plaza de Armas.

Raquel, the Casa's director, and Fisco, the Casa's dog.

Why does is seem like they're ALWAYS eating??
ProGo and Justin!

Making lunch.
Learning about the Casa.
Bridget and Carlos.

Katie and una madre (who's 14).

Marcia and las gemelas (the twins).

After sanding and priming, we painted the outside wall of the Casa a royal purple.

The devil's in the details (trust us).

Finally moving on the las angelitas (ten total - one for every year the Casa's been operating).

Chris F. with Mark and Anderson at Aguas Caillentes.

Pilar and her son Mateo (she's one of the Casa's first success stories and is now the assistant director).

Machu Picchu.

The madres and us outside the Casa, in front of the finished wall!

Mothers, kids, and us on the last day at the Casa :(

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Adios Peru

Another year done at the Casa. We are all at the Lima airport waiting to get on the plane to head back to the States. Well all of us, with exception of Chris F., who was joined by his abuela and tias (grandmother and aunts) at the Lima airport. They were so excited about seeing him and spending some extra time with him in Lima. As I write the blog, all the students are enjoying each other's stories, laughing about certain incidents that involved a group of French people on the train, the holy rollers on the bus back from Machu Picchu, and of course the Asians that joined our bus and later found out they were on the wrong bus. I am glad that all the group is feeling much better and in some ways are ready to head back but also will be missing each other.

Today's morning started early with manicures, pedicures and haircuts. The girls of the group couldn't wait to enjoy the last treats before heading back. Kilo (Katie), PG, Marcia and Mel decided that after finishing up with their treats that they would head back to the market for last minute shopping. After doing some quick power shopping we meet up with Cinnabon, (Chris B), Chris F., Molly and Bridget. Yes we showed up about 20 minutes late, we quickly headed for a last quick lunch at the Plaza de Armas...nothing else but everyone craving McDonald's. Molly and Bridget refused to leave the Plaza without the ice cream so they ran to get those of that wanted a scoop just that. We then headed back to do last minute packing and head to the airport. We were all not happy with the 50+ steps that we had to come down with luggage only to be greeted with concrete rocks and some 12 Peruvian men working on the one day that we were heading out. Only in Peru does this kind of logic happen, it was rumored by our guide that Kilo was not happy and literally was kicking her suitcase down the steps when she soon found out that her wheels were not in good shape. No doubt the trip was coming to a close and we were ready to come home. Soon after we arrived at the airport in Cusco, we got on a plane and landed in Lima. We were all excited to meet Chris F's family. We were greeted warmly by them and they were so excited to see him as he had not visited with him in some time. After leaving Chris F., Kilo quickly found a $10 store. All of us walked in and walked out with a little something to take back home.

Reflecting on the trip, I can only say that I am once again so proud of my Bryant group. They all stepped up to the challenges of this trip and did an amazing job at the Casa. Raquel was very happy with our efforts, and appreciated our commitment to them. She has suffered a tough year with the economic crisis and we were one of the two groups that returned and were able to lend her a hand. I was happy and satisfied overall and am hopeful that Bryant will continue to help these women and children of the CASA that desperately need it. Every year brings new projects, new students, new experiences and new ideas. It is a great feeling to board the plane knowing that we have touched these women, and children and that our short stay has brought them a little hope. I once again want to applaude our Bryant students, last year's group and this year's for a job well done. Thank you for the journey and know your work at the CASA is one that will continue to help these women and children of Peru.

-Professor Gomez (PEEG)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Machu Picchu

"Machu Picchu? What's that?" Most of us discovered that we had all been asked that question before arriving in Cuzco. However, to give credit where credit is due, Machu Picchu is one of the newer additions to the Seven Wonders of the World. We all woke up at 6 a.m. and started in on our journey to see this world wonder.

After a 20 minute bus ride to a 2 hour bus ride to a one hour train ride to another 20 minute bus ride we finally arrived. Indescribable would be the best way to describe Machu Picchu, however, I'll describe how breathtaking this place really is. Once we started our 2 hour tour we were informed, by our tour guide Esmerelda, that Machu Picchu is really made up of three mountains, Huayna Picchu (Young Mountain,) Machu Picchu (Old Mountain) "Happy Mountain" (though no one can quite figure out why it's called Happy Mountain). In the middle of the three is a village where the Incan people used to live and they were actually quite an advanced group of people. There was a system in place similar to the aqueduct system in Rome where they brought water from the nearby river to the town for people to use and to help with irrigation. Actually, "town" may not be an appropriate term considering there may have been more than 1,000 people living there at one time. Our tour comprised of walking to the top of Machu Picchu (8,000 feet above sea level) and overlooking the Incan city, then slowly making our way down to see houses, temples and different statues. Cool doesn't even begin to describe how amazing this experience was (when people say that going to Machu Picchu is a life changing experience, they really mean it!). Esmerelda also told us that this city is now referred to as the Lost City of the Incas because during their construction of the city all of the people fled for some reason, and no one is sure why. Towards the end of our tour and after our last group shot at the bottom of Machu Picchu we looked up to see the top of the mountain, where we had been, and the city where these people lived almost 600 years ago. To be able to walk around a piece of Peruvian history, I'm sure we would all agree, was really a life changing experience. So the moral of the story is, add Machu Picchu to your to-do list and we ensure that you will not be disappointed!

-Molly a.k.a. the freshman

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Beginning of the Goodbyes

Can you believe it's Sunday, already? Well I barely can. The trip has flown by and we only have minimal amount of time to enjoy the rest of what Peru has in store for us.

This morning was gorgeous, a great way to end the final leg of our trip. Bridget, PG and I headed into Plaza de Armas to go to mass at the cathedral at 10 am. Unfortunately, Luis, our hostel owner, failed on us and told us the wrong time, so we missed mass. We desperately tried to get into the cathedral, but every time the guard stopped us, telling us only people from Cuzco could enter the cathedral, and we would have to wait and go by a different entrance. Ourtraged, we gave up, sat on a bench outside in the plaza and enjoyed the weekly parade.

As the afternoon approached, we decided it was necessary to people watch in the plaza. Random people come up to you asking you if you want anything from postcards to jello. Its interesting to see the different types of tourists in the plaza. Marcia, Bridget, Chris Flores, Molly & I all sat on the bench, soaked up the sun and people watched away.

Later, we ended up eating a "quick" lunch, on a terrace overlooking the plaza. We were able to overlook the parades that precede the June Festival of Cuzco. Residents were dressed up in their bright costumes and danced throughout the streets. After waiting patiently for food and drinks, we departed to the Casa de Mantay.

Our last trip to the Casa...
I had a couple of items still to give to the casa and we all wanted to buy things from the workshop at the Casa, so we headed there after lunch. When we arrived, we were all shocked; the Casa was.. well, calm and ... Quiet. The Casa is always bustling with woman, filled with a childs laughter or even more so, either Abraham, Justin or Diego screaming and running around. Although, today, the casa was quiet. That soon stopped, as we entered Justin came running and Pilar greeted us.
We were able to buy bookmarks, bags, key chains; all the leather items that are handmade by the woman in the casa.
Soon after, all the mothers & children that were home came outside to say our last goodbyes. It's interesting to reflect how on the first day some of the mothers gave us dirty looks and now after a week it's all smiles, hugs and of course, laughs. We look some last pictures of all us and the wall and then sat on the steps inside the Casa to chit chat. One of the mothers sang for us in Quechua, which was amazing. We knew our journey was coming to a close and it was time to say goodbye. After saying "ciao" seven times over & taking one last look we said goodbye to all the mothers and children, especially Justin, Pilar & Raquel with whom we had all formed a special bond. The experience at the casa was humbling, significant and touched a piece of our hearts.

After leaving the casa, it was time to do what I do best.. Shop! Raquel suggested this market for us, but of course, you need to be super specific in Peru, because she landed us in an open air Food Market. Since I'm still battling my sickness, this was not the great for my tummy and I quickly stayed away. Fortunately, another market was close by and we were able to buy everything from jewelry to alpaca sweaters to trinkets.

Time was flying by, after shopping for a few hours we headed back to the hostel to change for dinner. Since tomorrow we are headed to Machu Picchu, we are having our final farewell dinner tonight.

- Melanie

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Aguas Calientes

This morning, after a bit of a late start, and yet another crazy bus ride we were off to the "aguas calientes" or natural hot springs up in the mountains. Part of what we were able to donate to the casa was this outing, where for once every member of the house (mothers, kids, employees etc.) was able to enjoy time outside of the property and a change of scenery. (This is so rare in fact that no one remembered to bring keys to get back into the Casa, since there is always someone there to let you in...leading Sergio to have to scale our newly painted wall to let us back in later that day.)

It wasn't until the bus pulled up to the Casa that we truly realized that every single child was coming, babies and all. Luckily we had decided to have our own bus, which allowed for some peace and quiet over the rough, winding roads of the drive up the mountain. After an hour and a half we reached the indoor pools of natural water, and were humbled to see the majority of madres and their kids wearing bathing-suites we had donated. We accomplished the challenging task of tiring out the majority of kids by playing in the pool all day, and some even learned how to swim!

Again we were reminded at just how young the mothers are, when watching them cannonball and play in the pool, just as young girls would do, often times leaving their baby under the supervision of anyone around to allow some time to themselves. Imagining myself in their position really opens my eyes to what a struggle it must be to completely care for a child at such a young age. We were able to have time with Raquel to sit down and ask all the questions we had been wondering throughout the week. She revealed that 15 year old mothers are certainly the most difficult, as it is hard to be completely selfless during that age in a girls life. She also said that over 25,000 rape cases were reported last year, the majority of which resulted in pregnancies (in the "machismo"-dominated world of Peru, rape cases that do not result in pregnancy are generally not prosecuted, since a baby is the only generally accepted evidence of such a crime). Therefore, it is safe to say that thousands more occur and are never reported, or since they do not result in pregnancy there is no "evidence" and all charges are dropped.

A picnic lunch was packed for all 13 mothers and their kids, along with all the employees. Cooking alone for such a number of people is a full time job, which we have learned from working in the kitchen throughout the week. There is never a time of day where something isn't being prepared, as the babies eat every couple hours, and over 30 people are present for all other meals. The mothers were responsible for feeding their child while also trying to eat lunch themselves, as all the kids were running wild after their swim. I truly don't know how they do it since most of our group was already asleep on the warm bus, worn down from such an exhausting day.

I admire not only the bravery of the mothers, but also the dedication of Sergio, Raquel, and people like Pilar (a former madre at the casa, who is now a full-time manager there), who work day in and day out to keep the Casa functioning. Thanks to them these girls have the ability to carry on with day to day life the best they can, learn to care for themselves, their children, and begin receiving an education. I'm so glad that not only were the kids able to enjoy a day out of their ordinary routine, but the mothers and co-workers too! I hope we tired the kids out enough that they all sleep through tonight!

-Bridget McNulty

Friday, May 28, 2010

Roughing It 102

You'll all be happy to hear that all of our luggage safely arrived to us earlier this week (poor Molly was the last one to get hers on Wednesday, while the rest of us got ours Tuesday). So luckily, yesterday we were able to enjoy an ENTIRE day free of worries about clothing, towels, toiletries, etc. We all finally smelled clean, could take a shower and put on clean clothes, and didn't have to wear the Peruvian underwear we bought earlier upon hearing that our luggage might not make it back to us for a few days (for the record, a large here is more like a small in the U.S.).

But our carefree day soon came to an end, as it became more and more obvious that Peruvian cuisine (or more precisely, the microorganisms living in the cuisine) didn't agree with all of us. Throughout the day yesterday, many of us had upset stomachs, and Melanie even began vomitting towards the end of the afternoon. By the bus ride home from the Casa, she was pale, and had to be let off early because she was getting sick. We were all a little worried, but after we got her in bed and comfortable, she seemed alright - so five of us went to dinner, while Chris F. ordered a pizza and stayed behind to take care of Melanie and Marcia (who was also not feeling well). We ate as fast as possible (although this is often hard in Peru, which runs on "latino time" - meaning that sometimes it can take an hour or so to get a meal after ordering it). By the time we got back later that night, Melanie had taken a turn for the worse, and we decided to call a doctor to the hostel. She took one look at Mel, who was pale and had been completely unable to keep down food for over 12 hours, and said that she needed to go to the hospital NOW.

Immediately, we all sprung into action. I called our insurance company to make sure they would cover Mel's medical expenses, while the others raced around to get a bag full of clothing and toiletries together. Chris F. and Luis (the hostel owner) carried Mel down the long pathway to the nearest street, where a car was waiting (our hostel sits near the top of one of the hills of Cusco, which means we have a fabulous view of the city, but also means we have to climb hundreds of stairs each day to get to and from it). Although she immediately felt better after an IV was administered at the clinic, Mel still had to undergo lots of tests to determine exactly what was wrong.

Meanwhile, the rest of us returned to the Casa this morning, worried about Mel but also concerned that we wouldn't finish the work the Casa needed done. We set to work right away, in the kitchen, nursery, and the outside wall, where I continued to paint the ten white angels over the purple background while Chris B. helped clean up spills and chalk lines, and make sure I didn't get 'napped. Chris F. was charged with the task of taking ProGo a bag of clothes and toiletries, since she was not going to leave Mel's side and still had no idea how long she'd be there.

We finally recieved a call from ProGo in the afternoon, telling us that Mel had a microscopic parasitic infection of her intestine, most likely from something she ate, or maybe even from brushing her teeth with tap water (side note: since then, we've all been brushing with bottled water). She'd need to stay at the clinic for another day or so to recieve antibiotics, but would eventually be fine. We were all completely relieved that she was ok, but also extremely skeeved out (Where did she get the parasite? Were the rest of us going to get it? Could it be from the food at the Casa?).

We decided to put the incident out of our mind, and just continue with the work at hand. After lunch, we presented the madres and hijos with a special surprise - delicious chocolate cakes from the local bakery, which are a rare (expensive) treat. We thanked them all for their hospitality and friendship, even if it was only for a short week. They thanked us for our hard work and help, and for showing our support for the Casa again for a second year. And we all enjoyed the rich chocolatey treats together, and just enjoyed each others' company for a while. It was really nice to see the mothers and kids enjoying a special treat, and really sobering for those of us who indulge in chocolate a little too often - I think we all began to realize how fortunate we are, and I hope that the next time we all eat a really good piece of cake, we'll think of this time at the Casa.

After the cakes, it was game time - time to bang out the last four angels on the wall, get the little ones down for a nap, and watch the toddlers and older kds who had just returned from school. The older boys played with the remote-controlled helicopter donated by Kevin Concannon, one of last year's volunteers from Bryant (they loved every second of it, even when the helicopter got stuck on the roof and Mark, one of the oldest boys at the Casa, had to climb a ladder to get it).

By 4:30 the angels were done (if only we could share photos - but unfortuantely the internet connection here is not fast enough to upload them). The older kids were tired out and ready to start their homework with the tutor, the babies had napped and were fed again, and we were all exhausted (as usual). But we were all grateful that Mel was ok, the rest of us weren't feeling sick (yet), and the work was finally done at the Casa.

- Katie Gorham

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Purple Rain

Today has served to be yet another wonderful experience for our group. As you are well aware, yesterday we begin the big project of painting the outside wall of the entrance to the Casa. The color chosen by the owner, Raquel, was a deep shade of purple. Both Raquel and her husband, Sergio, have long waited for the wall to be painted. The concrete wall was covered with graffiti and certainly did not reflect the nature of life inside the wall. Cinnabon, Chris F, Bridget, Marcia, Katie and I took on the role of serving as the painters for the day along with Sergio. It took all day, but eventually we finished the 1000-foot wall. Sergio and Cinnabon were the two paint rollers, but Sergio was smart enough to wear a Spanish firefighters suit and escaped all falling paint. Cinnabon was not as fortunate and needed a half hour in the bathroom to remove the "purple rain" from his arms and face.

In the kitchen, Molly and Melanie worked to make the meal for the day, which was a chicken dish, served over potatoes with a green peanut sauce. We all ate with the mothers and their children, and then continued on with our tasks for the day. Cinnabon and I worked in the kitchen to clean the dishes (a daunting task, to say the least) while Katie went outside with Molly to paint ten white angels onto the freshly painted purple wall (ten to signify the ten years the Casa has been open). Chris F took the younger boys outside to play, while Melanie, Bridget and Marcia all lent a hand in the nursery.

Throughout the day, the madres of the casa could not stop talking about us taking them to the park. It was a chance for them to get away from their children for a while and just be kids (which is what they really are). In the afternoon, we took them to the park to play a soccer game. They were so excited to have the opportunity to just run around. One of them bought us a soda (that Cinnabon says tasted like bubble gum). They were so full of energy that most of us ended up sitting down while they played. After much grumbling, we had to head back to the Casa where things got out of hand. The younger boys, apparently missing our absence, took to chaos and we were smothered by them. Carlos, Diego, Abraham, and Justin took pictures, wrestled, and laughed with us while we were waiting for our bus.

Unfortuntely, Melanie was feeling sick, so the busride was not a pleasant one (the driver did not help). We decided to call it an early night. Chris F and Marcia stayed with Melanie while Cinnabon, Katie, Bridget, Molly and I went to a local restaurant to eat. There was pizza, steak, fettucine, spaghetti, garlic bread and nachos. It was a great meal, and a good time for us to relax. We headed back to the casa for the night and prepared for the next day at the Casa.

- Professor Patty Gomez (aka PG, ProGo, Peeg, etc.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Painting starts... Day 2

Today was the day - today painting started. Ooo how to describe it.... A MESS. For some reason painting looks way easier than it actually is. The task today was to paint the outside wall; it was just a cement wall and definitely did not represent how lively the Casa is on the inside. So first step, primer. Now who would have thought that so much mess could come from just moving brushes and rollers up and down a wall? Well, we definitely found out first hand, especially Marcia (sorry Marcia, but you were a mess). I did not know that it was possible to get paint all over yourself as well as everyone around you. After a grueling 3-4 hours of two coats of primer we were done with step 1.

Afterwards it was lunch time and to be honest it was a good time, not just because of the great food but because we were all sitting together at the table: all of us from Bryant but also all of the madres. To me this was wonderful because we were actually getting the chance to interact little by little with them. This was only the start of how special this day was to me and I am pretty sure to everyone else too.

After a lot of cleaning and some playing time with the kids, it was time to really get involved with the madres and, in a way, a chance to let them know that we were there for them as well. Everything started with a little session of kick around with the balon (soccer ball). Then as more of then madres kept coming out from the workshop and the kitchen and wherever else they were, the kick session turned into passing around the volleyball. But then Pilar stop the game and we began another game, we passed the ball around and whoever had the ball shared something about themselves.

This is where things got a little interesting - this is where we all got a little more info as to why things in the Casa are the way they are. There were madres that were 14 years old and their kids were already 3 years old (you do the math). Even though we all knew how it is here at the Casa, it was at this time when we all saw a whole other reality: the madres are actually just girls. As we all looked around at each other there was an unspoken unanimous understanding: none of us would ever be able to handle the responsibilities these girls have at such a young age, which they never asked for in the first place. Nevertheless, however any of our lives turn out, I can say for myself and everyone else here that the respect we have for these girls is indescribable. And we are all really grateful that we have the chance to be able to lend a hand to those needed.

Either way we are reminded of how good we all have and an eye-opener that although we all may complain how bad we have it, there are people that have it worse.
-Chris Flores

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

1st Day at Casa De Mantay!!!

Today, Bridget, Chris F., Molly, and I woke up an hour too early (7am rather than 8am) and we had to make Molly google "what is the time in Cusco" to finally realize the true Cusco time. After our 30 minute bus ride we FINALLY.... got to visit the Casa! Katie and Professor Gomez returned to the Casa once again for the second year, while for the rest of us, it was a new experience. When we arrived to the Casa, we were greeted by a kind women named Pilar, who is the oldest mother from the Casa, as well as Fisco, the resident dog.

Let me tell you, the Casa is impressive, big and beautiful. This past May 5th, it celebrated its 10th anniversary founded by Raquel and Sergio. It is painted with bright and vibrant colors, (where some of the rooms had been painted by the previous Bryant group) and has a courtyard. Katie and Professor Gomez commented on how there had been many improvements to the house within a years time, such as newly painted rooms and a grassy and paved courtyard.

As soon as we were greeted by Pilar, she took us for a tour of the Casa. Professor Gomez, Chris F. and I helped translate. Pilar told us how there is currently 13 mothers at the Casa, with one named Faustina who is expecting a child in june. When we think of mothers, we think of women who are usually older than 20. However, one thing that was shocking for me and I am sure for others, was that the "Madres" (mothers) are actually 13-18 years old and 90% of them had been sexually abused or raped. Also, these mothers are usually from rural areas where it maybe taboo to speak about sex at an early age.

By being at the Casa, Pilar told us how by the time these mothers are 18 (which is when the mothers leave the Casa), they will learn to inependently live on their own by working, cooking, cleaning, and of course, taking care of their child. These women receive daily schooling as well as counseling. I thought I understood what living independently meant, but after volunteering and meeting the women today, I learned that the lives of these women are really difficult and that they must grow up really fast to accomplish tasks that most of us do not do until were much older than 18.

During, the tour Pilar showed us the schoolroom, the kitchen, laundry room, bedrooms, (where I found it interesting how both the mother and child sleep together to strenghten their bond), nurseries, and workshop. The workshop was impressive because it is run by one of the owners of the Casa, Sergio where the mothers work 3 hours a day to create accessories such as pencil holders, makeup bags, purses, and other items such as bookmarks. These accessories are then sold to several stores in Cusco called "Trinidad Enriques" and recently to buyers in the United States. I felt that the workshop was a good way for the mothers to learn how to deal with work among other tasks. Also, Molly brought up a good point of possibly being able to work with the Casa in helping them sell on a bigger international scale...... hmmm International Business?

After the tour, I helped take care of babies in the nursery. Let me tell you, I lack mother genes because the children did not want to eat food no matter how hard I tried to feed them. Then after the nursery and a delicious lunch, both Chris's, Bridget and I efficiently cleaned the kitchen. I washed the dishes, Cinnabon dried the dishes, Chris F. dried the dishes and then threw them across the room to Bridget who put them away. Meanwhile, Professor Gomez and Katie went to the market with Raquel to buy some painting for the walls, as well as a new TV and a DVD player. Also, the rest of us made some bonds with some of the children and took them to play at the park. I had a super cute child named Carlos, Molly made a best friend with a little boy named Diego, while Melanie watched over another boy who was quite rebellious and laughed at her when she fell (Sorry Melanie, I had to write it in).

Anyways, I want to end this long blog by saying that the first day at the Casa had been a truly great and tiring exprience. Taking care of small children is harder than it looks but it was a lot of fun. We're all looking forward to tomorrow where we will paint the outside border walls purple and draw cute angels (or at least we'll try to).

- Marcia