Luis is one of the children living in Mama Cocha, and also one of many children with special needs in Peru. More than 200 such abused and abandoned children and young people across Peru are supported by Kiya Survivors, which was founded by Suzy Butler. Team Peru, a program founded in 2005 at Copenhagen International School, works in partnership with Kiya Survivors to support two homes for such children: Mama Cocha and the Rainbow Centre. Mama Cocha, located at Los Organos (Mancora), currently provides a home for up to nine young people. There are two dormitories, a lounge, a kitchen, two bathrooms, a bedroom for the staff, or substitute mums, and a playground. The staff who take care of the children consist of three substitute mums, a speech therapist, a physiotherapist, a psychologist, a social worker, a teacher and a watchman, as well as a director responsible for the centre.
“Kiya is the Quecha word for ‘moon’, the symbol for a new beginning” The staff at Mama Cocha work on different projects, along with therapy, to help develop the children’s behavior; for example, they often do creative workshops, which help the children learn about sharing, collaboration, completing projects, and asking for what they need, as well as using weaker muscles. One of Team Peru’s aims is to provide a secure future for the young people living in Mama Cocha and the Rainbow Centre. We support these two homes through fundraising at school events, birthday parties, etc., as well as the 100 Club. The aim of the 100 Club is to get a hundred members who are willing to donate £10 each month. The average monthly running cost of Mama Cocha is about £1,200, including food for the children, maintenance, salary for the staff, etc. If 100 members join, Mama Cocha, along with the children’s future will be secure. As well as raising money for the homes, CIS students from grades 9-11 are chosen to travel to Peru every two years. Not only do they get the chance to meet the children and provide service at the centers, but they are also able to see the effect of their work. They are able to see how their efforts are creating a change in people’s lives, and, most of all, they are changed by what they see. The latest CIS trip to Mama Cocha was in March 2012, but preparations began months before. We were given information packets about Peru, told about the centre and the young people living there in more detail, learnt Spanish, and worked on teambuilding activities. We were prepared for the three major things we had to do during the trip: building a shelter so the substitute mums could cook outside; making signs for some of the rooms at Mama Cocha, and the house; and painting a mural in the physiotherapy room. We were divided into groups according to our jobs, and started planning what we would do.
During our stay at Peru, our first day at Mama Cocha involved looking around the house, beginning work on our projects, and -- what was looked forward to by many -- seeing, and interacting with, the children. Over the next week, we worked on our projects, and by the end of the trip, we had not only changed Mama Cocha, but Mama Cocha had also changed us. Sebastian Gregersen, a 12th grade student who has been a part of Team Peru for four years, said, “Going on the trip gives you insight to what it takes to make a functioning world. The experience makes you appreciate what you have and value what you can give.” Traveling to Peru and working hands-on there has been inspirational in several ways for the students who have been on the trips. Matthew Lundy, an 11th grade student who went on the 2012 trip said, “In this age of technology, of Facebook and Skype, people underestimate the impact of seeing somebody in person. You can look at words and pictures on a page, but to really understand a person, to really get involved, you have to be close enough to touch them, to treat them like a soul. Close enough to see slight changes in their eyes and faces. I will often forget a picture that I see in a commercial or powerpoint but I will never forget what it was like to see the way Hector walked and looked at me. I will never forget the sun on my face as I worked across from him. I will never forget his smile.” Seeing the children developing, growing, and smiling truly puts into perspective just how much a little kindness and care can do. Having the chance to interact with children with special needs shows how words are not the only way to communicate, and how a smile can say much more. “Being able to go to Peru and see the children we had heard so much about was amazing,” said Antonia Kasoulidou, a grade 11 student who went on the 2012 trip. “Just watching them grow and seeing how we are making a difference in their lives is truly one of the best things I could ever experience.” There are many ways to help Peruvian children like Luis. Sponsoring a child takes as little as £8 a month and the money directly benefits the child you sponsor, about whose progress you will be notified regularly. Donating for the children or the home in general is also possible, as well as volunteering your time or sponsoring a project. To find out about more options for supporting children with special needs in Peru, please visit the Kiya Survivors web site: http://www. kiyasurvivors.org/index.php. An opportunity to personally see and work with children like Luis may be once in a lifetime; but a chance to make a change isn’t.