Charities We Love is a monthly series featuring inspirational charities from around the world. At We Are Travel Girls we care about giving back and hope this series will help our readers learn about charities and non profit organizations that are doing incredible work. This month we are excited to feature Aprendo Contigo who provide education to children in hospitals in Peru.
Traveling has become a lifestyle and an enriching habit I can’t get enough of. Earlier this summer, I headed down to Peru for a two-week trip that turned into a three-month-long odyssey of beautiful sightseeing, eating the most delicious dishes, and getting connected to my roots again. I can’t stress enough how important it has been for me to travel for leisure and at the same time contribute back to the communities I visit, because there is so much that can be done in each country to help people in need.
After completing a volunteer program at an Animal Shelter in Cusco, I returned to Lima where I quickly started to prepare for another project, this time, collaborating with an Organization called “Aprendo Contigo” (meaning I learn with you in English). Aprendo Contigo is dedicated to bringing educational and recreational programs to hospitals for children unable to continue with their studies due to illness.
Aprendo Contigo works to promote physical, emotional and intellectual development in hospitals across Peru. Upon completing treatment or surgery, children who participate in Aprendo Contigo are able to more easily reinstate themselves back into the school system.
Aprendo Contigo officially started on August 7th, 2000 with only 10 volunteers tending around 40 patients at the Instituto Nacional de Enfermedades Neoplasicas (INEN) or National Institute for Neoplastic Diseases located in the district of Surquillo, Lima. The program became part of INEN’s already integral support offered to pediatric patients. As the years went by, their program expanded to other Hospitals, and at this time they also work with Instituto Nacional de Salud del Nino (INSN) or National Institute for Children’s Health and Hospital de Emergencias Pediatricas or Pediatric Emergency Hospital.
I initially corresponded with their administrative team who met with me in their offices in Miraflores to tell me a bit more about the Organization’s history, goals, and what I should be expecting on my first day. I decided to do my project with INEN, National Institute for Neoplastic Diseases and work with children diagnosed with cancer.
The coordinator for Aprendo Contigo was very detailed about responsibilities, policy and what is expected from everyone working with the children. On my first day at the Hospital, I headed to the Pediatric floor where the Aprendo Contigo team is. The team is comprised of a specialized Instructor, a Psychologist, and the volunteers. They have a large room storing all the materials needed for the patients, and a conference room area where everyone meets after the day is over to discuss each case and progress.
Everyone had just arrived at 8:30AM to get ready and see which room they were placed at for the day. The Pediatrics section of the Hospital is divided by room colors, and each color houses children at different stages of their illness. There is also the chemotherapy room, which is specially reserved for outpatients.
Volunteers are only allowed to work one shift, one day of the week and each day they work, they are rotated in different sections. I briefly shadowed one of their volunteers in the chemotherapy room. I can say what I experienced my first day was more than I had imagined – quite a shocking reality to see all the children receive their treatment and many thoughts started running in my mind about what people have to endure in life.
I quietly watched the volunteer make her way around the room asking each kid what kind of games or puzzles they wanted to play with. A couple of the children were unable to even speak due to their conditions, but many others were very excited to see the volunteer with a cart full of games!
Shortly after, I decided to spread out on my own to offer my help and explore how things work, and I had the chance to interact one on one with two particular patients. One five-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl who was quite excited to color different cartoon characters. The little girl let me know she loved the coloring and drawing in her pastime and she wanted to gift me an adorable drawing of a princess that she colored. I was speechless and so honored! She asked me to hang it in my room back home to remember her, and I did of course.
I also had the opportunity to be shown the entire floor and have each room explained to me in detail by a senior volunteer who had been working for Aprendio Contigo for many years. She was very thorough and I could tell she truly enjoyed doing this work, like all the other volunteers. The Instructor for that day also came along with me to tell me about their work and experiences here. She had been with Aprendio Contigo for about 10 years! To me this was just another confirmation of the dedication and love these women put into their time here!
That same week, Children’s Day was going to take place (as in many other Latin American countries) so the team had prepared a special show for the children along with gift bags. A few of the girls wore costumes of popular cartoon characters and showed up dancing and cheering in each room. It was amazing to watch the look on these kid’s faces – they were really enjoying it and dancing with the characters!
Most of the patients at INEN come from outside of Lima, typically from poor areas where proper health is not available. But luckily Peru’s health system is a lot more accessible than other countries, where treatments, hospitalization, and medicine could be very low or even free of cost. Currently, the Organization is in need of help in order to be able to continue running their program to pay for the costs of materials learning materials provided to the patients.
One of Aprendo Contigo’s greatest accomplishments so far is that their mission was proposed to Congress and there is a law currently in the works which could incorporate their educational programs into to all hospitals in Peru!
Overall, this was an experience I will never forget and will forever keep in my heart. The dedication and generosity of the women who volunteer for Aprendo Contigo is what makes this program successful and inspiring. They inspire all of us to care for others, and put others needs before our own needs. Having the opportunity to interact with these children was a gift that reminded me to treasure life and stay strong in during my weakest times. Life is precious and we sometimes take it all for granted.
To learn more about Aprendo Contigo’s mission, to make donations or if you’re interested in volunteering with them, please visit the link below.
Do you know of an inspirational charity or non profit organization? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! And if you’d like a charity to be considered for this series please submit their story via our Contribute Page.
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