A Visit from Mom: Los Ninos Foundation and a Trip Home

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May 25, 2013 by jiejie768

Each student who comes to Los Ninos must brush their teeth as part of the daily routine. They also are required to take a shower at the facility every few days.

Each student who comes to Los Niños must brush their teeth as part of the daily routine. They also are required to take a shower at the facility every few days.

Part of Jolanda Van den Berg's vision for the Los Ninos Foundation includes providing the students with a restaurant quality meal each day. Their restaurant is separate from the tourist restaurant, but the food is prepared by the same chefs.

Part of Jolanda Van den Berg’s vision for the Los Niños Foundation includes providing the students with a restaurant quality meal each day. Their restaurant is separate from the tourist restaurant, but the food is prepared by the same chefs.

The evening of Wednesday, April 10, finally saw Meg and I (Mom in tow) take the tour of the Lost Niños Foundation in Cusco. The tour was a pretty fascinating way to cap our time in Cusco. Meg and I had stayed at Los Niños on several previous occasions, but had never managed to be there for the daily tour until this, our very last day in the city.

Los Niños was started by a Dutch woman named Jolanda Van den Berg. Van den Berg moved to Cusco in 1996 after meeting several orphans on a visit the previous year. Her foundation started in much the same way, and with many of the same goals in mind, that Kids at the Crossroads was started in Ayacucho. Over the past 17 years, Van den Berg has built her organization, with the help of many Dutch benefactors, into a city wide network featuring four schools and two hotel/restaurants.

The library at the Los Ninos Foundation is decorated to look like a "Magic Forest."

The library at the Los Niños Foundation is decorated to look like a “Magic Forest.”

The tour took us behind the scenes at one of the schools and restaurants. Much like at KATC, the children in the Los Niños program are expected to attend school and bring their homework during their daily visits to Los Niños. At Los Niños they receive a variety of services, including additional instruction, a meal, and access to showers and dental hygiene supplies.

Through behavioral and academic incentives the children can also earn access to the program’s movie theater, desserts with their meals and other benefits. One of the things I really enjoyed about the program’s approach was the quality of meals they served. Van den Berg is adamant that the children receive a “restaurant quality” meal each day, and the food is prepared by the same chefs that prepare the food for the two restaurant/hotels in town (having eaten at these restaurants, I can tell you the kids are receiving excellent meals while at Los Niños). All proceeds from the hotels and restaurants go to support the program, and often children who have graduated from the program are offered jobs at the hotels.

As part of the program, Los Ninos Foundation features physical education and provides gym shoes for each of the students.

As part of the program, Los Niños Foundation features physical education and provides gym shoes for each of the students.

I was very jealous when I saw the indoor basketball court at Los Ninos. I really wanted to shoot a few hoops, but alas, it wasn't to be so.

I was very jealous when I saw the indoor basketball court at Los Niños. I really wanted to shoot a few hoops, but alas, it wasn’t to be so.

In addition to traditional classroom instruction, the program also emphasizes physical education and teaches classes in martial arts and self defense as well as offering a space for the kids to play basketball and (more frequently, obviously) soccer. The whole tour was very encouraging. Having spent the past nine months working at KATC, I really respect and appreciate what is happening in Cusco.

I must admit, however, that I was a little envious of what she is able to do. Many of her initiatives (tooth-brushing and showers at the facility, a fully-stocked library, space and time for P.E., an in-house child psychologist and group therapy sessions) are things I know that GeGe would love to initiate in Ayacucho. Unfortunately, we just don’t have the financial and personnel resources that Los Niños has been able to foster over the years. Perhaps someday, but I have to assume that being located in a much more tourist-centric and well-known locale as Cusco has significantly aided Van den Berg’s mission over the years. Regardless, it was truly great to see a kindred program flourishing and doing so many wonderful things in Cusco.

It certainly sparked fantasies of what we could do at KATC should some billionaire decide he or she wants to make us their pet project. All three of us also lamented that GeGe had been unable to make the trip, as I think she would have really enjoyed getting to see that program, and certainly would have been inspired and intrigued by the opportunity to trade ideas and philosophies with the people we met (we did not meet Van den Berg, but were guided by one of the program’s employees). Hopefully one day she’ll make it back to Cusco (I believe her last was visit was in 1988) and get to see the operation.

After our tour, we grabbed dinner at the hotel and headed out on the town to find me a purple, Marca-de-Peru logo T-shirt — a much desired item that had eluded me during all of my travels. The trick was finding the combination of an extra-large (not a common size in Peru) and the color purple. There were several smaller purple shirts, and a handful of XLs, but usually they were red or blue. After scouring what seemed like every single souvenir outlet in the city, we finally found it in a market tucked in an alley off one of Cusco’s main thoroughfares. It was a triumphant moment for me. T-shirt in hand, we returned to the hotel and set our alarm for our early flight to Lima the following day.

The last day of my mother’s visit (Thursday, April 11) started in Cusco and ended on a plane head for the United States. We left Cusco early in the morning and landed in Lima at about 9 a.m. As is our custom when in the Peruvian capital for a short stay, we dropped in on our Peruvian parents — Los Serra — in the La Victoria neighborhood. Ramon and Loty (parents of our good friend and Ellensburgian Fabiola Serra) are always gracious hosts and gladly provide us with a place to store our bags and clean up when we are in Lima. They were excited to meet my mom, and Ramon wasted no time before informing her that she was family, because Meg and I were like children to them. After a brief visit, we headed off into Lima to give Mom the whirlwind tour.

Our stops included a spin around the city center to see the National Palace (Mom also did her final souvenir shopping), and we even managed to catch the Changing of the Guard. After the city center, our next stop was to be at the Burrito Bar in Barranco (Meg’s and my favorite eatery in Lima). We were crestfallen, however, to learn that the restaurant was closed for a two week vacation (presumably so the British owner could visit his homeland). Bereft of other dining options, we scoped out the seafront in Barranco before catching a cab to Miraflores and a little chifa spot Meg and I have enjoyed on several occasions.

It appeared bad luck was following us that day, however, as our chifa joint was closed for renovations. Fortunately a closer look at the sign indicated the owners had set up shop down the block, and so we headed down the street and found familiar food in an unfamiliar location. After (finally) eating lunch, we took a sunset stroll along the Miraflores waterfront and stopped at the grocery store (where Mom made sure to replace the American candy she had brought and eaten with a suitcase full of Peruvian candy to take back to the U.S.). We then headed back to Casa Serra to grab our bags and say goodbye to Ramon and Loti before Mom and I headed to the airport to catch our flight (Meg was returning that night to Ayacucho via the Cruzero Suite courtesy of Cruz del Sur).

After a shower and delightful snack of French bread and avocado, Mom and I said goodbye to Meg and Los Serra and hopped in the cab to the airport (A reminder: I was flying to Seattle for a brief visit to take a test and interview for the grad school program that to which I was recently accepted).

Our cab driver was a family friend of the Serras, and is quite a character. He had actually picked Meg and I up from the airport when we arrived in Peru in September, but it took him a while to remember. He speaks no English, so it was up to me to carry on the conversation during the 45-minute trip to the airport. I held my own, but it was a whirlwind. We discussed everything from the car accident that left him deaf in one ear to the musings of the Dalai Lama to the quirks of Arequipenans and more. Mom, meanwhile, sat in the back and marveled at the variety of sketchy neighborhoods that separated Casa Serra from the airport.

We managed to make it one piece, however, and found ourselves with about 3 hours to kill once we made it through the shockingly short check-in, security and immigration lines. We spent the time perusing duty free treats and strategizing the best methods by which to spend Mom’s remaining soles (mostly water and chocolate, it turns out). Just before midnight, we boarded our flight to Houston, and I was headed back to the States for the first time in seven months.

Mom’s Peruvian adventure had drawn to a close, but her travels weren’t quite done. After a red-eye to Houston, Mom was set, via a connection in Denver, to fly to Spokane where my sister, Tara, would meet her and ferry her south to Pullman, Wash., for Tara’s (a senior) final Mom’s Weekend at Washington State University.

I, meanwhile, was set to arrive in Seattle at about noon on Friday, April 12, where I was greeted by my mother- and sister-in-law and allowed to spend the afternoon resting and feasting on American delicacies (namely, tuna fish sandwiches and steak from the best barbecue in Washington: the one in Meg’s parents’ backyard).

It was a good visit home that saw me pass (with flying colors) a standardized test on Saturday and nail a grad-school interview on Monday. In between, I managed to take in a Mariners game, drink a fair share of American macro and micro brews, eat my weight in Chinese barbecue, and squeeze in a couple games of hoops with my buddies Keegan, Craig and Bragg.

I enjoyed my taste of the States, but couldn’t help feel like it was somehow cheating on my quest to live abroad for the year. It was unavoidable, however, and fruitful as it landed me in a grad-school program that will, in one form or another, keep me employed and occupied for the next six years. Nonetheless, I was happy to return to Ayacucho on Tuesday, April 16, and set my sights on enjoying my last seven weeks with 100 or so of my best friends at Kids at the Crossroads.

Catch up on all our adventures with Mom:

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