Following a whole year of fundraising, 14 young people and five adults from Berwickshire and Eyemouth High Schools made the trip to South America for what turned out to be the “experience of a lifetime”.
The expedition was organised through The Vine Trust, an international, interdenominational charity who aim to enable volunteers to make a real and significant difference to some of the poorest children and communities in the world.
The Vine Trust have just completed their eighth street children’s centre for partners SU Peru. They also work in the Amazon (their Amazon Hope Project provides a health service for around 100,000 patients per year) and will soon build homes for street children and orphans in Northern Tanzania.
Through their short term volunteer opportunities the charity seeks to create “ambassadors for the poor” who in turn will bring back their experiences in to communities, schools and workplaces here in the UK.
The Berwickshire group spent two weeks with The Vine Trust in Peru last month, where they were given first hand experience of the street children, and the Vine Trust’s medical and enterprise projects.
Before making the trip, the Berwickshire and Eyemouth pupils, aged from 16-18, faced a steep fundraising climb, with each pupil needing to raise £2,000.
Over the last year the students came up with imaginative ways to raise the money, including holding ceilidhs, laying a mile of coins, tackling a 16-mile bed push, and spending a night in cardboard boxes in an Eyemouth car park.
The general consensus on their return was that the experience was well worth the effort. For more information about the work of the Vine Trust go to www.vinetrust.org
One of the students from Eyemouth High School, 18-year-old Eilidh Wilson kept a diary while she was in Peru. Here is an extract detailing one day of the trip, June 30, 2011, which began at Puerto Allegeria or ‘Port of Happiness’.
We woke at 6.30am today, as the boys were to start school around seven, we were to join them for breakfast beforehand.
Firstly, they were to attend ‘devotion’ – ‘devotísimo’, which is basically morning prayer. After this we had breakfast together, today we were having pancakes shallow fried in butter, delicious! The cooks treated the boys very well, trying to give them the right nutrients which they would not have had on the streets.
After breakfast we got showered which was a tap on a wall and applied our latherings of mosquito repellent for the day. It was raining in the jungle so no need for sun cream. Kate, the main translator at Girasoles, Puerto Allegeria, then showed us around the local neighbourhood, new projects and the school the boys attended.
The New Campers project was to consist of a dining room and two bedrooms which were nearly finished, the project had been constructed by work groups not much older than us who came out and built for a set number of weeks, it was incredibly impressive what they had done and how many more boys would be able to stay at the home because of their work.
Girasoles, Puerto Allegeria presently housed 40 boys from the streets of Kusi, Lima and Iquitos, out of their choice. The boys are free to leave whenever they want but very few boys do leave as their lives outside the home are filled with violence, starvation - some are even forced to sell themselves by their parents to provide food for their family.
We walked through the local neighbourhood, which was three houses situated right next to the school. The children who lived in the houses and beyond the area we visited attended the school as well. When we arrived in the yard the boys were very excited to see us, running to the door to welcome us. Kate explained why some boys, who were clearly older than the rest, attended the same classes: because they had been put into classes according to their academic abilities, in their previous lives before Girasoles they could not go to school, their parents thought education was not valuable as they had already failed, this is what we were soon to come to terms with.
At 10 o’clock we left for Belén.
We boarded our boat which escorted us around Iquitos, the area of Peru we were staying in. From the main town of Iquitos we were taken just around the corner to Belén. I was shocked to the point of tears from not only the sight but the gross thick stench of the place.
We were helped off the boat onto the muddy roads of Belén. The rain from the morning had of course made it worse.
We climbed across strategically placed planks of wood to get to the Vine Trust medical and dentistry centre. After being shown around the building which locals used frequently we were allowed to climb the stairs to see the entirety of Belén, ironically named ‘Little Bethlehem’.
Standing on a rickety bench staring at the incredulous view, I was reduced to tears, I felt so selfish, having complained about such little things in the past, such as my mum getting the wrong flavour of biscuit, or that I have ‘no money’! The inhabitants of these tin houses, literally have nothing, yet are entirely acceptant of what they have because they don’t know any better. They do not believe they deserve any better. I don’t think I’ll complain ever again - apart from every time we had to leave the Girasoles boys.
Having looked over the city and nearly going through a packet of tissues we walked through Belén market. It was awful. The group had to stay in a single file line, watching each other’s bags to make sure nothing was taken, we were constantly being eyed-up to see what was free to take, or ways the villagers could pick our pockets.
In the market people were peeing on the streets, gutting fish, cutting crocodiles, thousands of chickens were gutted and hung from string, turned inside-out with flies crawling around. Disgusting tables covered in blood and flies were being used to cut rotting meat, and then used to serve the same cooked meat.
I felt like we had ran around the market, being “gringos” we had to walk with three locals – one at the front, one in the middle, making me probably the most safe of the group as he was very well built - and one at the back of the line.
Eventually, we were put on a bus. I did not know what to do with myself, I had already cried, enough for the whole group, therefore I froze, I did not speak, I did not laugh.
We were taken to the local zoo. This was the quietest 15 minutes of the trip as everyone was feeling the same as I was. Arriving at Questa Quocha no-one was really impressed: jaguars were pacing furiously back and forth and Puma’s trapped in old parrots cages.
Joe, a friend of mine, and I soon realised that this visit was not for our leisure or to give us some relaxing time to have lunch; this was what those who we had just visited do for entertainment, to get away from their troubles and have some enjoyment in a safe environment. In the zoo they were able to swim in a lake, the majority bathed fully clothed as this was all they had, and see some beautiful animals.
To us, the animals were almost treated as badly as the locals but to the Peruvians they had it good, regular food which they liked and a home which was safe and reliable.
It just goes to show you don’t need the latest gadget or most expensive clothing to feel confident and happy within yourself, all you need is happiness and the love of others, which is all they have. This is exactly why we were dying to get back to the boys in Puerto Allegeria.
When we returned we immediately ditched our bags and went to play football with the boys, this turned into me being chased by Mario and tickled to the ground by Xavier. I ended up playing with a tiny plastic popping toy, the kind you get in small machines outside supermarkets with a little boy called Jacob.
Christine John, one of the most devoted Vine Trust members, had told us about Jacob the previous night; she met him two years ago on the Amazon Hope, he can’t remember her now. He had been bitten by a snake 24 hours previously and was close to death, the doctors estimated he would need four vials of anti-venom, they only had two, they thought he would die, to the doctors surprise he woke up not knowing who he was or where he was from and shocked to be surrounded by strange grown up gringos. That night Jacob became ‘mi pocito hermano’ - my little brother. He never left my side, cuddling into me holding onto my arm.
After our chicken, rice and potatoes, we played games with the boys, conducted by Jerry, the house parent. After the fun and games, it was our turn to provide the entertainment, attempting to teach the boys a dashing white sergeant with an American translator. The quality of the dance itself completely failed but it was so much fun and Joe Sanders, Mark Bruce and Tasmin McKechnie sang a song with a three string guitar.
With Girasoles we left a “See you, Jimmy” hat and the chords and words to the song, with that we said goodbye to the boys.
Saying goodbye was probably the most difficult part of the trip, no-one wanted to say goodbye. Staying with them, having breakfast, lunch and dinner with them after four days, it was like being part of a family, it was like having forty brothers and a little sister. I think I hugged a few of the boys at least five times, I could barely part with Jacob.
Of course, we had a group photo with all the boys once we retrieved our cameras from the boys. Marcello must have come back for about eight hugs.
And so we all went to bed, gutted and ready for another 40 boys to become our brothers.