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A Life That You Can Not Imagine

Norma was a Quechua girl living in the outbacks of Peru's high Andes. This is her life and the lives of many thousands who live just like her..... When I first met Norma, she approached me as I wandered through an open air market on the East side of Huaraz, Peru. She offered me a glass of orange juice that her family was selling at a makeshift juice bar, fresh squeezed. I sat on a stool and met the family as I drank, shooing away the squadron of relentless flies buzzing about. They were a Quechua family, native to Peru long before the Spanish invaders conquered and interbred their own seed and culture among them. Most of the vendors at the market were Quechua, still wearing the traditional dress and hats that their ancestors wore. The younger generation, such as Norma, have jettisoned those traditions as adults opting for western influenced clothing such as jeans and blouses, sweaters and baseball style caps. They spoke Quechua to each other and Spanish to me. Her family was friendly and curious. I was happy to share where I was from and why I came to Peru to plant my flag as a humanitarian in a project that helps people like Norma's family and communities they live in. As it turned out, this family lived a stone's throw away from our Secsecpampa project of Changes for New Hope. They invited me to their home, as many people do, for a variety of reasons. Some are congenial and just want to share their home and a meal with me. Others encounter a Gringo and immediately see an opportunity to take advantage of my altruism. Desperation mentality consumes people here in the Andes. Some are of the feeling that, "They have everything, we have nothing, so taking it any way we can is fair play. They can get more, we can't." I have been in situations where people have asked me for my backpack, camera and the jacket I was wearing along with my shoes. Fortunately, this family was not like that. They seemed to have settled into their lot in life and get by working at their juice stand, selling flowers that they grow at home or whatever menial jobs they can pick up, usually unskilled, temporary work as they find it. The pay is usually just a few dollars a day. My visit to their home was lifted right out of a Robinson Crusoe story. Had I been shipwrecked on a deserted island and had to scavenge for food and shelter, I would end up pretty much like these people have been living for decades. An adobe family house, that was added onto as the children became adults, was called home. The mother raised nine children to adulthood while the father, an alcoholic, stumbled off a footbridge to his death while Norma was still a child. She recalls how he would take a hot knife and melt her torn plastic shoes back together because there was no money for new ones. The kitchen was a dirt floor area surrounded by bamboo walls and a corrugated aluminum roof. Four adobe bricks, paired two by two, about a foot apart was the stove. Wood, gathered from the mountainside was dragged in to make the fire to cook on. The walls were blackened by the smoke that swirled about and eventually escaped through the spaces between the bamboo. We sat on pieces of logs, rocks or stood as we ate a meal that was usually rice, potatoes and beans with maybe some chicken. Wheat was stone ground by hand to add to the soup. The animals roamed in and out, chickens or one of the many cats, as we ate. There was one common sink with only a cold water tap for the entire family to wash, bathe, brush their teeth, cook, wash the dishes and take a bucket back to their respective living areas should they need water later. Water here, as everywhere in Peru, must be boiled before it can be consumed because of the parasite issue. When I asked to use the bathroom, they looked at me like I had just asked them for a unicorn. Norma pointed to an open field behind the house and handed me a roll of toilet paper. There is usually electricity with a bare light bulb strung overhead in each room. It is not uncommon for many family members to sleep in the same room. Norma has three children and the four of them occupied two small rooms. I have visited many families like Norma's since my initial arrival here. The story is repeated again and again. This is their normal, their existence. Our project has provided shoes, clothing, school supplies, vitamin supplements and anti-parasite medicine. Books, recreational activities and most importantly, an opportunity to escape the generational pattern of destitution without disturbing their culture is imperative. We have been here for several years. Development is slow. We are all one human family, right? Is it morally right to ignore third world destitution in a rabid pursuit for more and more? Imagine if we shared a few dollars out of our abundance to make the lives of the destitute a little more bearable. Compassion in action will change the world. Let's do it! * ​ This is an article from the Changes for New Hope Humanitarian Awards Magazine, December 2017 issue

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