The News Lens international edition is sponsored by Tutor A B C
By Li Shang-ru (Master’s degree from Washington University School of Medicine, co-founder of Helping Overcome Obstacles Peru)
Editor’s note: Taiwanese doctor Li Shang-ru, left for Arequipa, Peru to be an English teacher in 2011 and founded HOOP (Helping Overcoming Obstacles Peru) in 2012. Li has been striving to improve the local community life ever since.
Peru’s history of celebrating Christmas can be traced back to the year 1535. With the arrival of colonists, Catholicism came to the ancient Inca culture of the faraway Andes Mountains. Time passed by, but the smell of traditional hot cocoa and cinnamon (Note 1) freezes time in the height of December.
Christmas Eve, also known as Noche Buena (Spanish for “good night”), is a disastrous day for Peru’s turkeys. After the whole family enjoys Christmas dinner, some go to church and others enjoy the all-night fireworks on the roof. Warm winds blow from the east coast of the Pacific Ocean, gently caressing every corner of the country.
To give children from developing communities (Note 2) a good time, Helping Overcome Obstacles Peru (HOOP) makes an annual all-out effort to organize an end-of-the-year Christmas party. HOOP invites children and their parents or guardians to celebrate this warm holiday together. It also symbolizes the official beginning of the two-and-half-month summer vacation.
It’s not that easy to plan a happy weekend for more than a hundred little devils. Every detail, from food, performances, fun and presents, relies on volunteers running around under the scorching sun. The smiles on the children came from the efforts of the staff.
Even though HOOP is a just a local organization, the range of manpower and material resources transcends all geographical limitations. Taiwan and Peru are on the opposite extremes of the geographical spectrum, but through the cooperation with local Taiwanese Businesses and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Peru, charitable donations from Taiwan embellish a white mountain village on the Andean Plateau ten thousand miles away.
The highlight of this year’s celebration was the big mac water guns. In Arequipa, where the average daily temperature is above 20 degrees Celsius, these are the Christmas gifts children dream of. HOOP’s Christmas party was organized on a soccer field in a suburb. The location allowed the water guns to be put to good use and in the blink of an eye it turned into a “world” war worthy of the name – don’t forget, HOOP has volunteers from all over the globe. The water brought forth an array of rainbows and we wrapped up the game soaked in laughter.
Although HOOP children come from developing communities with a shortage of material goods, their tiny hands are filled with affection. Underneath the bright sunlight, it’s hard to distinguish whether it’s the sun or the palms of their hands that are making you feel warmer. Just like when Robin Williams put on a small red clown nose in Patch Adams, the bright sun puts a red nose on every single volunteer present.
We might not be running around the hospital taking care of sick people like Patch does, but we equally cherish the most genuine connection between people. We’re willing to look back and hold that pair of tiny hands and give unconditionally to this unknown community.
I have always had some indescribable reservations towards the word “love.” Perhaps because the media has completely watered it down. When others compliment me on what I’m doing, I always simply reply, “It’s my passion.” That’s right. I am just simply passionate about this unknown small place. It’s where I have ties of friendship and family.
During my research and studies, I always kept rethinking what was the right attitude and direction when working with locals. During this cooperation, we might encounter a lot of difficulties, but whether they’re socioeconomically, related to education or about environmental hygiene, this initial connection with the land and the people living there will give us the motivation to keep going.
A coworker once said, “Sometimes, we’re very limited in what we can do, but we only want to use our own time to accompany this group of children as they grow up.” This just might express the feelings of us overseas volunteers.
HOOP is not the only organization that works together with the Taipei Office in Peru. This year the office provided over 25 thousand Christmas gifts to more than twenty non-profit organizations, remote towns, villages and schools, giving thousands of children an unforgettable Christmas.
Note 1: Peru’s traditional Christmas delicacies are hot chocolate and Panetón, a kind of large bread with various dried fruits.
Note 2: In the city development of South America, because the population continues to move from the countryside to the city, new developing communities have surrounded the entire city. Mostly people with relatively low socioeconomic statuses live in these communities.
Translated by Stijn Wijker
Edited by Olivia Yang