Located along South America’s central-western coast, Peru comprises arid Pacific coastlands, spectacular mountain ranges and the vast Amazon rainforest. This land has been home to indigenous peoples for thousands of years, including the Inca Empire, the culture that constructed Peru’s most iconic landmark, Machu Picchu.

Peru’s rich culture, breathtaking beauty, and wealth of natural resources, however, belie the abject poverty in which many of its residents live. Many rural areas are still recovering from the Sendero Luminoso terrorist attacks of the 1990s, which claimed countless lives and caused thousands of families who had relied on agriculture for generations to seek shelter in large cities where they encountered even deeper poverty.

A safe place for girls

While Peru as a whole suffers from high unemployment, hyperinflation and other difficulties that poverty entails, problems like disease, malnutrition and crime are most pronounced in its overcrowded urban areas. These problems are the worst in the nation’s capital, Lima, where our affiliated project, the Puente Piedra Girls’ Home, is located.

Established by an order of nuns, the home offers girls ages five to twenty-two shelter and a safe place to receive a quality education all within the same vicinity. Currently, the Puente Piedra Girls’ Home serves over a thousand children in kindergarten through twelfth grade and is run by a dedicated staff of educators — many of whom are former students and residents of the Girls’ Home who grew up in our sponsorship program.

Seeing Lima for the first time

When International Director of Programs, Luis Bourdet, and I arrived in Peru, we made our way to the Puente Piedra neighborhood to meet with our volunteer coordinator, Sister Ana Maria.

Located about an hour’s drive outside of the center of Lima, the extreme poverty in the sprawling urban areas was apparent just from looking out the window of the moving taxi. Perched on dusty hillsides, small shacks made of wood and corrugated tin towered above the highway. For low-income families living in these homes, their only option was to build houses without permission in places where no one else wanted to live. As these communities became more established, locals banned together to collect money to build roads or narrow staircases leading up to houses — things that the government might otherwise do if these shantytowns were legally recognized.

When we arrived at Puente Piedra, Sister Ana Maria took us on a tour of the beautiful facility.

Well-kept dormitories were divided by age group, and a house mother was assigned to each dorm to look after the children. An adjacent school offered classrooms, a library and a computer lab. The spacious grounds also had plenty of places for girls to play, with trees and gardens surrounding all the school buildings.

No other place to go

Sister Ana Maria explained to Luis and me that many of these girls come from homes where they are neglected because either they have no immediate family to take care of them or their families are so poor they cannot feed and clothe their children properly.

For these girls, living full time at Puente Piedra allows them to attend school and thrive in a nurturing environment. It also prevents them from experiencing the poverty their parents’ experience. Even on school holidays, most of the girls stay at the home, having no reason to return to their families where they would have nothing to eat and nowhere to sleep.

Former sponsored children ARE the next generation

We made our way to the school administration offices, which are centered among basketball and volleyball courts, where hundreds of students were enjoying recess.

As we approached the principal’s office, a teacher came out of one of the classrooms and introduced herself as a former sponsored child. Luis and I were pleased to meet her, listening to her talk about her fond memories of her sponsors, even remembering their name after more than 30 years.

A moment later, another teacher appeared and greeted us as a former sponsored child as well. Before I knew it, we were surrounded by ten administrators — including the principal — who had all been in the Children Incorporated program.

For these women, the motivation and encouragement, as well as the financial support they received from the sponsors, gave them a reason to stay in school, graduate, continue onto higher education, and return to Puente Piedra to lead other girls to success.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN PERU?

You can sponsor a child in Peru in one of three ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our sponsorship portal, create an account, and search for a child in Peru that is available for sponsorship.