I rather felt like crying today at Colobri. I have been volunteering in the US for two years since my experience in Ecuador, and I had forgotten how difficult donations and government support can be to procure. A fraternity fundraiser easily raises thousands of dollars for the Red Cross. Celebrities in LA publicize 826LA. Trader Joes and the Food Bank of Boston donate too much food for all of the homeless and disadvantaged at the First Church of Cambridge to even consume in one sitting; Thursday nights in Cambridge are basically free trips to a supermarket in addition to hot three-course meals.
I found out that one of the volunteers had been buying bread for lunch/dinner for these kids the past few days. I had just assumed that a bakery donated old bread or that the center used some of their funds to buy bread, but in actuality, this volunteer spent 8 soles everyday to buy bread for 30 or so kids. 8 soles is about $2.50. The center does not have a spare 8 soles every day to buy bread to accompany the maté the kids receive on a daily basis.
Colobri has bigger issues than daily bread. The director has been going to meetings with the local authorities, and they are trying to find a new location for Colobri – perhaps one that is larger and with more facilities, such as bathrooms, but perhaps also one that is in a worse location (Colobri is very close to the heart of Cusco and a restaurant or hostal would likely be more profitable for the city as a whole). The director is trying to make a case for the center and only half-joked about us storming the city government and staging a protest. Apparently, the director had actually gathered up a bunch of police and volunteers (Colobri was started by local policemen in Cusco) and held a protest a couple of years back.
I am so awed by the director´s and other policemens´ efforts. Colobri is more than an educational development center for working kids. It is also a second home for some of them. Children who cannot otherwise shower, eat a proper lunch, or receive basic medical treatment come to Colobri and the director and volunteers try to take care of them. The director told us that he goes around Cusco door to door asking for money or whatever people can donate so that the center can provide for children besides a 3.30 to 7.00 basis. Essentially, this man works two jobs: policeman by day and volunteer director at Colobri in the afternoon and night.
I talked with one volunteer from Germany after we left the center for a long time. Both of us actually wanted different opportunities; I was looking forward to volunteering in a town still suffering from the 2007 earthquake, and he wanted a long term stint with a German NGO. In comparison, Colobri is rather soft and flexible volunteering, requiring only 3 or 4 hours a day. Both of us are just trying to keep the kids focused on homework and educational activities, since we know that this is their way out. We talked about our efforts, if we were making a difference, and the incredible lifelong dedication of some people like the director of Colobri. Both of us wish we could help more, but know that emptying our coffers is not necessarily the answer. I think that if we could somehow utilize our particular talents to publicize this project, that would be more effective and benefit the center for a longer time. He is thinking about re-vamping the website, which looks very 90s, and I really want to make a video for Colobri. I rather enjoy making short videos now, even though they are incredibly time intensive.
He had been at Colobri for about two weeks now, and told me how surreal it all felt. How can we explain that the price of one beer can buy bread for these kids for two days or so? How can we explain that being born in one country instead of another either opens doors or shuts them? I told him that yes, state societies feature extreme inequality, but that people all over the world care for one another, whether it be family or strangers. I have met very poor Peruvians here who volunteer without second doubts. It may not seem common, but it is not the exception to care for strangers, even if one does not have the means or luxury to do so. There are many ways to volunteer, and not everybody does it publicly or keeps a blog about it. I still firmly believe in the human capacity to care for those seemingly completely different.
The director told us, you just have to keep going. Keep working and keep fighting. Advanza.
Like my role model Angelina Jolie says (you must admit, she is smart, strong, beautiful and dedicated), you can cry at first. But if you want to do anything positive, you have to get indignant, angry, and start pushing for what should and must happen. The director is a wonderfully sweet middle aged man, but I could read the indignance all over his face and the hint of anger in his voice. Obviously he is sad about the troubles Colobri has in obtaining school materials, food and more, but you can see that he believes that these kids have rights, and that they deserve more care and opportunities in life.