Greetings from the Sacred Valley of Cusco. The weather has changed in the high mountains, and spring has brought rain. It is just beautiful. A lush Eden of a place.
I want to tell you a story about one of the boys in our Casa Girasoles program. I will call him Raul. Raul has always been a bit shy. He was the sort of adolescent that blended into the background. When we started our Girasoles Sanos Cycling Team, Raul took to the bike like a fish to water.
Thanks to the generosity of Mike Colbach and BicycleAttorney.com from Portland and a group of committed volunteers (Hugh Givens, Kevin Chudy, and Laura Miller), the bike team has grown to support the boys at each Casa Girasoles home. The program is a lifeline for some of the boys.
Last week, Raul competed in his first bike race. A cross-country event that went from the city of Cusco to the town of Urubamba in the Sacred Valley. The race took a route that included technical descending, tight single track, and a mountain pass of over 15,000 FASL.
Raul was third overall. Competing against seasoned riders and elite competitors, he took a spot on the podium. In all our work, with all our efforts – nothing has been more effective to help connect more deeply with Raul (and to help him connect more deeply with himself) than a bicycle.
Thanks, Mike, Hugh, Kevin, Laura, and Team!
Yesterday, we received a new boy at the Casa Girasoles. The boy, only three years old – was greeted with love and affection. He was given welcoming presents and showered in the care of all the other boys and staff. Although I am happy because I know we will offer this young boy a genuine chance at the future he deserves – I am also a bit sad. Sad for the family so fractured that their little boy was removed. I am saddened for the thousands and thousands of other children suffering in families without the support they need.
There is a story – a parable – that is well-known within social justice circles. The story has several different versions – but the allegory is always the same. I share an arrangement called “The Town by the Bend in the River.” It is hard to know entirely who the original author of the story is – but I found this version on the website The Vitruvian Man.
Once upon a time, there was a town that was built just beyond the bend of a large river. One day, some children from a small town were playing beside the river when they noticed three bodies floating in the water. They ran for help, and the townsfolk quickly pulled the bodies out of the river.
One body was dead, so they buried it. One was alive but quite ill, so they put that person into the hospital. The third turned out to be a healthy child, who then they placed with a family who cared for it and who took it to school.
From that day on, several bodies came floating down the river, and every day, the good people of the town would pull them out and tend to them – taking the sick to hospitals, placing the children with families, and burying those who were dead.
This went on for years; each day brought its quota of bodies, and the townsfolk not only came to expect many bodies each day but also worked at developing more elaborate systems for picking them out of the river and tending to them. Some townsfolk became quite generous in nurturing to these bodies, and a few extraordinary ones even gave up their jobs to tend to this concern full-time. And the town itself felt a particular healthy pride in its generosity.
However, during all these years and despite all that generosity and effort, nobody thought to go up the river, beyond the bend that hid from their sight what was above them, and find out why, daily, those bodies came floating down the river.
This work – the work of committing to long range goal of changing the way children get the care they need and striviung for systematic change in the way child welfare services are delivered – demands, requires, that we keep a focus on both the current need of every child we are called to serve . . . AND, we must always be looking up the river to address the true compelling complexities better. We owe it to the children and families!
I don’t usually post stories of children participating in our programs, but today, I want to tell you about a boy. I’ll call him Luca.
Luca was born in Romania. His mother struggled with mental health-related conditions and had difficulty keeping the family together. They moved frequently. One move took them to Rome, Italy, where his mother worked in a hotel. Another member of the hotel staff was a man from Perú.
This man promised Luca’s mother a wonderful life if she moved to Perú with him. She took a leap of faith and moved to Perú with her two daughters and Luca. Once they got to Perú, instead of stability, they were devastated to realize their hope for a better life had become a grave and violent situation.
Luca started spending more and more of his time on the streets. He fell into trouble because he was unable to navigate the challenges around him due to language and cultural barriers. Luca was 15 years old when he came to live at the Casa Girasoles.
When he came to us, Luca had already been in three foster care homes. These were pilot foster care homes that the government had established to deinstitutionalize the child welfare system.
His third foster care placement was with a police officer, who, as Luca would later tell us, seemed like a nice man at first, but tragically, he perpetuated more violence in Luca’s life. Afraid and alone, the only thing Luca knew to do was run.
When the case worker brought him to us, Luca was not interested in yet another failed placement without his family. He worried about his two sisters, and he worried about his mother. He was 16 years old and just wanted to be a boy. Luca lived with us for about a year, and it was the first time since he was “9” years old that he had experienced a stable, safe, and nurturing environment. We helped him to understand what it would mean to build a life for himself.
Thanks to his resilience and the healthy attachment he developed with his new caregivers, Luca started to find his way in the world.
Take a moment and try to put yourselves in Luca’s experience. It is hard to fully imagine how challenging it must be to be a boy from Romania plopped into the desert city of Ica in Perú. Not knowing the language, not having any fundamental cultural understanding of social factors around you, but being expected to find your way in the world in a family of abuse, violence, and displacement.
Sadly, this scenario has played out and affected many children in Perú.
For kids like Luca, there is hope. Today, Luca is living with his girlfriend. They are expecting a child, and he has a steady job working at one of the large agriculture processing plants. He stays in contact with the Director of the Casa Girasoles. He recently told the Director that the time he spent with us at the Casa Girasoles was the best time of his life.
The story I am telling you is complex. Nothing about this work is simple.
Before coming to Casa Girasoles, there were many places and spaces in Luca’s life where things fell apart. The care and support systems that were supposed to help him did not serve him. We know that targeting only one of these challenges will never change the complexity of the circumstances. And the big picture.
That is why what we are doing is so incredibly important. We care for over 60 children, deliver training to thousands of healthcare workers, and help re-empower young adults who got lost in the child welfare system. We are also an organization building and providing collaborative models for children, youth, families, and organizations to use towards fulfilling and healthy lives for themselves and their communities.
We are championing children and the communities that care for them. Join us!
Our work has changed so much over the nearly 30-years of our existence.
What started with a strong focus on medical outreach has morphed into a full fledged NGO that seeks to provide vulnerable Peruvian children and their families with opportunities toward a life built on health, hope, home, and purpose.
With our Communities of Excellence (CoE) model, we work with nonprofit, government, and private organizations to standardize services and programs on a national scale to ensure that children and families living in poverty have access to the quality caregiving and medical treatment they deserve. The CoEs are community-driven, collaborative, and replicable program models focusing on self-advocacy for children and families and training for childcare providers.
As we made the shift from an organization focused on direct services delivery – although we still have the privilege of serving nearly 60 children in our Casa Girasoles Programs – to an organization that seeks to build models that can be scaled in a variety of cultural and geographic settings – HBI has grown from an organization that was U.S. based leadership to an NGO registered in Perú, with Peruvian leaders and Board. We are proud to employ 42 staff members, all but two are Peruvian. We are incredibly proud of this shift. It means that we are an organization seeking to support lasting change for children and families in Perú – through Peruvian leadership!
We are also serious stewards of the funding we receive to do this work. We are committed to make every dollar count to every single youth, every family, every professional we have in the scope of our work. Over 92% of HBI’s funding goes directly to support our programs and pay our staff.
Why is this so important? Because it represents a shift to a model that empowers in-country change through in-country leadership.
I am so proud of how far we have come. I am even more proud of the amazing leadership and staff we have working everyday to serve the needs of some of the most marginalized children and families in Latin America, in a pathway for long-term, sustainable change.
Wow! I mean – W-O-W!!!
We are so incredibly honored by the tremendous generosity and support we received at our A Bridge to Change fundraiser event held at Andina Restaurant on Tuesday, September 19th. We filled the room with a completely sold-out crowd. The four-course wine paired meal was a huge hit – as always – and was highlighted by having Sra. Doris and Sr. John (owners of Andina) in attendance.
Thanks to the outpouring of support, we raised almost $83,000 for our work. This is a HUGE blessing and something we will be ever attentive stewards toward utilizing the investment we received.
Thank you to all the amazing supporters of Health Bridges who make our event a giant success!
In just a little over 24-hours we will celebrate our 11th A Bridge to Change Benefit Event at Andina Restaurant. Sure, the pandemic put a little hiccup in our plans to hold annual events at Portland’s fabulous Andina Restaurant, but we are back in stride for 2023 and looking forward to an exciting night of great food, amazing wine, loyal friends, and sharing the tremendous impacts Health Bridges has made over the past 12-months.
What makes this event so important? HBI is a donor driven NGO. Our budget, a modest $750,000, comes predominately from generous individual donors. This is by design. We knew our best chance to truly make the sort of difference we are making in the child welfare sector was through the flexibility of individual donors. Sure, we are super fortunate to have family foundation dollars to support our work – however, the vast majority of investment comes from people who believe in the work of HBI.
Talk about a humbling notion. It is beyond my ability to express in words how much it means to have so many people believe in what we are doing.
HBI’s mission is working. It is working because you believe in our work, and you are investing in us.We are also an organization building and providing collaborative models for children, youth, families, and organizations to use towards fulfilling and healthy lives for themselves and their communities. We are championing children and the communities that care for them.
We need you to continue investing in us. When you make that investment, in a small, effective, and nimble NGO, serving the needs of some of the most marginalized children in Latin America, you help us build a pathway for long-term, sustainable change. We dedicate over 92% of all monies directly into programs so that our supporting organizations worldwide will have the skills and expertise to build their own Communities of Excellence. We are becoming the behind-the-scenes champions who are helping child-welfare experts and advocates change the way children in out of parental care receive services.
In over 25-years, our mission has never wavered…we envision a world where every child has access to the life they deserve. A life of health, hope, home, and purpose.
We need individuals who want to choose HBI as THEIR NGO. We need your support to change the world . . . together. So tomorrow night, when we come together to celebrate – we are also coming together to recommit. To reconfirm our dedication to changing the way children living in orphanges, residential facilities and state-run homes receive the care and protection they deserve. We are committing to invest in their future. #BetheBridge
It has been a few weeks since my last post. There is no one reason for my lapse in communication – other than the demands of a full life.
Several things have happened over the past couple of months. HBI has officially taken over the legal responsibilities for the Casa Girasoles. In addition, all the Casa Girasoles Urubamba and Ica staff transferred to employment with HBI-Perú. Finally, we are under-contract to purchase the Casa Girasoles Urubamba property and home. We only have one payment remaining, and the property is HBI’s. We are under the same due diligence for the property in Ica. Whew. That’s a lot.
Yes, that is a lot. It is not, however, a full update on all that’s going on. The most significant change is not anything but a thousand little things. Let me explain.
The city of Lima – comprised of 43 districts or communities – recently shifted from the older sepia-tone streetlights of a bygone era to LED energy-efficient streetlights. The city of Los Angeles made a similar shift back in 2016. It is a bitter-sweet change – as the sepia-tone light of the old streetlights creates a very nostalgic feeling. Alas, progress.
One problem is that transitioning from old to new technology is more than a replacement phenomenon. The growth requires a massive infrastructure shift. This shift is not going smoothly. The new LED street lights are prone to glitching and, in some neighborhoods (ours included), essentially strobe all night. So much for more recent technology.
The change that the city of Lima is going through with its switch to newer technology is the same transition HBI is undergoing. Okay, maybe not the same per se – but there are some parallels.
We are shifting from an organization predominately led by a North American team to an organization with Peruvian leadership at every level. The growth is exciting; however, we are on the cusp of a transition that brings several challenges as we build our new infrastructure. Our focus right now is to make sure we are transitioning slowly and cautiously. This means focusing on the culture of our organization and making certain everyone has the resources they need to successfully transition.
This is an exciting time for HBI. It is a time of change – and a period that will truly light the way for a brighter future for our work.
Oh, by the way – we are having a fundraiser event on September 19th at Portland’s famous Andina Restaurant. This is our return to Andina after a three-year hiatus. We would love for you to join us. You can get tickets at: A Bridge to Change 2023
Today is Peruvian Independence Day. It is a big deal in Perú. It is more than just a single-day Holiday – today, July 28th, kicks off a weekend of celebrations around the Fiestas Patrias. For a country that has gone through so much over the past few years – with the COVID pandemic, a near-catastrophic paralysis in the government, social and political protests, and the Dengue outbreak . . . this year, Fiestas Patrias is a significant time to celebrate being a Peruvian.
Perhaps more than just a time for festivity and celebration, the Fiestas Patrias is also a time to take stock and remember what matters most. For much of Perú, this will be time spent with family and friends and a lot of opportunity to celebrate the power of relationships. I was thinking about this when I opened my computer to type a Blog entry for today. I was thinking about the nearly 30 years we have been working . . . serving . . . in Perú and the hundreds of relationships and close connections that have grown over all these years. I was also thinking about how much I have been shaped and impacted by our work in Perú.
One of the boys approached me last week while visiting the Casa Girasoles Urubamba with our Community of Excellence research team. He is a 6-year-old boy I have known for a couple of years. He said, “I want to give you something to share how I feel about seeing you.” He then left the room where we were setting up for the meeting. A few minutes later, he reappeared with a bag of dry cereal. He handed me the small package and said – “you mean so much to me that I wanted you to have this.”
Cereal – especially sweetened cereal – is a big deal for the boys at the Casa Girasoles. It is something they get less often. For this little boy, that bag of cereal represented a prized possession. And he gave it to me. I almost started crying. It reminded me that what we do is about receiving just as much as it is about serving. It touched me deep inside in a way only the tenderness and generosity of a child can.
Today is Fiestas Patrias. It is a time to give thanks and remember why Perú means so much to many. For me, it is a time to accept the blessings my connection to the people of Perú gives me daily.
I have a plastic box of screws, bolts, fasteners, and odds-and-ends I have collected for years. I pull out the box and rummage for a match whenever I have a missing bolt.
I add to the collection whenever I find an aberrant item. It is a collection of treasured finds, incorrect purchases, and failed projects. I love the box. The articles are a reassurance that I have a backup plan. Sometimes I am lucky and find what I need. Other times I merely confirm a suspicion and need to head to the local hardware store.
This past weekend we had our first A Bridge to Change event in Hartford, Connecticut. We sold 63 tickets and had almost 50 attendees. We also raised close to $30,000 to support the Casa Girasoles Program. It was a great success.
In addition to the financial support, the event connected HBI to a whole new group of stakeholders. We built bridges with people who had just learned about our work. We also were blessed to have the support of a large group of ex-pat Peruvians from the area, including the Consular General from the Peruvian Consulate to the United States.
The event was like my box of screws and bolts – it added to our resources and expanded our bridges. This work – transforming the lives of children who have lived through tremendous trauma – takes a team of people. No person has all the knowledge and skills needed to be “everything to everyone,” so we have a group of supporters and stakeholders.
This past weekend we built more support for our movement. Together, we can continue to work toward a world where every child has access to health, hope, home, and purpose.