Chanchamayo is a beautiful province nestled on the wet, green side of the Amazon Mountains. San Ramon is located here; so too is its sister city, La Merced. The area was home to Ashaninka natives before the arrival of Europeans, called colonos (colonials) by the natives. The majority of the immigrants came from Italy, bringing with them a taste for fine coffee and a green thumb when it comes to agriculture. Today Chanchamayo is home to high-quality coffee that rivals nearby Villa Rica and orchards that produce a variety of tasty tropical fruits.
Hans volunteers at Chanchamayo Highland Products, a fair trade company that supports local farmers who grow coffee and fruit throughout the province. Highland has branched out in recent years to non-coffee products, including dried fruits, juices and preserves. The company prides itself in paying above-market prices to farmers who grow using organic or biodynamic methods, i.e. without chemical pesticides or fertilizers. The hope is that farmers will generate enough income so that they will not be tempted to grow coca, the cash crop used to produce cocaine, which is common in other parts of the Peruvian rain forest . Its products are exported to Europe and were recently introduced to the US market. Hans has an interest in the natural food industry and has been working on a new website to better tell the company’s story. Hans has accompanied the owner and members of the staff on visits to several agricultural areas to learn more about the farms and explain the benefits of organic production.
Kelly and Ellie volunteer at San Manuelito School, a special education center in the city of San Ramon. The school, funded by the Peruvian Department of Education, serves the needs of disabled children in the province of Chanchamayo. Class sizes are small and the staff is devoted to offering educational opportunities to children with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities. Kelly works with children in the 5-7 age group, assisting teachers and staff with games, puzzles and other learning activities, as well as hygiene and meals. The work requires tremendous patience and tireless attention, work for which Kelly is well-suited.
Ellie works with older children in a classroom environment, assisting the teacher and helping the students complete their assignments. She has taken a particular interest in several deaf students who are in the class, learning basic signs so that she can communicate with and encourage them – few people take the time to learn sign language and the children, though very intelligent, feel isolated from their peers and parents. All the children appreciate the attention they receive from Kelly and Ellie, in the classroom as well as during recess, and the love that is demonstrated to them each day.