Jieun and Phil are working with children in the rain forest city of San Ramon. This small urban area is home to hundreds of impoverished families hampered by absentee fathers, alcohol addiction and an inability to make ends meet due to low wages and limited employment opportunities. Children living under these conditions sometimes lack healthy role models, young men and women who are educated, exhibit healthy lifestyles and care about their well-being. Children deserve to be loved by safe, responsible people that they can look up to. If not, they run the risk of resorting to destructive or anti-social behaviors in order to get the attention they crave.
Jieun volunteers at a local center of the Programa Integral Nacional para el Bienestar Familiar (INABIF), or the National Integrated Program for the Well-Being of Families. The program is operated by the Peruvian Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations. INABIF operates before-school and after-school programs for children whose parents cannot afford to feed them lunch and are not at home to take care of them during the day. The typical family served by the program earns less than $200 per month. Jieun spends all day at the center, helping serve lunch to 80 children in two shifts. She assists the leaders with a variety of learning activities, engages the children during play time and tutors individuals and small groups when it is time to work on their homework. Jieun’s gentle and affectionate demeanor brings a warm calming presence to the center. She is also a lot of fun and the children gravitate to her. The staff are appreciative of the time Jieun devotes here each day and the love she generously shares with each child.
Phil is a volunteer at the Centro de Educación Especial San Manuelito (San Manuelito Special Education Center), a school for special needs children located a short walk from INABIF. The school receives funds from the government to pay teachers and administrative staff but welcomes assistance from volunteers to fill in the gaps. Before the school year began, Phil helped a group of French-speaking Canadians re-paint the interior and exterior walls. Now that school is in session, Phil spends each day assisting in the classroom and helping out during recess. He has worked with younger as well as older students, teaching, playing and offering companionship to children diagnosed with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, deafness and developmental disorders. Phil is extremely patient and friendly, two traits that serve him well at San Manuelito School. The children he spends time with crave his attention and the staff values his willingness to help out in whichever ways he can. Working with special needs children is demanding and, for many, exhausting. But Phil’s good-natured attitude, physical strength and willingness to engage with children living on the margins of society are well-suited to this work.