Today I facilitated a health and nutrition session with the kids of Hogar San Francisco de Asis (also known as “La Casa Hogar Dr. Tony”), a home for destitute and sick children based in Chaclayaco, Peru, about 30 miles from Lima. The center was founded in 1983 by Dr. Anthony (Tony) Lazzara, a pediatrician from Tampa, Florida, who left a cushy position at Emory University to work with sick and abandoned children of Peru. The ages of the children range from newborns to young adults and they suffer from illnesses such as malnutrition, TB, cleft lip and palate, and cancer, among others.

Most of the children are from the provinces of Peru, such as Cajamarca, and come from very poor families who cannot afford medical treatment. They are sent to the center to be treated and then return to their families. This is not the case, however, for all. While spending some time with the infants in the nursery, I learned of one newborn in particular who had been abandoned by his parents, and after his surgery was complete, he would be sent to an orphanage.

There were around 10 babies in the nursery and there was one in particular, “Davilo”, who immediately caught my eye. He couldn’t have been more than six months old and from the moment I walked into the room his curious eyes were fixated on me. He had facial deformities and his right ear was much lower and smaller than normal and seemed to be growing out of his cheek. I went over to pick him up and the nurses gave me permission to take him out of the nursery. I walked with him around the house and got to know the other kids who lived there. Some children were paralyzed or in full body casts confined to their beds. Others were blind, mute, and had been severely burned. It broke my heart to see them like that but despite their conditions many of them seemed cheerful and optimistic.

When it came time to facilitate the class I had to bring Davilo back his crib, he began to cry as soon as we walked back into the nursery. As I put him back into his crib, his cries only got louder. It was difficult to leave him there crying and alone, but the nurses assured me that he would have “recess” time shortly.

The session itself went fairly well, all things considered. A couple other volunteers and I had originally planned to facilitate a session that involved dance and aerobics but the children in our group were severely disabled and wouldn’t have been able to participate so we had to quickly change plans. We did some modified exercises that did not require the kids to get out of their seats and taught them about the benefits of healthy eating, and exercise. At the end of the session, we gave children a tangerine as a reward for their participation. One of the little boys, however, couldn’t eat it with the rest of the group because he was born with tracheal issues and he had to be fed with a tube through his stomach. I wish we had known this beforehand, but we ended up giving his tangerine to the one of the volunteers to liquefy it for him.

I left the center with mixed emotions. On one side I was glad to have had the experience and to gotten to know such special kids. I also felt grateful for my own health and the visit really put things into perspective. On the other side, however, I felt a sense of powerlessness because I was unable to do anything to help them or change their situations. I hope to go back and visit again soon.