Today was arguably one of the best days of my life. Since all of the volunteers only work 3 hours at our projects, some of us felt like we could, and should, be doing more. Three volunteers and I, who all work in the evening and have mornings free, went to Aldea Yanapay. Yanapay is a school near us for underprivileged kids or children who have rough backgrounds. Walking in the school was like entering an alternate universe that represented a mixture of Neverland and Disney World. In the midst of an area full of violence and hardship was this secret school of joy and love. The children ran around laughing and playing on their quaint playground and tossing a ball over a volleyball net. The school was narrow, but grew up three stories into the sky. Everywhere I looked the walls were rainbow colors and children ran around in a perfect chaos.
We stared in awe for a while, then eventually met Yuri: the man behind the creation of Yanapay. He sat with us on a bench and told us his story: at 17, after finishing high school, he decided he disagreed enough with Peru’s educational system enough that he wanted to do something. Thus he opened a school. He told us that, statistically, 7/10 girls are pregnant before age 18. So he questioned, if a child gets an A in a class, why does it matter if they don’t know how to take care of themselves? This was what he wanted to change with Yanapay. He sought out to make a school that teaches children about everything from math and English, to love and respect. He takes kids from violent homes and teaches them physical contact is something to be trusted in through hugs, kisses, and hand holding. Equally, he strongly believes that the volunteers will NEVER be forced to give a cent to the project because they are already giving the most valuable thing possible: time and love.
While talking with him, he was interrupted at least 5 times by numerous children wanting to hug “papa Yuri.” After hearing his story he invited us to participate in their group therapy/love circle, where everyone holds hands in a circle and talks about how that makes them feels. It sounds cheesy, but the children wanted nothing more than to cuddle up with trusted adults and tell the group that they felt love or friendship or happiness. It was indescribable to watch children need, and appreciate, love so much. Holding Papa Yuri’s hand on my left and a little boy’s on my right, I had an overwhelming (and embarrassing) moment of happiness and I started to tear up. This is truly why I’m here: and I was so blessed in that moment.
After playing with children all day, we went back to the house and all applied to volunteer at Yanapay. Even though they are full at the moment, I have a feeling that all will work out. There’s no way I can feel so strongly about something and not find a way to pursue it.