MaryAnne McKinnon with Ricardo and his prized doves. Photo courtesy of Chalice

The little things make The Perfect Gift

  • March 19, 2016

In 22 years, one story stands out among thousands of Chalice Canada’s success stories.

It’s a story about two friends worlds apart and two doves.

This story has been turned into Chalice Canada’s first children’s book. The Perfect Gift is a true story famous among the people of La Ladrillera, near the city of Chiclayo in northern Peru.

At the centre of the story is 10-year-old Ricardo who is searching for a gift to express his gratitude for his Canadian friend MaryAnne McKinnon. Nothing seems to be quite right, but he soon learns that the best gifts are the ones from the heart.

“It was just one of those events, I guess, in the community that was sort of imprinted in their hearts and their minds and so they were still talking about it,” said McKinnon, international manager of Chalice’s Latin America initiatives.

In February 2013, McKinnon visited the sponsor site in Chiclayo to oversee local initiatives and train local staff in community programs. La Ladrillera is one of nine communities the site serves. She had been meeting with community members to help raise money and resources to build a water system for the village.

As part of her visit, she visited the children from Chalice’s child sponsorship program. She and Ricardo had bonded in her frequent trips to the village.

She remembered that Ricardo’s family did not have much before joining the sponsorship program. Now, the family is raising some chickens, roosters and a pig. Ricardo even told McKinnon how he was taking good care of the pig so that he could sell it to earn money to buy his parents a front door for their mud brick house.

To show his appreciation for everything McKinnon, her staff and Chalice has done for their small village, Ricardo told her that he wanted to give her his most prized possessions — his two doves.

“Ricardo is just a truly special kid and despite his poverty, he just shines in a lot of different ways and I think that sort of stood out that day,” said McKinnon.

Months later, the whole village was still talking about Ricardo’s gift to McKinnon. That summer, Harumi Flores Montalvo and Ciera DeSilva, two interns from Chalice Canada, came to volunteer and caught wind of the story. It had become an oral history the villagers had passed onto each other and the two girls decided it was something worth writing down.

When they brought the story back to Chalice headquarters in Nova Scotia, everyone loved it. McKinnon said Chalice had been looking to launch a storybook project and this was the perfect one for the series’ debut.

“A part of it was a lot of children that we sponsor don’t necessarily see themselves represented in the books that they were reading,” said McKinnon. “We were also looking for a way to be able to share stories that are happening in our sponsor sites... I think that (the story) is a really good depiction of how Chalice operates in a community.”

McKinnon worked on the final draft of the manuscript with the consultation of children’s author Sheree Fitch. The village children drew colourful illustrations to bring the story to life. Their mothers also created unique, handmade bookmarks to be sold with the book.

“There were a lot of people involved in bringing the whole project to fruition.”

The book also includes a guide for teachers, parents and children to discuss the values of gratitude and gift-giving.

The Chalice Storybook Project was launched in November with the official launch of The Perfect Gift. Profits will go towards Chalice Canada’s educational programs.

Chalice Canada, a Catholic charity based in Bedford, N.S., was started by Fr. Patrick Cosgrove in 1994. It began as a child sponsorship program, but has since expanded to other initiatives, such as community project funding, disaster relief and educational programs.

More information can be found at

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