Toronto students help out Peru mission project

  • April 9, 2010

{mosimage}Hawthorn School for Girls sent its first team of students to Peru over the March break to get their hands dirty and learn about partnering with the locals.

The Toronto independent school’s trip was inspired by a presentation given by alumnus Kristina Douros last year, then a 24-year-old student at the University of Western Ontario who spent nearly four months in 2008 volunteering with Condoray, a 47-year-old rural development project.

Condoray, a  training centre devoted to human, social and religious development and promotion of women in the Cañete Valley of southern Peru, is a centre for higher learning where villagers can learn how to be “promoters” of growth and improvement and then implement these in their own communities. The spiritual and religious activities of Condoray are overseen by the Prelature of Opus Dei.

“The remarkable aspect of Condoray is that it is run by Peruvian women for Peruvian women,” Douros said. “These women know the needs of the people, they have lived it and are still living it. The leaders live in the communities and many of their children are very involved.”

The issues targeted are not projected by outsiders who do not fully understand the situation and this is why Condoray is so successful, Douros added.

Since every project costs money, however, Condoray relies heavily  on donations and outside support, which is one of Douros’ motivations for encouraging Hawthorn to get involved.

The idea was a welcome one. 

“I felt it was important the girls have an understanding of what a Third World country is and how people experience poverty but they have great hope,” said Dolores McKernan, director of character education at Hawthorn and one of the trip organizers.

She and several teachers took the group of students to the Cañete Valley for five days, where they got their hands dirty and worked with the people in the village of Santa Cruz.

McKernan said the students learned they can’t just go into another country with their own agenda. Condoray, she said, taught them to consult and involve the locals in everything they did. For example, some of the money the girls paid for the trip went to flowers for about 10 homes in the village as part of a beautification project.

“In their poverty, you still want beauty,” McKernan said.

But they needed to first tour the village with the “village promoter” who consulted the families to find out if they were able to collaborate by helping to dig the dirt or planting the flowers once the dirt was tilled.

And by “tilled,” McKernan said picture 13 Toronto girls attacking the arid ground with a pickaxe and shovels, moving the dirt with their hands and struggling to reach the better soil beneath. The village promoter and the residents also pitched in.

“The soil is rocky and hard and the girls had limited tools — not like they were used to. They really worked hard, were getting on their hands and knees and digging the dirt, then putting the flowers in. It was great,” McKernan said.

In Santa Cruz, Condoray funds an after school program for children once a week. When a group visits from abroad, the program can run every day, since missionaries bring supplies with them, or money to buy supplies in Peru.

The Hawthorn group, using a hygiene program prepared by their elementary school teachers, taught the local children how to wash their hands and brush their teeth, giving each of them a toothbrush and tube of toothpaste from the supplies they had crammed into their luggage.

Some of the girls brought clothing, soccer balls, skipping ropes, hair brushes and supplies for the crafts they taught the students in their after school program.

Hawthorn teacher and chaperone Jane Frei said it was refreshing to see that children were eager to join in all their activities.

“Even the 12-year-old boys didn’t think they were too cool for our ‘Molly Moo’ craft,” Frei said.

That and the eagerness with which some of the children wanted to learn English, the experience was genuinely touching, she said, adding that though they were poor, they displayed a deep sense of peace and eagerness.

For more information about Condoray, visit .

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