When we visited the home for under 5 year olds my heartstrings were pulled at. Now that I have my own child, it breaks my heart to meet children who are not able to be with their families. I just wanted to pick them all up and give them big hugs.
There are plenty of crazy things I’ve done in my life – bungy jumping, moving to Honduras (one of the most dangerous countries in the world) and travelling with a baby is also on the list! Don’t get me wrong, travelling with a baby can be a lot of fun, but it was definitely very different from my carefree backpacking days.
In 2013 and 14 I volunteered in Honduras, teaching English to disadvantaged children at an not-for- profit called NPH – Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (Our Little Brothers and Sisters). This was an incredible experience, opening up my worldview and teaching me so much about what’s really important in life.
Overcoming travel anxiety to meet the family
Five years later I’m living in New Zealand with a 5 month old baby, ready to travel to Peru to meet my husband’s side of the family. I was incredibly nervous about travelling with a baby but at the same time I couldn’t wait to show off our gorgeous little boy.
My anxiety overcame me as we boarded the flight. The days leading up to this moment were very busy, trying to pack and finish off some work. I was very anxious and nervous, already exhausted at the beginning of a long-haul flight. As I walked down the aisle of the plane, baby Cristiano in the front-pack, a bag on my back and a small wheelie suitcase behind, I tripped and fell.... The passengers gasped as I grabbed my baby. Fortunately I fell to my knees and Cristiano was fine. Emotionally I felt destroyed. I had a good cry and said to my husband Leo, “I don’t know if I can do this!” Leo was calm and reassuring and I soon tried to move past the incident.
I didn’t sleep a wink during the flight, constantly watching Cristiano to make sure he was okay. By the time we arrived at Leo’s family’s home and Cristiano refused to sleep in this new and strange environment, I was a bit of a wreck. The first week was a battle with jetlag trying to get Cristiano used to the time difference.
Flying was difficult, as expected, but of course it was worth it. Leo’s family were thrilled to meet Cristiano for the first time. It was great to see Cristiano feel comfortable with being passed around the room and kissed a million times. These things you just can’t get online!
Leo’s family’s home wasn’t very big and more family were about to arrive from overseas. We decided to move out to give us a bit more space, freedom and stability for Cristiano. I loved the apartment we moved into – it was close to parks, very flat and easy to walk to the shops. My days were not action packed, nor filled with tourist destinations. Leo was busy helping out a family member, so I was left to fill my days with plenty of walks and trips to the local market.
Our trip to Peru was never intended to be a holiday. We were there to meet family and to help a sick relative. Machu Picchu was crossed off the list early on. I was worried about altitude sickness, but I’m sure Cristiano would have been fine. An 8 hour car journey to the North to meet Leo’s dad was also crossed off the list. Fortunately Leo’s dad came to Lima to visit us for a week which we really enjoyed.
Visiting the NPH Peru children’s home in Cañete
We only did one trip outside the capital Lima – We took a 2 hour Uber ride to the Cañete to visit NPH Peru, a children’s home which helps disadvantaged children (the same organisation that I volunteered with in Honduras). We arrived with many gifts from Kiwi sponsors. Cristiano enjoyed meeting the children and you can imagine that he was a bit of a star! One particular little girl followed us around all day, wanting to carry and hold Cristiano. She was very persistent and very much enamoured by our little one.
The comments the children made were quite funny at times. One boy asked Leo if he’s a millionaire because he bought all the children cake! When we visited the home for under 5 year olds my heartstrings were pulled at. Now that I have my own child, it breaks my heart to meet children who are not able to be with their families. I just wanted to pick them all up and give them big hugs. One 4 year old looked up at us and said, “I used to have a mum and a dad.” It was hard to know what to say to her. She was soon onto the next thing, grabbing Cristiano’s little shoes and asking about them.
The Director of the home, Rosario Chirinos, told me that many of the children come to NPH Peru because they have suffered from abuse or negligence within their families. The court has made the decision that they are safer growing up at NPH Peru. The children’s home certainly was a beautiful environment for the kids. Set on 15 hectares, with plenty of space to play and grow, as well as opportunities to reach their potential. It was certainly a pleasure to meet some of the university students at the home and hear how they are enjoying their studies.
The great thing about NPH is that the children do not have to leave once they turn 18. NPH supports them through a trade or even tertiary education. This is a true blessing in Peru, a country where many people struggle below the poverty line.
A change in perspective
In my former backpacking days I viewed the poverty I saw in a different light. I felt empathy for the people I met living in very basic conditions but I also viewed the experience as a bit of an adventure. Now with a baby and perhaps a bit more maturity, I imagined myself in their situation and I knew that I would suffer a lot.
Our last day in Lima and we finally built up the courage to take the baby to the centre of the city for the day. Nearing a traffic light, a young child came up to our car, trying to sell us some chocolates. While I’ve seen children in this situation in different places around the world, this time, with Cristiano in his car seat next to me, I just couldn’t handle it. I broke down in tears. It’s not fair that this child is not at school on such a cold day. Why is he selling this? Is he being exploited? Is he being abused? Does he live on the streets? What is his family situation? I had many questions and few answers.
I told my husband about my feelings and he simply nodded. “This is Peru. This is the way it is. Many of us have grown up like this. When there’s no food, this is just what you have to do to survive.”
Travelling with a baby was a huge challenge, especially to a developing country. In spite of this, it was a worthwhile experience and I’m glad that we went. It was so special seeing my baby meet his Peruvian relatives for the first time. It was also good for my anxiety to learn to let go and go with the flow ‘Latin American style.’ While we didn’t see many tourist attractions, we were able to spend quality time with family and learn more about everyday life in Peru.
Author- Loren O'Sullivan
Loren is from New Zealand. She is the Director of NPH New Zealand, raising much needed funds for 3,000 beautiful children.