Our Stories

Ruth Bracken

During the summer of 2008 I had the privilege of working three afternoons a week with the young people who attend the therapy centre at Las Lomas in the outskirts of Lima.
On my first day Cedelia, the administrator, asked me what activity I would like to do with the “children”. I had absolutely no idea. So searching around the centre, I discovered some children’s books, and in sheer desperation I suggested reading stories. To be honest, I was just clutching at straws as, although I’ve been attending classes over the past few years my Spanish still has a way to go.
I started by telling the young people I would be dealing with that I would need their help with my Spanish. That way I was inviting them to correct my errors and take over the reading themselves. They did just that, and soon a routine of sorts was established. My contribution was to get the books out and get the young people involved. They really only needed me to start the ball rolling and from time to time throw it back in. Very quickly most of them were reading for themselves once provided with the right environment and materials.
On the whole, they are quite well able to read as most of them are going to school or have done so in the past. There was, however, one exception to this: a most admirable young man who had never had the opportunity to attend school, but who had learned to read when a cousin took him under her wing for a couple of weeks and gave him the rudiments on which he is still avidly building. Indeed both he and the others were a great help to me, and I quickly realised that, thanks to their willingness, communication would not be a problem.
We also played ball quite a lot, even though we could only do so indoors and in fairly limited space. It’s amazing how you can engage people’s attention by hopping a ball out of the blue or suddenly throwing it to someone. This applies just as much to people who do not have full use of their hands and legs as to those who do. Even in the middle of another activity (e.g. reading!) I would use a ball to lighten the moment, or focus everyone’s attention, or bring someone back into the group. And as in reading, everyone had their own speciality. Luis was an expert at heading a ball; Diego worked hard on his basketball dribbling skills; and Carmucha, who seemed initially to have no great affinity for such activities, soon demanded to be included with cries of “! yo, yo, yo!” (or, “me, me, me!” in English), as bit by bit she learned to receive and, to some extent, pass on a ball. Of course she couldn’t have done it if the others hadn’t been very accommodating and encouraging. But then, none of us could!
In the course of the two months I was involved with the Centre, books and balls proved a wonderful way for me to get to know the young people. I learned a huge amount, not only about their physical capabilities, but even more so about how eager they were to try new things, and how they learned from and watched out for each other. Indeed they were even willing to try singing “Ol’ McDonald Had a Farm” which we practised over and over again as Carina, the physiotherapist, wanted them to learn a song in English. What I learned about myself was that I really, really loved being with them.
As I was only in Peru for the summer (or winter in the southern hemisphere), I was worried about how to get someone to take over and follow through the reading activities once I left. And then a solution presented itself: I just mentioned it to some Peruvian friends and, quite unexpectedly, they offered to take it over one day a week, in spite of the fact that they already had busy lives. Indeed it now has an added cinema dimension as one of the new “recruits”, Eddy, is very keen on cinema and photography.
So my last few trips to Las Lomas, while very sad, were also very rewarding because I knew I was sharing and handing on what I had gained. I really did feel part of a team or even a family. And I took away tons of hugs and kisses, all of which I have stored up in my heart against the Irish winter.
Muchas gracias a todos y a todas.
Ruth Bracken

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