Approximately 30 miles from Lima, the capital of Peru, in the foothills of the Andes mountains is located a home for destitute ill children directed by Dr. Anthony Lazzara, a parishioner of Christ the King Parish in Tampa, Florida. Dr. Lazzara is a pediatrician who left an academic position at Emory University in 1983 to begin an apostolate among the poor children of the Developing World. The home is called Hogar San Francisco de Asis (St. Francis of Assisi Home) and receives sick children whose parents cannot afford to buy them required medicines or treatments to restore them to health. The children live in the home and receive all necessary medications, food, and other needs without charge. Once they are well, the children return to their families. The most frequent illnesses treated are chronic diarrhea, malnutrition, tuberculosis and chronic respiratory diseases. There is a full complement of nursing staff to care for the children 24 hours a day as well as cooks, laundresses, and other ancillary personnel.
The day begins at 6:00 A.M. From my room on the third floor, I can hear the children stirring below, waking up, complaining, some crying. I get up, grope for the keys and go down to the second floor where the children’s rooms are located. There are four rooms: one for the infants, one for the younger boys, one for the adolescent boys, and one for the girls. By the time I arrive, the nurses are dressing the children, washing their faces and getting them ready for the day. I take a turn through the infant’s room, quickly ascertaining how the sick ones fared during the night. The nurses are quite good about advising me if one should become worse, but there have been times when they did not recognize that an infant was not improving. That done, I head to the first floor to unlock the doors, open the windows, and turn on the pump for the well. Then it is back to the second floor to supervise the children in the cleaning of the house. With 30 children, some retarded, the house is in constant need of cleaning, especially the bathrooms, so the first order of business in the day is to clean the house. Those children that are able to clean are assigned a specific task, such as cleaning one of the bathrooms or sweeping one of the bedrooms. It is organized chaos, but it is usually done by 7:00 A.M. when we breakfast. After breakfast, the children who are able to do so attend the local public school. For those who cannot, due to illness or if they entered the home late in the school year, a teacher arrives at 8:00 A.M. to give them lessons At 7:00 A.M., the nursing shift changes and by 8:30, I am making rounds with the nurse in charge, going over each child’s chart and receiving the report of the preceding day and night, planning what changes, if any, are needed in the care of the child. That done, the day for me can take several turns. I may have to go into Lima to buy medicines or equipment or to visit a child in the hospital or I may need to stay in the home to receive admissions. Some admissions are planned but the majority are unplanned, the parents bringing the child to the door on the recommendation of a social worker, a local medical dispensary, a parish, or simply through word of mouth. The requirements to enter the home are two: the child must be too ill to be cared for at home and the family must be destitute, unable to buy the medications and other medical services needed to restore the child to health. Once admitted, the child will stay in the home, receiving all that is necessary for his recuperation free of charge, after which he will return to his family. If the child requires surgery for whatever reason, he is taken to a hospital in Lima and then returned to the home for subsequent recuperation before returning to his parents. Peru, as most developing countries, is very poor and there are no social services to provide for those who cannot pay for needed services. If a child’s family cannot afford medications or hospitalization, the child simply will not receive them. It is the goal of the home to provide such services for destitute children.
I first came to Peru in 1983 after ten years in academic pediatrics at Emory University in Atlanta. If one were to ask me why I left my work in the United States and came to a country I had never seen and knew very little about, I guess I would have to say I felt an unease, a feeling that I was not where I was supposed to be, that the Lord would have me elsewhere. I wrote to various charitable agencies offering my services but heard nothing for six months and began to doubt if my calling was genuine. Then, by chance, a Franciscan came to my Atlanta parish for a fund raising endeavor, describing the Franciscan missions in Africa. I sensed an opportunity and wrote to the Franciscan provincial mother house in Wisconsin. Two weeks later, a Franciscan who had a medical dispensary for the destitute in Peru invited me to work with him. When push came to shove, the decision to leave a tenured position in a well known university with guaranteed job security to work in a situation which had no definite guarantees was quite difficult to make, but I felt that familiar unease and knew I had to try. I arrived in Peru in April of 1983, remained in the dispensary four and one half years and was then able to buy the present home and branch out on my own.
The most frequent diagnoses of the children we receive are of illnesses due to poverty: tuberculosis, chronic diarrhea, malnutrition, parasitosis, and chronic respiratory diseases. We also receive children with cleft lip and palate, congenital malformations and other surgical conditions.
We call the home Hogar San Francisco de Asis after the much loved saint who cherished the poor and lived as one of them. To maintain the home, we depend entirely on donations. In 1984, shortly after arriving in Peru, my father, brother Michael and I established the Villa la Paz (Home Of Peace) Foundation to collect funds for the work. We invite you to participate with us in the care of God’s forgotten little ones. We are the only hope these children have. Every dollar sent to the Foundation is used for medical care and food for the destitute. No Foundation money is spent on administrative overhead and expenses.