A Glimpse of Life at the Hogar
“Victor still needs to have his foot washed”, Tony says to nobody in particular. “I’m coming” says Helen, a 21-year old from London. Meanwhile, 8-year old Victor is sitting in his high chair, with one leg and a bare foot sticking out above the tray. Helen finishes washing Josue’s hands and heads over to Victor with the little tub of water and a towel. Seven-year old Josue occupies the other high chair at the opposite side of the room. Josue is busy making faces at Jen, the 23-year old Georgian who is waiting to give Josue a little help with his dinner. Between the two high chairs are three tables of kids waiting to say their mealtime prayer. “Silencio Ninos!” yells Tony as he begins the prayer. Tony and most of the kids are busy praying, but 4-year old, bald- headed Reina can’t contain herself. She just has to turn around and give us her famous ear-to-ear grin. And so, another typical meal at the Hogar San Francisco de Assis in Chaclacayo Peru begins.
The “us” Reina is grinning at are my wife Jolley and me and some of the other volunteers who are at the Hogar giving Tony a hand. Tony is Dr. Tony Lazzara a 1960 graduate of Jesuit High in Tampa. I am much, much younger than Tony and I reminded him of that fact several times during our two week stay. After all, I didn’t graduate from Jesuit until 1961.
But we aren’t the important part of this story. The important part is this wonderful group of kids – Victor, Josue, Reina, and their 55 compadres. They are all Tony’s kids. Eight year old Victor might be the star of the show, but he definitely has some competition. Victor only has one leg and no arms. He does have a prosthesis to serve as a second leg so he can walk. But, the amazing thing is that he has learned to do everything most people do with their hands by using his only foot. He eats and drinks, he washes his face, and he is learning to write. One day I even saw him using a small screwdriver to help assemble a new toy.
Josue is one of the kids at the Hogar with cerebral palsy. Josue needs a lot of help and spends most of his day in a wheel chair. But, when it comes time to eat, don’t try to help him too much. He wants to do it himself and, with an unbelievable amount of determination, he usually manages just fine. Reina is one that can steal your heart. She is currently undergoing chemotherapy, thanks to Tony. Actually, they‘ll all steal your heart. Jaime and Jefferson and Job and Angela and Julia and all of them. Angela will really knock your socks off. She is about five years old and so cute. If you want to get a good look at her you have to be able to zero in on a moving target. She only has one leg, but I’d match her and her crutch against most five year olds in a race, kicking a soccer ball, or going up the steps the fastest. She is also missing a couple of fingers on one of her hands. Her father couldn’t take it and almost smothered her with a pillow before he was caught. Now Angela is one of Tony’s kids for a while. And so it goes, on and on. 58 kids when we were there. They ranged in age from 4 months to about 25 years.
Last October Jolley was reading the Jesuit High newsletter. One of the alumni notes mentioned an alumnus who had volunteered for Tony Lazzara and described the work he does in Peru. Jolley was looking for a good place to volunteer and did some more research about Tony and his work. At one time, 27 years ago, Tony was teaching at Emory University Medical School. He felt he needed to do something more. He went to Lima, Peru to help out at a facility for kids there. Two years later he managed to buy a large house and that was the beginning of the Hogar (“home” in Spanish). For twenty-five years Tony has been making it work. He cares for destitute kids who are in need of medical care. They live in the Hogar while he arranges their medical treatment, usually through one of the four hospitals in Lima. The Hogar is in a city named Chaclacayo, about 45 minutes outside of Lima. With the exception of about three weeks each year, Tony lives and works at the Hogar, 7 days a week. The whole operation is dependent on donations and help from volunteers. And believe me, there isn’t a penny wasted. Try feeding 58 kids three meals a day for $300 a week.
Jolley and I went down and volunteered a couple of weeks in July. What a wonderful experience it was. Tony has a permanent staff that consists of nurses, cooks, a physical therapist, two teachers, two laundresses, and two people who direct the volunteers with regard to getting the kids to Lima for treatment. The other stuff at the Hogar is done by the kids and the volunteers. The number of volunteers changes all of the time. Naturally there are more in the summer months because most of them are young and on summer vacation from school. When we were there, we were among a group of about twenty, the most ever. At other times of the year, there may be only a few. We were really lucky because we worked with some great volunteers. Eight of them were Irish kids who ranged in age from 18 to 27. Two college girls from Canada were there. (They had each volunteered for 2 months in Nicaragua last summer). Another was a high school teacher from Michigan who brought one of his students along. There were also six young Americans, including a Tampa Blake High School student and a USF student from Ocala.
As volunteers, our day usually began at the Hogar at 7:00am, which is breakfast time for the kids and Tony. (We stayed at a hotel/hostel about a twenty minute walk away.) Tony is very strict when it comes to eating. He knows that some of the maladies the kids suffer (cleft palates, club feet, etc.) resulted from malnutrition. He insists that every kid eat three meals a day. At mealtime our job was to help some of them wash their hands, get their food, wash and rinse the dishes, and help some brush their teeth after the meal. The kids dried the dishes, put them away, and swept the floor after the meal. That same meal scenario was repeated three times a day.
After breakfast some of the kids went to school, some were taken to Lima for treatment, and some received physical therapy at the Hogar. There were about 16 babies in the nursery. Jolley usually helped feed them, change them, wash them, etc. At about 9:30 the babies were brought down to play or taken out for walks in strollers. Jolley and I usually grabbed a couple of them and went for long strolls so we could get them out in the fresh air. My favorite strolling partner was 18-month old Joel. Throughout the day there was a lot of holding, playing, coloring, and stuff like that. Right up my alley, skill-wise.
Midafternoon was the time to take some of the older kids to the park for a couple of hours. We were normally a ragtag procession of wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers making our way down the street, the three blocks to the park. Our target time to return to the Hogar was 4:00pm. That was extremely important. That was when all of the volunteers took a break and went with Tony to a wonderful little coffee shop a few blocks away and enjoyed some delicious coffee and pastries. And then, back to the Hogar for dinner at five o’clock for some of the kids and six o’clock for the others who had been at school. After the dinner cleanup it was play time for a little while before the volunteers and Tony ate dinner, usually at about 7:30. Our day ended then but Tony’s went on for awhile longer, until all of the kids were in bed.
That was pretty much the routine during the week. On Saturdays the kids clean the Hogar from top-to-bottom and Tony and Clothilde (the chief cook) go to the market in the next town to buy the next week’s food. Several volunteers (including Jolley and me) accompanied them the weeks we were there. We all followed Clothilde and made the rounds of the various vendors. After an hour or two we returned with large bags full of potatoes, fruits, vegetables, along with some fish, chicken, beef and eggs. On Saturday evening most of the kids attend Mass. Tony takes the younger ones in the van and some of the volunteers accompany the others who walk or wheel the four blocks to the church. Sunday morning is pretty much play time and Sunday afternoon is movie (DVD) time at the Hogar.
At the end of our two weeks we were pretty much whipped but very gratified to have had the opportunity to have been part of the life at the Hogar for awhile. Some people asked if it was very sad being among those kids who had suffered and continue to suffer from so many afflictions. The truth is that it was just the opposite there. There was normally much joy there. Upon reflection we realize several things. Tony Lazzara has done more good than it is possible to imagine. He definitely needs help, both financially and from volunteers. That is the purpose of this little story, to ask for your help. Maybe you can spare a few bucks or maybe you are looking for a place to where you can help out. The total operation is dependent on donations, large and small, and on volunteers. The funding is handled through the Villa La Paz foundation that Tony has set up to collect donations. Villa La Paz has a website that tells much more about Tony’s work and the kids who have been there over the years and how you can help. The website is: www.villalapazfoundation.org
Two other things we learned: We got back a heck of a lot more than we gave during those two weeks. And, most of us don’t have any real problems.