In late April, I went on my first (hopefully of many) humanitarian trip to Arequipa, Peru. My best friend invited me on what was a trip of a lifetime. We went with an organization called Hearts With Hope, whose goal is to provide Latin American families access to medical care and other necessities for their children with congenital heart disease. This trip could not have come at a more perfect time in my life for many reasons, and it was incredible to get the opportunity to help so many children in need just a few weeks before I found out I was pregnant myself.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was going to the local schools in the villages. We gave fluoride treatments and educated over 200 children a day on dental health. The kids were so excited to meet us and greeted us with endless amounts of hugs and smiles. They touched my hair and skin as if it was gold, and loved having their pictures taken over and over again. They, of course, knew they could see the pictures on the camera, so they would ask to see each one. When looking at the pictures, they would giggle hysterically and then pose for the next one. As I observed their school, I noticed their playground was just a slab of dirt and cement. Their bathrooms had no toilet paper, yet they are required to wear uniforms (I assume most children only own one). Their little bodies were dirty and their hair wasn’t washed. I observed them eating their lunches daily on the playground, which usually consisted of a piece of white bread, candy, and soda. I couldn’t believe the amount of decay in the children’s mouths, but their nutrition explained it loud and clear.
These children walked blocks, sometimes miles, to school with their siblings to get an education. I couldn’t help but notice how full of life they were. They don’t own fancy clothes, iPods, or video games, but they are REALLY, truly happy. Their happiness showed on their faces regardless of how little or how much they had.
The other days on the mission were spent in the hospital with children going into open-heart surgery. It was pretty incredible watching the children undergo life-threatening surgery and then have the strength to go home only a couple of days later. The light in their eyes and smiles on their faces are embedded in my memory. The families were so grateful and appreciative that they brought tears to my eyes daily.
The truth is, I don’t think I have ever seen the kind of beauty that I saw in Peru. Not only from the children, but also from their parents, grandparents, siblings, and volunteers. Some of the best surgeons, doctors, anesthesiologists, nurses, and dentists in the country volunteered their time, talents, and love to these children. Beauty shone through all of their faces, even at the end of a thirteen-hour day, because they wanted to be there and they wanted to make a difference in these children’s lives. I was in awe of the company I had on this trip. I feel so blessed and inspired and deeply hope to be able to show my child this kind of beauty someday. These children taught me that beauty comes from the heart, even when it needs a little fixing.
Click through my slideshow to see the beautiful faces of these Peruvian children.
*Note: all photos were taken by the amazing photographer on our trip, Sara Bateman