Tuesday we had the wonderful experience of visiting the Señor de los Milagros school for children with severe disabilities in Huancayo, Peru. Everyone gathered in one room to celebrate Dia del Maestro, Day of the Teacher, a holiday honoring teachers. We were able to pass out gifts and interact with children and teachers. Several people made speeches honoring the teachers and thanking us. I felt humbled and grateful for all their kindness. I felt compelled to say something, in my limited Spanish, so I talked about how glad we were to be there, how much we admire their hard work and dedication, and that we are all working together for the benefit of the children. They gave certificates and cakes to the teachers, showed a slide show of the students, and had belly dancers accompanied by a young dancer with Down Syndrome, a student at the school. They served lunch of quinoa with a cheese sauce and rice and, much differently from schools in the U.S., served wine with the meal.
The most rewarding experience for me occurred with a 19-year-old young woman who was screaming as she entered the room. The director, Maria Cecilia Ore Vidalon, had told us about her last year. She has severe autism and noise hurts her ears. We placed headphones on her head, which muffled the sound, and immediately she relaxed. She was quiet, calm, smiling occasionally, throughout the morning.
We gave Maria a laptop computer, donated by Affordable Laptops in Riverton, Utah, and saw the beginnings of tears in her eyes. Although the government has given the school a computer, she has not had one of her own, one that she could take back and forth from school to home. She is a deeply committed educational professional. When we first met her last year, she said, “Es mi vocation; this is my vocation.”
We also gave a wheelchair to a nine-year-old and set up a ball pit for the children. We gave the school a box full of school supplies and passed out toothbrushes and toothpaste to everyone. I did a little training in calming strategies for children with autism and sensory sensitivities, as well as in picture communication systems for children who cannot talk. The teachers were welcoming and friendly, eager to learn new strategies, full of compassion for their students. I wanted to stay longer.