Reflections from Peru: An HHF Case Study

I have been working in the Communications Department of Happy Hearts Fund for 9 months. Despite having sorted and organized thousands of photos of Happy Hearts Fund school opening ceremonies during those months – I was completely unprepared for the joy and understanding that would come along with seeing a Happy Hearts Fund school opening first hand.

On November 9th, 2014 Happy Hearts Fund opened it’s 9th school in Peru- the Villa Magisterial School – and I was lucky enough to attend its opening ceremony. When we first arrived at the school’s entrance gate we were greeted by the loud beating drums of the school’s band. Standing in two parallel lines from the entrance gate to our seats were adorable 4 year old children dressed in traditional Peruvian clothing. As they greeted us they held handmade signs that said heart wrenching things like, “When you open the doors of a school, you close the doors of a prison” and “Thank you for helping us with our dreams.”

Peru photo 1

 

Before continuing my story I should share a little background about this school. This kindergarten and elementary school is located in the southern Peruvian city of Arequipa and is overlooked by the majestic volcano, Misti, and the Andes Mountains. In 2013, the community surrounding the Villa Magisterial School was impacted by destructive floods and landslides that devastated the community and left the school unusable. Classes continued to be held in 6 prefabricated classrooms that were overcrowded and very cold during winter months. Without a school building, the students lacked proper sanitation facilities.

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Happy Hearts Fund, along with our Local Partner, AFP Integra – SURA Peru, began reconstruction of this school in February 2014 and were proud to open the rebuilt school 9 months later.

The opening ceremony consisted of traditional dances, songs, and skits performed by some of the students as well as speeches by the school principal and HHF and SURA representatives.

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For me one of the most moving parts of the opening ceremony was observing the overwhelming support that the school received from the community. It was clear, by the many adults in attendance that the community members were actively involved and cared for the well-being of the school. Multiple local officials attended the ceremony to share words of congratulations and support for the school. Many parents of the students also attended the ceremony. Some even offered a performance of a traditional peruvian dance to express their gratitude. I was honored to be a part of the process to provide these caring people with the school building that they desperately wanted for their children.

Seeing the children’s eyes light up as they played with the computers that were added to the brand new computer lab was a particularly special moment for me. I spend the majority of my working hours at a computer. Having computer skills is not only necessary for me to work, it’s also the tool that allows me to fulfill my passions. To think that because of this school reconstruction and the brand new computer lab, these students will now have the opportunity to pursue their dreams and passions in the same way that I have, is an incredibly moving thought.

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Overall my experience in Peru validated my understanding of the need for sustained response after a natural disaster. Without continued support, communities continue to struggle. Children that are eager to learn often wait years to return to school. Through Happy Hearts Fund’s mission to rebuild schools, we aim to end that gap period between the initial disaster response and reconstruction. Amazingly, since the Villa Magisterial school reopened, it has seen a 45% increase in attendance!

 

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I would like to give a special thank you to everyone who worked together to make this school reconstruction possible. Thank you to SURA, our on the ground partner and fund-matching partner. Also, I’d like to send a HUGE thank you to Three Ocean Partners for their continued support of Happy Hearts Fund and for donating the funds necessary to rebuild this school.

Cienna Tardy, Communications Manager of Happy Hearts Fund

Peru photo 7