Planeterra – The G.A.P Adventures Foundation: Helping the Children of Peru
By Melissa Vitti
The country of Peru evokes images of breathtaking landscapes which once were home to the ancient Incan empire. Today, in Cuzco, Peru, where the heart of this empire once stood, is a city full of impoverished and displaced children working and begging.
Walking along the streets of Cuzco, surrounded by beautiful mountains and architecture are native children facing unforgiving realities.
Many of the children shining shoes and selling cigarettes on the streets of Cuzco are working to support their families before their return home from school. But 35% of these young children cannot balance these heavy responsibilities and are forced to give up school in order to work.
In addition, many children are homeless as a result of abuse, neglect and abandonment. With few options, these children are forced to make the streets their home, consuming alcohol and drugs and sniffing glue to satisfy hunger pains, and often prostitute themselves and/or beg to make ends meet.
The House of the People of the Sun
In the face of these difficult realities, one program is working to provide a safe haven for these children. Inti Runakunaq Wasin (IRW), Quechua for “House of the People of the Sun,” is a local non-profit organization offering a place for children who live in extreme poverty.
It is supported by the Planeterra Foundation, developed by G.A.P Adventures of Toronto, which is dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of people and communities around the world through support of community projects, local organizations and international charities.
The House of the People of the Sun is a home that is open during the day and run by volunteer teachers and social workers.
Children may come for the initial nutritious meals they receive at the house, but are encouraged to stay for the array of programs the IRW offers. These programs provide the children with a chance to participate in valuable skills such as carpentry, cooking, music, shoe repair and even English.
Making a Difference
IRW was providing this service to about 50 children until they were evicted in December, 2006, by its owner to rent to his family. In order to purchase a permanent home for this valuable program, they need to raise $100,000. IRW and Planeterra have raised the $30,000 needed to secure the land and the future of this much needed sanctuary, but they still need help raising the rest of the funds to ensure the program’s success.
Through the Planeterra Foundation, G.A.P Adventures is supporting many projects like the House of the People of the Sun, and they encourage donations that will allow these important project to continue. Besides making contributions, travelers can also work as volunteers at the projects as part of their G.A.P Adventures tours.
G.A.P Adventures is a worldwide tour company serving more than 40,000 travelers every year. Founder Bruce Poon Tip says the Planeterra Foundation provides a way for travelers and donors to come together to support the people and communities they visit.
“It’s about community, people and cultural exchange,” he says. “It is our duty to show ultimate respect for the privilege we all have with modern international travel.”
G.A.P Adventures pays for all administration costs, so individual contributions go directly to local projects.
“We ensure that 100% of your donation goes back to the people and supports community development with the goal of promoting long-term sustainability,” Poon Tip says.
“In appreciation of the people and places that have provided us with unforgettable memories and experiences, we encourage travelers to help us give back to the country in which they have traveled.”
Works in Progress
The Planeterra Foundation works in many different ways to give back to communities. In Belize, there is a strong need for natives to learn the country’s official language, English, but educators need the resources to do so. Planeterra has worked with the Cornerstone Foundation to provide the necessary tools for locals to participate actively in society with books that have the correct cultural context.
Pamela VanDeusan of the Cornerstone Foundation extends her appreciation to the Planeterra Foundation.
“Books are the key to learning, and the Planeterra Foundation has provided the key for many students to continue to learn in Belize,” says VanDeusan.
Anther Planeterra community project reaches out to those who were victim of Hurricane Mitch’s devastating damage in Honduras. Mitch’s wrath destroyed the few resources people had, leaving 61% of its population to survive on less than $1 a day. The Adelente Foundation provides women with short term loans to start up their own business endeavors. To date Planeterra has provided the capital needed for 43 women to start up their own business ventures enabling them to provide for themselves and their families.
Planeterra is working with a non-profit organization in Costa Rica to save the gravely endangered Titi monkeys of the Manuel Antonio area.
Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR) is a non-profit organization founded in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, by two school children, Janine Licare Andrews, her friend Aislin Livingstone, and Janine’s mother, Jennifer Rice. In 1998, the girls, at 9 years old, sold painted rocks at a roadside table with the hopes of raising enough money to save the rainforests and Titi monkeys.
The leading causes of death for the Titis were electrocution and being hit by cars. With the help of Planeterra, Kids Saving the Rainforest has placed monkey bridges above the roads of Manuel Antonio.
Planeterra also supports programs that provide schools, medical care, reforestation, and other community-based programs in Ecuador, Cuba, Peru, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. Through other programs children and adults learn skills like weaving, carpentry, agriculture and auto repair.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic is having a devastating effect on the lives of millions of children worldwide especially in Africa. South Africa may be one of Africa’s strongest economies, but the HIV pandemic has weakened the nation, taking a severe toll on its adult population.
South Africa has the sixth highest prevalence of HIV in the world, with 18.8% of the population estimated to be infected. As children lose one or both parents to the epidemic and are either taken into care by other family members or suddenly find themselves responsible for younger siblings, the fabric of society begins to shift and change in unprecedented ways.
In the South African community of Shalati there are many single parent families and a vast number of orphaned children, often cared for by their grandparents. This is due in part to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Many children do not begin school until the age of eight, and receive no formal education and limited support during their early formative years.
Based on the needs of these families and children, Planeterra’s aim is to assist the local community with their goal of building and developing a pre-school so that children are provided with a secure and nurturing environment to learn and grow.
Donations raised through the Planeterra Foundation will provide funding for the construction and development of the preschool. In addition, travelers who participate in G.A.P’s Project Southern Africa tour will have the opportunity to help with the building and maintenance of this brand new project.
In addition to the promise they have made that 100% of the donations are given to the Planeterra project of the donor’s choice, G.A.P Adventures has also started a dollar-a-day program where you can sign up to donate a dollar each day of your trip to the community you’re visiting.
Fundraising has played a central role in contributing to Planeterra’s success. Participants choose which program they’d like to fundraise for and the Planeterra Foundation works with them to organize an event.
G.A.P. Adventures has started volunteer tours where travelers can become directly involved in local communities and make a real difference. A program titled Project Peru is currently aiming to bring both volunteering and traveling together to provide locals with a team effort that will undoubtedly make a lasting impression long after the volunteer travelers leave.
On volunteer tours, travelers are welcomed by local host families to live and work together to build Peruvian cooking stoves. These communities rely on travelers and volunteers because they don’t have the resources to build safe clean stoves themselves. The significance of these stoves is the removal of smoke in the kitchen, a 50% reduction in wood use, as well as the reduction of lung and eye infections that plague children and women.
To learn more about community projects like these and other ways to help, visit Planeterra.org.
Melissa Vitti is an intern at GoNOMAD.com. She attends the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
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