Blanca lost half her brain after a seizure at the age of two. She is easily irritated. She bites, spits and slaps. She is difficult to be around. Blanca lives and is cared for at the Hogar de San Francisco de Asis Peruvian Home for Destitute and Disabled Children, an orphanage outside of Lima, Peru.
Hannah Everett came to know Blanca by volunteering at the orphanage for a month. Finding the humanity in Blanca, Everett believes, helped her find her own grace and patience. Blanca and the orphanage made such an impression on Everett, she is hosting two fundraisers this weekend at the Gold Town Nickelodeon.
The events occur 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 8 and 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9. The fundraiser will begin with a movie, include a presentation by Everett and Peruvian refreshments made by Everett. Proceeds will go to the Villa La Paz Foundation, (http://www.villalapazfoundation.org/), a Florida nonprofit that will convert the funds into Peruvian currency and forward it to the orphanage.
The film is called “The Human Experience.” Two brothers search for remnants of humanity in a violent and unsympathetic world by inserting themselves into supposedly hopeless situations. They sleep with the homeless during a Manhattan winter, live in a Ghanaian leper colony and volunteer at Blanca’s Peruvian Orphanage.
Everett will share a slideshow of her experiences at the orphanage after the movie. Everett heard about the orphanage from a friend. She traveled there and participated independently of any college or church program. Anyone can volunteer, Everett mentioned; all you have to do is pay to get yourself there. Volunteer forms will be available at the fundraiser.
Dr. Anthony (Tony) Lazzara, an American from Tampa, Fla., was a religious man, a pediatrician and a professor at Emory University. Traveling in Peru, Dr. Lazzara met a Franciscan monk who owned a house and dispensed medications to local children in need. In 1984, Dr. Lazzara bought the house, gave up his Tampa life and started the orphanage.
The orphanage houses and cares for 39 kids from 0 to 18 years of age. Forty children is its maximum capacity, but as many as 70 children have lived there. Dr. Lazzara turns down no child. The children living there have all manner of health problems.
Healing is slow, but successful for some. It takes time, and the medical situation in Peru is hard. It is difficult, Everett said, for an American to be there. It is difficult to see kids with deformities such as cleft lip and palate that do not get treated until late in life.
Running the orphanage is tough. Dr. Lazzara is 71. He is looking for a replacement. I asked Everett if she would consider running the place.
She answered by listing her professional options, life’s goals and then a “no.”
Everett is a double major in International Affairs and Economics at Florida State University. After she’s finished, she might join the Peace Corps, or she might work for the U.S. State Department, or she might work for the United Nations, or she might start her own international non-profit teaching women self defense, or she might work for any number of non-governmental nonprofits specializing in international aid to children.
(Ah, youth. Listening to Everett, I remembered that marvelous time when you’re young, smart and awake enough to actually accomplish something. And I mean your life. It certainly wasn’t, or isn’t, mine. My life’s current plan is to smoke some year-old salmon to clear out the freezer. That’s only if it’s not raining because my extension cord is cracking and taped so it looks like a coral snake.)
Everett acknowledges the importance of direct aid efforts, like this weekend’s fundraisers. Her education and experience, however, has convinced her of the importance of encouraging change at a policy level.
Policy-based obstacles for good health care are everywhere in Peru. Doctors’ pay is one. Peruvian doctors make about $2,000 a month, a difficult salary with which to pay medical school bills. As such, the doctors occasionally strike. Another Peruvian law requires many simple medical procedures be done in hospitals. The nearest hospital to the orphanage is an hour and a half away. Much of staff time is spent shuttling children to and from the hospital.
Everett then gives the example of Percy. Percy was born with his esophagus dislocated from his stomach (esophageal atresia).
The one doctor in Peru who can fix the condition botched the initial operation. Percy needed to go to the United States.
The Villa La Paz Foundation has money for these circumstances. Funding isn’t the obstacle. The Peruvian government is. They need a letter from the child’s attending doctor stating they cannot perform the procedure.
Dr. Lazzara tried to convince the local doctor to write the letter. The doctor would not write the note. He did not want to admit to the government his operation on a 4-year-old failed. Percy still has a dislocated esophagus.
Thus Everett, acknowledging these larger policy issues, says no to running the orphanage. Percy’s problem is a policy problem. Current incentives are to save face rather than a child. This is where Everett wants to reside. Encouraging leaders to change their priorities. If not but for pride and paperwork, that kid could get fixed? And perhaps on a larger scale, if not but for pride and paperwork that Peru could realize its potential?
“I don’t want to treat the symptoms of what’s going on with these kids, I want to treat the causes so these kids don’t have to be there to begin with,” Everett said. Don’t bet she won’t.
Everett belongs to a family of doers. Her sister is Sarah Maria Everett. I wrote about Sarah in a May article during the runup to her “Calico” show, a collection of short staged skits. The sisters share quick intelligence, passion and a belief that they alone can make a difference. They are a good example of the humanity sought after in “The Human Experience,” right here in Juneau.
So I asked Everett what their parents fed them — thinking it must have been a potent combination of caffeine, carbs and ginkgo biloba.
“Love,” Everett said. “A lot of love.”
Love is the nourishment of caring parents, a kind of nourishment orphaned children like Blanca and Percy may never have. Due to her condition, Blanca may not see 16. Who knows how old Percy will get? But that doesn’t mean Blanca, Percy and the other children will never feel love or receive guidance. Not necessarily. The orphanage is there and trying. They need help. And this weekend we can help, even if just a little.
Leave Everett to worry about the big picture when she moves on to change the world. For the rest of us mere mortals, a little can mean a lot.
• Clint J. Farr can be reached at email@example.com.