Grad helps children with special needs in Peru
Published: Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 17:09
UCF alumna Ana De La Rosa has been working in Peru with the Peace Corps to build a classroom for children with disabilities.
Since 1960, volunteers like De La Rosa have been serving their country through the Peace Corps. This government agency was started to better unite people from all countries and to help out the individuals, children and communities of those developing countries. Its goal is to promote peace and friendship throughout the world. There have been more than 200,000 volunteers making those goals possible by serving in more than 130 countries.
De La Rosa, now 28, graduated from UCF in 2010 with a major in political science and a minor in international and global studies. When asked why she wanted to do work for the Peace Corps, De La Rosa reminisced in the memory of an old friend, former UCF student Andre Reyna.
“While it [the Peace Corps was] something I had talked about wanting to do since I first read about it in a book when I was 15, it mostly felt like an out-of-reach dream meant for other people with better life circumstances," De La Rosa said in an email. "He [Reyna] gave me the push I needed to apply for myself and helped me believe that I was worth at least trying.”
De La Rosa and Reyna were close and she even joined him on a trip to Atlanta where he had his Peace Corps entrance interview. She was excited that they both were sharing this experience and that they planned to not only be Peace Corps pen pals, but also friends for life. Reyna died in a car crash in 2009 at the age of 21, just a semester before his graduation.
De La Rosa decided to do this service not only for herself but in memory of her dear friend.
“He is such a big part of how I ended up here and through the trying times, the reason I have stayed,” De La Rosa said.
Being told that she would be sent to Peru came as a surprise to De La Rosa. She knew nothing of the country except for the fact that Machu Picchu was around there somewhere.
She and her fellow volunteers are working on a classroom for the Señor Cautivo Special Needs School, which is located in the city of Corrales, Peru. This classroom will be equipped with various physical therapy materials. For most of the materials, the volunteers will have to pay to have them made because there are no stores that sell such equipment. Other supplies such as books, toys and mats have been purchased in surrounding cities, some as far as a 24-hour bus ride away. It will also have one computer for the teacher and staff and three XO laptops for the children. XO laptops are small and durable, designed and built for developing countries. The goal is to get the children familiar with technology and then expand the computer lab in the future.
The school principal, Noelia Montenegro, is going to be in charge of the classroom that will be available to the 10 students who attend Señor Cautivo Special Needs School. It will also be available to an additional 40 students who do not attend the school but are enrolled in special-needs services that are overseen by its staff members. The classroom will be open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. for any of the students in the program.
De La Rosa has kept herself busy with not only this project but countless other ones as well. She does work for the prevention of HIV/AIDS in teenagers, running two teen groups and overseeing five. De La Rosa also has a Healthy Homes project where she works with 50 families to help improve living conditions. She is a trainer for the nursing students at the National University of Tumbes in Peru, works with three elementary schools in a Healthy Schools project and takes on a variety of other side projects.
She notes that this entire experience has been, to say the least, life altering.
“For two years you leave every modern comfort, your family, friends, relationships, everything you have ever known to give of yourself to the small community you have been dropped off at,” De La Rosa said. “There are lots of tears and frustration and disappointments. There is also a lot of acceptance and kindness and laughter and love.”
De La Rosa recounts some wise words from her former fifth grade teacher who told her to imagine a world that had been taken over by computers, to imagine that they would be able to do everything that is humanly possible. But to think of the one thing that a computer could not have — heart. De La Rosa was told to live with heart and to do work with heart.
“No one and no thing can ever replace the human heart and its capacity to make a difference. I plan on doing this kind of work the rest of my life,” she said.