Selfless doctor gives life, dreams to unfortunate youth in Peru with Hogar clinic
By Caroline Young | firstname.lastname@example.org
Four or five of the children were covered in third-degree burns. One boy was missing a leg. Some were in wheelchairs. One was missing his ears. An older girl stared off into space unable to see, but she was smiling. They all were. They were happy, dancing and singing children.
I was new to the Hogar San Francisco de Asis, a children’s clinic in Chaclacayo, Peru. Dr. Anthony Lazarra opened the Hogar in 1987 after feeling unfulfilled with his career at Emory University in Atlanta. He began with the vision of curing as many poverty stricken children as possible and continues to live out his dream.
“The most rewarding thing about life in the Hogar is caring for the children and seeing their health improve,” Lazzara said.
Patients at the Hogar range from infants to young adults in their 20s.
Illnesses in the Hogar include brain tumors, clubbed feet, asthma, malnutrition, leukemia, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, cleft lip and palate and tuberculosis. Baby Maylie suffers from severe lung problems and has to intake nutrients and milk through a tube in her nose. Jefferson, 10, suffers from severe third-degree burns all over his body and skull. Roxanna, 12, is now dead after losing her vision and spending years of suffering from a malignant tumor in her brain.
The Hogar has a full staff of day and night nurses, two cooks, a doctor and a spiritual intercessor, Theresa Stowers. Known by the children as Mami Terri, Stowers works full time at the Hogar and lives in a convent a few blocks away. She spends the majority of her time assisting the doctor.
“My mission is to pray, intercede and take care of the doctor who is taking care of the kids,” Stowers said. “People say we are a good balance.”
She prays with the children, shares her love with them and believes that she is carrying out God’s plan for her.
“Being in Peru is a mission given to me by God,” Stowers said. “I was enjoying my life in my comfort zone when God spoke to me in my heart one day. When God tells you to do something, you do it.”
Lazzara runs a tight ship to make sure the Hogar stays organized and disciplined. The children have designated cleaning days and are required to attend a Catholic mass every Saturday evening. They must pray before every meal and finish all the food on their plates. They are provided with the best care as possible with improvements being made every year. Lazarra makes sure that the children who are physically and mentally capable attend school five days a week and have a tutor to help with homework. Weekly trips are made to the pediatric hospital in Lima by the Hogar staff and volunteers for the children to receive treatment. New advancements in the Hogar include remodeled bathrooms and a hydrotherapy pool.
“I hope to see it continue to serve the children who cannot receive care elsewhere,” Lazarra said.
Stowers wants to personally help the children continue their studies once their treatment is finished at the Hogar.
“Most of these kids come from the jungle or from the provinces and have no family in Lima, so they need somewhere to live and be able to continue going to school and maybe later on to a career,” Stowers said.
She believes that the Hogar would benefit by expanding. It is made for 45 children but it houses more than 60 at times.
“The doctor, being a compassionate and kind person, never turns anyone down,” Stowers said.
Only about a fourth of the children have visitors and most children’s uneducated families mistreated them.
“The most unfortunate case a child arrived at the Hogar with is being unwanted and abandoned,” Stowers said. “I think that is worse than being malnourished.”
Angela, 6, has a father who tried to kill her twice. Twins Briget and Baleria are deaf and blind with minimal brain activity after being left in a closet for several months. Violta has burn scars covering her body that could have been treated. Her father refused immediate treatment because her burns helped them receive money begging on the streets.
Part of the Hogar’s success is due to the donation of people’s time and money. Volunteers from around the globe come to give their time and love to the children of the Hogar. Volunteer Jarred Roddinghouse, 30, from Kansas spent nearly five months at the Hogar and developed an attachment to the children.
“It has really normalized for me what it means to have a disability as it has wore off pretty quickly that the kids have problems,” Roddinghouse said. “I look at them as having individual personalities.”
He grew especially fond of five-year-old Chenya, whose mother lives a few miles away but only comes to see her once a month. Both her mother and sister are AIDS patients.
The volunteers’ main responsibility is to help with homework and entertain the children. Daily trips to the park and Chaclacayo Public Library are always on the agenda. Volunteer Suzanna Fuez, 20, from Wyoming realizes how desperate the children are for attention.
“They just need all the love they can get,” Fuez said. “The hardest thing is hearing their stories and knowing that it is out of your control.”
The older patients enjoy spending time with the volunteers because they are interested in learning English. Jamie, 22, is studying to become an English teacher after he finishes his treatment at the Hogar. Thirteen-year-old Jaquelina has been at the Hogar for six months and enjoys everything about it.
“I love playing with the children and learning from the volunteers,” Jaquelina said. “It is a beautiful place.”
Patience is required to volunteer at the Hogar as the children have plenty of energy. Volunteers must come out of their comfort zones and be open to the challenge.
Local volunteer Ever Landeo, 29, benefits personally by spending several hours a week helping at the Hogar. He believes that working with the children helps him to have peace within his soul.
“I need to better my life, because my life used to be empty,” Landeo said. “I didn’t have control of my life before.”
Volunteering isn’t only a reality check for outsiders. It leaves people hungry to help more on their own. Darragh Quinn, 27, from Ireland, spent two months at the Hogar inspiring him to begin his own clinic. He plans to build a Hogar for the children who finish their medical treatment and need to continue school.
“When it’s time for the children to leave the Hogar I say goodbye in the knowledge that they have a life of poverty ahead of them and by starting up the Hogar that can change,” Quinn said.
Avery Bedford, 20, another volunteer from Wyoming, realized that she can make a big difference easily and wants to continue volunteering after visiting the Hogar.
“You always hear about kids not having anything, but you never actually see it,” Bedford said. “You see that thing are going on here and they need our help.”
The children share their love with everyone around them, including the volunteers and staff.
“The most rewarding thing about life at the Hogar for me is to be able to bring God’s love and joy to these kids, but in return, I get so much love back,” Stowers said. “It is awesome how I and the kids share this love and joy and it overflows onto those around us.”
The Hogar is filled with illnesses, some deadly, yet it is a joyous place. It’s impossible to spend a few minutes in the Hogar without hearing laughter.
“Working here makes me realize that you don’t have to necessarily have a lot of stuff to be happy,” Roddinghouse said. “The kids have difficult diseases and conditions but they are extremely happy.”
Lazzara’s main concern for the Hogar is that there won’t be people willing to follow in his footsteps.
“I hope that the Hogar will be able to continue as it is when I am no longer able to work,” he said.
He welcomes anybody who is willing to devote any amount of time, whether for only a week or for an entire year. Each volunteer has an opportunity to positively influence the children’s lives.
Lazzara’s purpose can be summarized by an adage on a poster in a Hogar bathroom: “One voice can change a song, one life can change the world.”