It’s a hard-knock life for a volunteer

B eing a volunteer is not always easy, and most volunteer organisations operate smoothly. However, one organization has been having a rough time for the past two months. Normally the people of the Esperanza community know that the organization is doing something good for their community, and takes good care of the workers. But recently things have turned bad and there is a feeling of disappointment everywhere you walk.

The Huaraz Telgraph gets the scoop on the dark story of Esperanza. On the 13th of February 2013 the volunteers of Horizon Peru in Esperanza, Trujillo had a surprise visit – not a positive one though. It was 5.50 pm, and classes where going on both upstairs and downstairs in the house. The front door that is normally kept closed was open because of the heat. The volunteers of the house felt so safe in the community that they were used to having the front gate and door wide open. It is also normal practice for students to walk in and wait for their classes. On this particular day a young man in his late teens walked in and went up the stairs; as this was the norm no one paid any attention to him. The young man stopped at a window, looked out, made a phone call, talked to someone outside and walked back down the stairs.

There were 11 volunteers in the house; six were in classes, three on the ground floor, and three on the first floor. The director, together with the co-founder of the organisation, was in the back office. Four more volunteers were in the backyard preparing for their 6 pm classes. Everything seemed normal until three young men stormed in through the front door, while a yellow taxicab waited outside with a man inside. One of the intruders hit a mother who was sitting near the entrance waiting for her seven-year-old child to finish his class. They forced her down on the floor. By now only the three volunteers downstairs were aware of the situation. The volunteers in the downstairs front room were all asked to lie face down on the floor, one volunteer managed to escape to the back office. Meanwhile a teacher upstairs noticed the scared look on the faces of her students, but since she didn’t understand Spanish she could not grasp the seriousness of the situation or what was happening in general.

When she heard someone shout: “SUELTA! SUELTA!” she walked over to the steps, and looked down to see a woman lying on the floor, the teacher began to run down the stairs as she thought the woman may have been having a heart attack. But she saw the other volunteer, and the children lying face down on the ground too. She tried to sneak back up but it was too late, one of the intruders noticed her and commanded her and her students – at gun-point – to lay face down on the ground. He then entered the class rooms and stole some iPhones, 600 soles, a mirror, a credit card and a bottle of nail polish. By now the volunteer who managed to run to the back was in shock and only managed to mumble a couple of words out while crying – “GUNS! MEN! IN THE FRONT! HIDE!” – Then she hid behind the refrigerator. The director, together with the co-founder, hid in the office bathroom. There were three boys in the back seeking somewhere to hide when a young boy pointed a gun at them and asked them to walk with him into the office.

The gunman forced the director and the co-founder out and asked all of them to lie down on the floor. The boy then hit the director on her back, because she tried to talk to him. “Callate!” the gunman shouted while hitting her repeatedly. The boy’s partner entered the back office and grabbed whatever he could see of value: a camera, an iPod, laptop and the printer was shoved into a backpack. It appeared that the thieves panicked, because on the way out they left the backpack with the printer in it by the door before running out. They all get into the small yellow Tico taxi and sped away. Everything was over in less than seven minutes, but for the volunteers and the children involved it felt like a lifetime. After the terrifying ordeal the mom was in shock, and her seven- year-old son, who had just witnessed his mom being beaten down, had wet himself. Two of the volunteers remember that the director had just bought a massive box of chocolates for the Valentine’s Day party, and they decided to bring them out now, and give them all out to eat to help calm everyone down while the director called the police.

When the police arrived everyone told their part of the story, and gave their witness reports, and a guard was designated to stay with them for protection and safety. Even though the volunteers had the number of the taxi, the police stated they were not going to be able to help them. Today, almost two months later, all the volunteers feel safe. They all decided to stay on and finish their scheduled time. The front door is always locked, and there are bars on the windows. A week ago, on the 20th of March they were shaken a second time. During the volunteers’ lunch break they heard shooting and they all dropped to the floor, luckily though this time they were not the target. The house in front of the school was in a drive by shooting. A 16-year-old girl and her father were injured. Police were at the scene quickly but not much could be done.

I asked the volunteers what they were still doing there. They all had the same answer: “We have responsibilities! We are here to show the children that we care. We are living amongst them to show them that we are equal. What would it tell them if we all packed our bags and left the: that we are spoiled, that we are fakes? This happened to all of us. We are part of the community now, and we will work hard to recuperate the feeling of safety.”

All for one and one for all indeed!

Text: Reem Amad Al Sadi

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