When I first spoke to the Derry Journal about the children’s charity, Put Them First, which I co-founded with a great friend of mine called Ben Reiter, we had just started to support a primary school in the poor area of Chiguata, Peru.
That was in the summer of 2011. Less than nine months later, we have had more than 20 volunteers from all over the world joining us, as well as 10 local Peruvians, working in three permanent projects.
On paper, maybe, the progress would almost seem too quick but this reflects the level of need in Arequipa and the kindness of good people everywhere. Our volunteers would tell us that their experience is very meaningful: we still support the primary school; we provide volunteers and daily food for a refuge where single mothers leave their children while they work; and our most recent and measurable project, in terms of literacy, is our library. We aim to open approximately two libraries per year to facilitate the communities on the outskirts of Arequipa.
The Living Library project aims to improve literacy rates, enhance their creativity using alternative teaching methodologies and, in turn, improve their chance to go to college one day. This is important to break the cycle of poverty.
Our experience in terms of running a charity has been that we are constantly meeting interested and generous people. This is exactly what happened after the publication of the article in the ‘Derry Journal’ last summer. I was contacted by Ann Marie Meehan, head of languages at St Joseph’s Boys’ School in Creggan, who, along with her pupils, set about finding ways to fundraise for us. They hosted a sponsored spell and they have, so far, raised £400 for our projects. This money provided food for all of our 70 children for more than three weeks.
I recently visited St. Joseph’s to meet some of the pupils and to explain how their generous donations are used. Seamus Toman, Head of Junior School, introduced the idea of sending them football shirts and even (uninflated) footballs to encourage physical education and their love of sport. Special thanks are also due to the school principal, Damian Harkin, for his support of all involved.
The poverty and the deprivation that these children experience are extreme so the need is evident.
Please check out the website www.putthemfirst.org or the Facebook page under Put Them First. Donations, no matter how small, are greatly appreciated.
Emma Doherty, who is from Derry, is co-founder and director of Put Them First.