• James Parry

Local volunteers head to jungle to help improve the quality of life for needy families in Peru


Youngsters studying at their One School for All in Peru show their appreciation not only for all the volunteers from throughout our region who helped make it possible, but also for the country of Canada.

Deep in the jungles of Peru, in a little slum town of Pucallpa on the frontier of the Amazon Basin - population 15,000 and made up of largely squatters with no access to basic human needs including fresh water, health care, proper shelter, and nutrition - parents and youngsters alike are eagerly awaiting the arrival of 32 volunteer visitors in early March. Primarily from Hudson, St. Lazare, Vaudreuil-Dorion, and the West Island communities, as well as Montreal.

As they have done for the past five years, these dedicated volunteers, all of whom pay their own way and with donations from their communities, corporate sponsors, and friends of Hudson-based Pure Art, will be working all out - quite literally - to improve the life of families there, and from the immediate surrounding area.

The brainchild of Brigitte and Robert McKinnon, it is an initiative of the Pure Art Foundation, a registered charitable organization that receives funds from their Pure Art Fair Trade boutique in Hudson and other sources to run humanitarian programs in Peru, and other countries.

And over the past five years, it has grown from a single family initiative being built and funded there to a center of over 25 Pure Art Homes, medical clinic, pharmacy, as well as a health prevention and nutrition centre.

This year, volunteers will be building one new house and help with the construction of a self-sustaining sewing centre made possible through the support of Scotiabank, as well as visiting teachers and the 300 Pure Art children enrolled in its 'One School For All' program and starting school that very week, March 5-12.

Explained Brigitte McKinnon in an exclusive interview with Your Local Journal this week, “Pure Art is privileged to have a very solid team on-site in Peru, all year round. This Peruvian group of local support continues our community work when we leave each year. We are inspired each day by the support of our own community right here in Hudson and surrounding area, and cannot succeed without it.

“Our goal is to continue to build a strong and sustainable community on the ground, that can one day thrive without our help. Until then, the Pure Art Foundation is fully committed to do whatever can be done to bring dignity and hope to this struggling community through the efforts or our own right here, right now."

Though organized trips with local volunteers began five years ago, the McKinnons actually began this odyssey following their first visit to the Amazon region in 2007 with their five sons. This year, on their ninth trip back to Pucallpa, their youngest son, Renault, will be celebrating his 18th birthday with the group. For a total of nine jungle birthdays!

Says Robert McKinnon, “Our First trip to Pucallpa was initially only the seven McKinnons and the first Hudson community volunteer trip had 14 people. Local resident, Leslie Blake Côté, and husband, Robert Johnson, are on their fifth mission with the team this year. Ages for this trip range from 10 years through teenagers, to a wonderful 84-year-old Hudsonite, Donna Munro.

“We also have a marvelous grandmother, Gay Gruner who lives on the West Island, who will be joining the group with her three grandchildren to honour her late husband, West Island physician Dr. Peter Gruner, who was a proud Pure Art supporter and who will be recognized in a ceremony during this trip, at the inauguration of the Dr. P Gruner Pure Art Medical Clinic.”

Says Brigitte McKinnon, “Volunteers require only a one-week time commitment, must pay all of their expenses, and come along with a willing and open heart. Particular expertise is not essential, but certainly welcome. We need folks interested to swing a hammer, but also spend time with the children and families in the area we work.