• James Armstrong

A gift of educational facilities and homes while saying goodbye to Pucallpa


Robert and Brigitte McKinnon (third and fourth from left) christen the schoolroom renovation project in an emotional ceremony when the teachers announced an award for student merit in memory of their son, Ben McKinnon.

Volunteers participating in the Pure Art Foundation humanitarian trip to Pucallpa gathered with teachers and local officials to officially dedicate the schoolroom renovation project. It was hot and humid on Friday, March 8 with a warm breeze blowing across the school compound as excited children ran in out amongst the crowd and the delicious scent of BBQ chicken wafted through the air.

The three rooms were completed on time for the start of school on Monday, March 11 and were made possible by a generous donation from Dr. Laurent Trempe and his wife, Natalie Cliché in memory of his late mother. Cliché was there having worked throughout the week with the school registration program as a volunteer, and although Trempe couldn’t attend, he was able to participate via smartphone.

Ben McKinnon award

Emotions ran high and there was hardly a dry eye in the classroom as one of the teachers announced an award for merit in memory of Ben McKinnon and presented a copy of the certificate to his parents Brigitte and Robert McKinnon. The award is presented with a Letter of Merit to 10 children selected on their attendance, good marks and overall community values.

According to teacher Grimaneza, the students appreciate the recognition more than receiving a little bit of money. In addition, Ben was very close to the children, not only those associated with the Hub of Hope but also further afield. The Mayor of Manantay, Victor Hugo Rios, thanked the McKinnons, the foundation and the volunteers as he officially presented the keys of the city to Brigitte and Robert. A blessing by Father Gérald and the official champagne christening by Robert McKinnon followed and it was time to head off to the Hub for the less formal handing over of the newly built houses to their occupants.

Homes for Pucallpa

Casa Claire and Casa Hudson 8 bring the total number of houses built by volunteers in Pucallpa to 30. It was an emotional moment for Claire Guay and Steve Treherne from Montreal West as Maria and her four children took possession of their new home.

“It’s an amazing experience of sharing and love,” said Guay who had been involved as volunteer the year before. Fundraising became a priority, so Guay did what she knows best – sewing polar fleece blankets and shawls.

“I kept getting ideas for items,” she said and the result was enough sales to fund the building of the house. “There are no words,” she said when asked what it felt like to hand over the gift of a house to Maria and her children. It was a similar situation for Leslie Blake-Côté and her husband Bob Johnson. Leslie’s reaction can be seen in the video clip on The Journal’s Facebook page.

Gratitude in dance and song

Following a midday meal at the Hub, some of the children from the daycare center and the children of the assistants presented a series of songs and dances. The sewing schoolteacher updated the assembly on work her students had accomplished in the past year and their goals for the coming months.

Supporting women

Brigitte McKinnon recognized International Women’s Day in her presentation of two portable sewing machines to the two students who had maintained their marks, attendance, and overall contribution to the community.

“We do this to recognize their achievement,” said Brigitte noting that having their own sewing machines provided the women with the opportunity to earn income and become independent entrepreneurs.

Tears and hugs

As quickly as the week of working at the Hub of Hope had begun, it came to an end. Volunteers gathered at the bus, exchanging hugs with children and adults alike. New friendships had been made and old ones renewed. It was time to say an emotional goodbye.

See more images and video of James Armstrong’s trip to Peru on our Facebook page.

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