Charity and the Joy of Giving
Having completed her cycle, our intrepid explorer visits the Operation South America charity behind her expedition and fundraising
Article by Laura Bingham
I just want to say this, I am so happy. Paraguay is filled with kind, helpful, generous and friendly people. They have offered me beds to sleep in, food and water and even joined me on my cycle. In the past month I haven’t had to ask for food once. Not once.
The Paraguayan border was when the fun started. Claire (my sister) and I passed the border at 4.30pm but the man on immigration was concerned about us travelling in to the evening as the next 100km was filled with pumas. He suggested that we stay in one of their empty rooms, where the workers usually slept, and travel the 100km the next day when it was light. So we spent the night here and set off early the next morning and before you ask, I didn’t get to see any pumas…. I half wished I would have though, just to see one, but it was probably safer that I didn’t!
After the next 200km the road became the perfect cycling conditions – flat tarmac. Not long before we reached the capital of Paraguay, Asuncion, a car with five Mennonite Christians stopped and gave us homemade cookies and water. They invited us to stay at their place for the evening in the city and insisted we would have an assado (South American BBQ). We stayed with a student called Joela who completely welcomed us in with open arms. Within an hour, it was like we were old school friends! The next morning, she woke up early to take Claire to the airport, drove me around for the day so I could explore the city and then drove back to the airport at 1am to collect my other sister, Sarah, who was joining me for the remainder of the challenge. We were so grateful for her help; she had been more than willing to go out of her way for us.
The next part of the journey was to finally visit Operation South America which is based in Paraguay. The charity is funded by five churches in England and founded by an English man, Phillip Granger, along with a Paraguayan couple. The couple’s eldest son died at the age of nine from a rare strain of Leukemia and this lead them on to helping and caring for children, particularly young girls. They now have an adopted daughter, but sadly their other son is also suffering with Leukemia so in between running the charity and looking after the girls, they also care for him.
At present, the charity looks after 21 young girls aged 6 – 17, but they have the capacity to look after up to 30. The girls have come and gone over the years but some stay for the majority of their childhood until they feel ready to look after themselves. The home is run by the couple, but they’re always searching for volunteers in order for them to grow the organisation and have the facility to take care of even more children.
When Sarah and I arrived at the home we were bombarded with welcomes and hugs from the girls! They were incredibly happy and full of joy and we spent time talking to them, dancing, playing games and having fun. The youngest girls go to school at 7am until 11am so we spent the next morning playing with the older girls and then the younger girls would return home and switch. I must have had my hair done about 20 times that day.
I asked the girls why they liked living at the organisation and they told me it’s because they get to study. We take education for granted, we’re very lucky. Typically, the girls here begin working at a young age for money and never get given the chance to learn and develop their skills. They are so desperate to learn and are grateful they have the opportunity to. I feel proud to support this charity and having seen where all the donations go, it has only made me more determined to finish this challenge and support them as much as I can.
This charity changes lives for girls who have no home and no family. They live on the streets with no money not just for six months like me, but indefinitely. This challenge has opened my eyes to the difficult life that they lead and being taken in to an organisation like this one gives them a chance. This charity changes lives! Please help.
If you would like to get in contact with Operation South America and are interested in volunteering then you can do so on their website. You can donate on my Just Giving page.