Photo by Melissa Stihl/Foghorn
After traveling to Lima, Peru with the University Ministry’s Arrupe Immersion Program in the spring of 2008, and witnessing firsthand the struggles that street children face, senior Hannah Mora has singlehandedly organized her own drive to donate funds to an emergency shelter built to house rescued victims. The shelter is an international project created by the Not For Sale Campaign.
Through Not For Sale, a movement devoted to ending modern-day slavery and resolving social justice issues, Mora is independently acquiring donations for Veronica’s House, a refuge that provides immediate needs such as food, clothing, and housing to victims of Lima, Peru’s bustling streets.
Although it is Mora’s second time obtaining donations, once in the Spring of 2009 and now the beginning of Fall 2009, she hopes to encourage 100 people to donate $5 a month, to secure at least $500 every month to Veronica’s House, she said. Mora generated about $700 last year, exceeding her $500 goal, which was then on a one-time basis when she asked family and friends to donate to the cause. This time around, Mora anticipates that people in the USF community, along with her Southern California church and former high school, can donate on a monthly basis.
Mora came up with the idea of giving back to the children she met during her immersion trip after almost a full year had passed. Around spring break in 2009, Mora reflected on her trip, yearning to revisit the street children that befriended her. “I wasn’t able to go to Peru again,” she said, so she thought of a way that would allow her to make a financial contribution instead. Her mission was simple: find 100 people to donate $5 each, which she found was an economic-friendly amount that wouldn’t burn a hole in people’s pockets.
Signing up for the trip, “you don’t know what you’re getting into,” she said. As a sophomore, Mora came across the application for the immersion trip by simply spending time in the University Ministry office. Trips were offered for Nicaragua and Africa, but Mora said, “Peru stood out because we would be working with kids.”
The Arrupe Immersion program in Peru is designed to give light on the various shelters that protect street children, and to educate USF students on the tribulations and opportunities of working with the children.
After a select group of 10 were chosen, bi-monthly meetings were held leading up to the trip, to inform the group about the politics, culture, and other broad information on Peru.
Upon arrival, Mora said one of the first things the group did was meet with street children at a beach, about 40 youths from ages 12 to mid-20s. The street children shared their individual stories, which were “very personal and heartbreaking,” Mora said, “a very effective way to introduce us to the trip.” Before meeting them, Mora said she had never seen anything like that; “being around poverty and homelessness, it wasn’t relatable to me, but I went there and became friends with them.” Meeting the street children gave a face to homelessness, she said. Mora noticed that some street children even had scars on their bodies, to fend off police who wanted to hurt them.
Afterwards, two children conducted a tour of Lima, told “through their eyes,” Mora said. “Not a typical tourist vacation you would expect.”
To Mora’s surprise, some street children depended on prostitution and stealing food, while others found their own unique way to make money. One of the boys Mora met, Ruben, would make and sell bracelets to get by, she said.
“When I came back, I changed my lifestyle and felt guilty about the way I was living, what I spent my money on,” Mora said, “I retold the kid’s stories and experiences to friends and family.”
By the next spring break, Mora approached Kique Bazan, Director of Social Justice and Community Action for the University Ministry and the co-founder of Not For Sale, to see what he thought about her proposal of raising funds on her own and sending the donations to Lima’s street children. At the time, Veronica’s House was a work in progress, but Bazan informed Mora that the project would be a good place to send the money. Bazan directed her to Not For Sale, so she could send out letters to family and friends, and encourage them to spread the word to their family and friends, Mora said.
Mora’s intention was to raise the money by the time the University Ministry headed back on their next immersion trip to Peru, but she fell short of her deadline. The $700 she raised solely through her network of family and friends took about a month to complete, and by that time Spring Break had passed.
Mora then gave her donations directly through the Not For Sale, and 100 percent of the proceeds went towards Veronica’s House. As an additional gift, Mora provided a collage of pictures of all the people who donated, so the children in Peru could directly see their sponsors.
Veronica’s House opened in July 2009, in which Not For Sale helped fundraise $89,294 to purchase the land and house, but the house itself is still under the construction. Four rescued girls have a permanent residence at the shelter, but every so often, new youths are brought in consistently.
The project was an effort driven by Not For Sale and Peru’s “modern day abolitionist,” Lucy, whom Mora met during her visit. Lucy founded Generación, an organization that offers prevention and aftercare programs designed to foster life skills, including the emergency shelter, Veronica’s House.
Now that Mora is on her second cycle of raising funds, Bazan helped create Mora’s own webpage under Not For Sale, where people can make online donations. Bazan also made Mora ambassador of the project, and she has taken steps by presenting the drive to her classes and her hometown church, and informing her high school through their newsletters.
Mora said she is uncertain how long this second drive will last, because it’s a monthly effort made on behalf of the people she reaches out to. For now, Not For Sale keeps tracks of the total amount raised, and Mora will find out the total once her drive ends.
Projecting into the future, Mora will continue to do the campaign “as long as they need me to,” she said, “even if that means I [can no longer] be ambassador.” Mora said it is something she is dedicated to, so she will maintain her involvement as long as she can. “It’s something I think is important and it’s a story I tell people all the time,” she said.
In March, the University Ministry will take some 13 students on another trip to Lima, Peru, to meet former street children again and learn what life has been like through their eyes. “It’s easier to vocalize once you’ve seen for yourself what’s going on.” Mora said.
Mora is majoring in theology and religious studies and minoring in Catholic social thought. “I want to continue spending my time volunteering with organizations centered on social justice, specifically Not For Sale, which has provided me with the tools and opportunities to participate in such efforts as these,” she said.
Over a short time, the immersion trip Mora innocently stumbled across has made a significant impression on her life. “It continues to be an important part of what made me who I am,” she said, “and even though it’s only been two years, I still have friends that I want to give back to.”
To donate to Mora’s cause, click here.