Some time in July I was watching our local TV
station, CityTV, and I caught a part of a report about a Toronto
couple that had remortgaged their home to start a non-profit community
development organization in a small town on the Pacific Coast in
Peru. I didn't catch their name or their contact information, only
the website: www.paraelmundo.org. I used the contact email on the
website to try to locate this couple and to ask them for an interview.
I got a response back and met Danielle Lafond,
the female member of the couple and co-creator of the project, in
a restaurant in Toronto's Greektown and was struck by her youthful
energy, idealism and commitment to improving this world. The decision
to put their own finances at risk and invest at least a year of
their lives in this Peruvian community had a strong impact on me
and I am delighted to be able to introduce to you this delightful
young woman: Danielle Lafond.
1. Please tell us about yourself. Where are you
from, what is your educational background?
I am in my mid twenties, and I just completed a
4 year social work degree at Ryerson University. Before that, I
studied music and also worked and traveled for several years as
a tour guide in Canada.
2. You have a very strong social conscience. What
life experiences have shaped your belief system?
As a woman of color, I've always been conscious
of issues relating to racism and sexism, but I became more politically
active after moving to Toronto and connecting with others who had
similar experiences. I also had many personal struggles in my teens
which influenced my desire to help others.
3. When you were young you hitch-hiked across Canada.
Please tell us about that trip and what you learned from it.
I left high school to travel when I was 16. My
trip took me across most of the country, and I met many interesting
people who were leading very interesting lives, making their living
in non-traditional ways. It inspired me to follow my dream of making
a life, not just making a living. Also, my faith in humanity, in
people, was completely restored. I met many people from many walks
of life, and almost everyone was willing to share, laugh, talk and
open their hearts and homes to me. The experience left me with a
sense that all people share an essential goodness.
4. Some time ago you also went to Cuba and taught
ESL classes in exchange for room and board. Please tell us about
A few years ago, I went to Cuba with no plans,
and very little understanding of the sociopolitical situation in
Cuba. To me, it was just another island in the Caribbean. I knew
I didn't want to do anything typically tourist-oriented, so I ended
up at the University of Habana in the summer months, where I worked
out deal with someone working there to give me room and meal tickets
in exchange for teaching English a few hours a day. I had $500 dollars
in the bank, and a return ticket, and I managed to last a few months
this way. It was an incredibly humbling experience, because I saw
for the first time how people outside North America live, and I
was able to meet and learn from Cuban people. I learned a little
Spanish, and fell in love with Afro-Cuban and Latin music. I had
been a musician my whole life, but this trip showed me how music
could be used to connect with people across language and cultural
5. Through your studies in social work at Ryerson
University you spent some time in Peru, completing the placement
for your degree requirements. Where did you go and what did you
do there? What places did you travel to in Peru and what did you
learn about the culture?
As my third year placement, I decided I wanted
another international travel experience, and made plans to travel
with a close friend. I knew that the experience of doing social
work in South America was going to be challenging and emotionally
trying, so I was glad my friend agreed to do this together. We spent
the first part of our time in Peru travelling, along with my partner
Josh. The three of us were amazed by the diversity of the country.
We started in Lima, a city of over 11 million people,
with distinct neighbourhoods and cultural practices, then traveled
to Arequipa and Cusco, Macchu Picchu, Puno, and Lake Titicaca, which
each had completely different cultural groups, languages and food.
Many of the people we met were Indigenous Peruvians who spoke various
dialects of Quechua. Many of them spoke no Spanish at all. The more
we traveled, the more I felt in awe of the strength, resilience
and resourcefulness of the people we met, who had been struggling
for many hundreds of years, but who are also rich in cultural traditions,
food, music, art, history and languages.
6. This time in South America convinced you to
stay involved on a more lasting level with the people of Peru. In
particular you wanted to do something for a fishing town called
Mancora. Please tell us how you got the idea to create a non-profit
international development organization.
After our travels, my friend and I ended up in
a small fishing community in Northern Peru, 19 hours north of Lima
by bus, and about an hour south of the border to Ecuador. Again,
we were completely surprised to see another part of Peru so different
from all we'd seen thus far. Mancora is in a desert climate, so
it is very dry and sunny, and the town has little infrastructure.
Many people don't have running water, and most who do only have
it a few hours every other day or so. The power cuts out unexpectedly,
and safe clean drinking water is not readily available or affordable.
Also, there were no social services and very limited access to health
care, unless one could afford to pay for it.
The town's dependance on a once-booming fishing
industry is rapidly changing to a dependance on tourism. A big El
Nino in 1989 caused much grief for the town, which was isolated
for 15 days, but it also created a beautiful beach which is now
popular with surfers year-round.
As social work students, we were mostly working
with women in the community, and we met an amazing couple who had
started a small NGO (Non-governmental Organization, or not-for-profit
organization) to try and help the people in the community in various
ways. My friend and I spent the rest of our time in Peru living
and working with them, working and researching what the most pressing
needs in the community were. What we discovered from interviewing
Mancorians was that the people in town were concerned about the
lack of affordable/accessible health care, unemployment, alcohol
and drug addiction and domestic violence.
When I returned from my trip, I began discussions
with my partner Josh, a Toronto Paramedic, and with a few close
friends about starting a not-for-profit organization in Canada to
help this under-serviced community in Peru. The most important thing
for me was to be able to provide assistance to the people of Mancora
as they saw fit, and not to impose my own ideals on them. The people
we worked with last year seemed to feel strongly that having accessible
medical care was an urgent need in their community, so this is where
we focused most of our energy and resources for our first year projects.
Susanne Pacher is the publisher
of a website called Travel and Transitions (www.travelandtransitions.com).
Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and
is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences,
interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and
reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other
features. You will also find stories about life and the transitions
that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.
Submit your own travel stories
in our first travel story contest (www.travelandtransitions.com/contests.htm)
and have a chance to win an amazing adventure cruise on the
Amazon River. "Life is a Journey
Explore New Horizons". The
full interview with photos is published at Travel and Transitions
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