Invitation to mission, Peru 2018

8th April 2018 - by Nathalie Marytsch

Trish, from the Columban office in Britain tells us what the invitation to mission group has been up to in Lima, Peru.

A little later start this morning for another full day of visiting Columban Projects. We were invited to visit the three centres which make up St. Bernadette’s Children’s Projects. We all squeezed into Oscar’s (a Peruvian driver) people carrier and set for the half hour journey.

On arrival we were meet by Fr Tony Coney a Columban Priest from Belfast who told us that when he arrived in the parish of Los Santos Arcangeles in 1995 he was struck by the living conditions of those living on the hill nearby especially the children. The following year he purchased an old two-storey building on the hill which he did with the support of generous benefactors especially his home town parish of St Bernadette’s back in Belfast. The centre opened in 1997 and was named St Bernadette’s Children’s Centre after the parish who had made this possible. The aim of the centre is to provide a safe environment where children can grow, learn and be happy. Over the next 20 years one centre has grown into three with St Bernadette’s Remedial School and St Bernadette’s Home being added to make up St Bernadette’s Civil Association.

The first centre we visited was the Remedial school. The children who attend have been referred by their state school because they have fallen behind at school so need extra help to catch up. On opening the door to the school Fr Tony led us in a little bit of paradise, no concrete playground here but a mini nature reserve with trees and all manner of animals including farm animals like cows, sheep, duck and hens to the more exotic like turtles and tortoises who were having a bit of a fight and had to be split up. We were introduced to Carmel who runs the centre, she explained that on arrival at the school the children are assessed so they can be put into the correct class according to their ability, these classes can be mixed ages and the children usually remain at the school for 1 to 2 years. We were taken on a tour of the school visiting all the different classes where we were greeted by the children with hugs and smiling faces. We were all struck by how the building had been designed with the classrooms full of light and the tables arranged in a circle which gave such a nice flow to the room which enables the teacher to move from child to child more easily. There are no more than ten children in each class and watched the children being taught numeracy and literacy in a fun way, other subjects are introduced as the children progresses. We we told the school also works with the parents and will recommend support for them also if necessary. Once the children have caught up they return to their state school.

We then moved upstairs to the workshops for older children who have mild disabilities where we saw very skilled children decorating ceramics, here we meet a very confident young lady who was very keen to practise her English with the group. Another group were creating leather goods and we were shown some of the purses, bags and even shoes they had produced. These goods are then sold outside the school which raises small amounts of money for the school. They can also attend cookery classes, music classes and a physical room for those who to develop motor skills.

We were then invited to join the staff for a very tasty lunch where we we also meet Peter and Nicki two volunteers from Belfast who are working at the centre for 8 months, I was struck by their enthusiasm and joy at being there.

After lunch we moved on to the children’s home next door. The home caters for children who have been sexually or physically abused and have been referred to the home by the authorities. Here the children are able to live in a safe environment and receive professional help from psychologists and therapists and are taught safeguarding. The children also attend the school where all staff are highly trained and can help with not just their education but their emotional needs.The home also works with the family to help ensure that when the child is ready to return to the family they will be returning to a safe environment. As we were being shown around some of the children had just returned from school, some of the group were a little apprehensive in case any of the children would be upset by us being there but we greeted with beautiful smiles and hugs as they passed through to relax and enjoy their leisure time. The facilities at the home are very impressive and I must say remarkably tidy for 13 children living there!

Our final visit was a short but steep walk up the hill to the original house of the children’s centre which doesn’t look much from the outside but is like a tardis ‘My father’s house has many rooms’ springs to mind and this one has so many we lost count. We meet Ruth the leader of the centre who explained this is an open house for any child who wishes to attend and they come and go as they please. No organised activities here, it is the child who decides what they want to do and the sheer joy and extreme noise of the place is overwhelming. Every need is catered for crafts, music, homework clubs, football and trampoline on the roof and even children walking round on stilts. The motto of the home is ‘freedom with responsibility’ which sums up St Bernadette’s.

If you would like to know more about St Bernadette’s projects visit