Tucked away in an obscure, isolated part of Cusco, Peru, is a little piece of heaven for girls who have known little peace in their young lives. No signs mark the location, only angels painted on the high walls protecting the residents designate the shelter.
Casa de Acogida Mantay (''Mother'' in the native language of Quechua) was founded in June, 2000, to help mothers ranging from 12 to 18 years old and their children find safety and respect. These girls are from abusive homes and are placed by the courts to help them learn to be good parents and productive citizens. Currently Mantay houses 11 mommas and 2 pregnant girls.
The girls attend local schools and learn self esteem, hygiene and parenting while at the shelter. Also, the girls are required to work at the shelter with cooking, laundry, housekeeping and in the office. By the time the girls reach the age of 17, they must select a specialty so that they can financially support themselves after leaving the shelter at age 18. They learn skills such as cosmetology and ''workshop''.
After graduating, many of the girls are hired by the workshop, which produces leather goods, like purses and bags, to be distributed and sold in shops around the world.
The babies are watched in the shelter's child care while the girls are at school. The babies sleep with their momma until the age of 5 years old.
When I learned about Mantay Shelter, several friends and I got busy making Peace Pals for me to deliver to Cusco on my up-coming trip to Peru. We made almost 50 dolls, as we didn't know how many residents lived there. As I counted out dolls for the babies, the director asked if we also would provide dolls for the residents, as they themselves were still children and we brought so many. Of course, we agreed!
A big ''Thank You'' to Adventure Life Travel Agency for leading us to Mantay! Going there and presenting the residents with Peace Pals was truly a blessing to me and a life-changing experience.