Big River/Little Sparrows

On September 24, Amanda Paniagua, her mother, husband, and two sisters will build a raft from balsa wood logs on the side of the Amazon in Nauta, Peru, hop aboard (and if no anaconda, piranha or deadly poison-tipped arrows get them first) they will float, row and paddle 118 miles downriver to the town of Iquitos (like mosquitoes), arriving there 2 days later. It’s called the Great River Amazon Raft Race and as the poster says, “The faint of heart need not apply.” Well, there goes my entry form.

What they mean by "on the river"

You’d have to have a pretty good reason to lash a few logs together and jump in the Amazon, and I’m happy to report Amanda has one. Actually, she has about 30 excellent reasons—the children of Casa Hogar Los Gorriones, a tiny home for abandoned children in Ayacucho, Peru.

The name means “home of the sparrows” and Amanda fell in love with the place while living in this impoverished colonial city (and home of the Shining Path revolutionary movement) for a year after high school, learning Spanish and doing volunteer work. She was deeply impressed by Gil and Chantal van der Bergh, a Belgian/French couple who started Los Gorriones in 2002 to provide a “safe nest” to the children whose parents had been killed, abandoned them, or were in a nearby prison.

A volunteer and her sparrow.

Many of the children have mental or physical disabilities, but all are taken in, loved, and given an education, physical therapy, health care, good food, and lots of love and attention. A mere $50/month covers one child’s education at a private school, books, uniform and transportation, but since Chantal died of cancer a few years ago, Gil, his staff and volunteers have struggled to make ends meet. And they need a bigger house so they won’t have to turn desperate children away.

“I volunteered in a lot of places but when you went to Los Gorriones, you could just feel the joy. Even though these kids have a lot of problems, it’s just a happy, loving and sweet place,” Amanda says, explaining her six-year continued attachment to the home.

After her year in Peru, Amanda came home with a husband, Ohmarx, and entered Oxford College of Emory, where she founded the Peruvian Orphanage Project to raise money for her little sparrows. She continued in the Emory School of Nursing and cofounded the Atlanta Doula Collaborative, a volunteer organization that helps women through childbirth, while raising more than $7,000 for Gil and Chantal’s house in the high Andean sierra. Now she works for MedShare (see post 7/14) but is still fundraising for Los Gorriones and willing to jump in the Amazon to raise more.

Mom, the instigator, Chelsea and Amanda

Well actually, that was her mother’s inspiration. “I’m completely terrified,” admits Amanda. But her mom Joani McCullough, 53, an inveterate rower (and apparently not the slightest bit faint-of-heart), has convinced Amanda, her sister Chelsea, Ohmarx and his sister Susan that this is a splendid idea, so they’re all busy raising $1,500 for Los Gorriones to make it worthwhile.

Hey, I’m (figuratively) on board!! To join me in donating to the Little Sparrows and the maniacs on the Amazon, click here.

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What Gives News Flash!

Global Cycle Solutions (3/10) just recently won the Echoing Green Fellowship Program. Go, Jodie, go!