Carmel Valley-based Project Left Behind recently returned from a “voluntour” trip to Peru, introducing a group of 10 women to a new country as well as giving them an opportunity to give back at one of three independently-run international orphanages that the non-profit supports.
Project Left Behind, started by Danielle Dietz-LiVolsi and her husband Kevin, is backed by donations as well as a portion of the profits from the couple’s NuttZo organic seed and nut butter. After they adopted their two sons from Ukraine, they become committed to helping orphans around the world. In addition to Hogar Semillas de Jesus Children’s Home in Peru, Project Left Behind also supports an orphanage in Nepal and one in India.
NuttZo was developed in Dietz-Livolsi’s Carmel Valley kitchen to feed her two adopted boys, who were severely nutrient deficient. The company launched in 2008 and today NuttZo is blending two flavors — the Peanut Pro and non-peanut Power Fuel that are sold in all Southern California Whole Foods and Jimbo’s.
More than just giving, Dietz-LiVolsi has been to Peru four times, Nepal twice and once to India last year. The May 11-23 trip was Project Left Behind’s second voluntour trip to Peru.
Dietz-LiVolsi’s focus when planning the itinerary is always on other people’s stories and how the volunteers can all be inspired by them.
“Our stops are always about one person who is changing the world, one person at a time,” Dietz-LiVolsi said of the “phenomenal” and “amazing” people the group encounters. “It’s a really inspirational trip for the volunteers to go on.”
Their first stop in Cusco, Peru was Casa Mantay, a group home for teen mothers who have escaped abuse and neglect.
“The teen moms can be 12 to 16 years old with children so it can be heart-wrenching. But it is a safe place for mothers to live and heal together in a healthy, enjoyable living environment that develops social, educational, psychological and career skills,” Dietz-LiVolsi said.
The women brought suitcases full of diapers and gently-used clothing for the kids and young moms.
The group next traveled to the Kausay Wasi Clinic in the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Coya, Peru, run by an American woman, Sandy Prado, and her Peruvian husband, Guido Prado, previously Peace Corps volunteers. The couple, now in their 70s, brings in teams of doctors to facilitate the small clinic — offering everything from dentistry to general surgery. They provide healthcare to some of Peru’s poorest population, primarily farmers, connecting with people in the area through radio broadcast and by a messenger riding a motorcycle into the Andean Mountain Range telling people what kind of doctors will be visiting.
“The clinic is small and quaint but what they’re doing is huge,” Dietz-LiVolsi said.
The group brought donations of medical supplies and eyeglasses.
From the clinic, the group visited the Project Left Behind’s supported orphanage in Urubamba, Peru. The Hogar Semillas de Jesus Children’s Home was started 10 years ago by Peruvian educator Isabel Baufume. She receives zero funding from any local or government institutions and the 21 children in the home attend a private school which does not charge for education but they still must provide uniforms, books, and school materials for the children.
“They need a consistent group to help them meet their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter for these 21 children,” Dietz-LiVolsi said. “They are the happiest kids.”
The volunteers worked hard over two days to build a stone floor and a garden for the home.
“They were tired and dirty each day but still had big smiles on their faces,” Dietz-Livolsi said.
On the last day, the group made lasagna with the children — a favorite memory for many of the women.
The group had fundraised before the trip and brought clothing and toys to the children, as well as letters from Junior Girl Scout Troop 1085 in Encinitas. The troop has supported the orphanage for years — fundraising in the past to purchase a stand-up freezer and a dryer for the home.
“To be honest, the letters were the favorite thing of everything we brought,” Dietz-Livolsi said, noting the children happily read each one.
To learn more or donate to Project Left Behind, visit projectleftbehind.org.