Amidst all the chaos we are confronted with every day, it is a breath of fresh air to meet people who rise above the detritus to make a genuine contribution to people in need. Today I would like to introduce you to one such man, Dr. Ricardo Pun-Chong of Lima, Peru.Ten years ago, Dr. Pun-Chong was completing his medical training in several hospitals in Lima. Day after day, he noticed families sleeping on the floors. Many of them, he learned, had come from faraway villages, with little or no money, to get medical treatment for their children. Navigating the country’s difficult terrain — which spans the Andes Mountains to the Amazon — often means traversing unpaved roads and can make for a dangerous trip. Far from home and loved ones, and unable to pay for a place to stay in Lima, many families found themselves homeless while fighting for their children’s lives.
“The journey, it’s very difficult. People have to cross the mountains or take a boat to cross the river. It can take many days. Just imagine having this trip with a kid with cancer. I couldn’t get the picture of the families sleeping on the floor out of my mind. So, I decided to do something for them.”
What the good doctor did was start a non-profit, Inspira, an organization that has provided free housing, meals and overall support for sick children and their families while they undergo treatment. The organization has helped more than 900 families who’ve come from all over Peru.
From the Inspira website …
“The Inspira Shelter is the materialization of a dream that began in April 2008. Its main goal was to get a house that serves as a shelter for children with cancer in the province and to offer them the opportunity to receive treatment and the possibility of a life expectancy.
In June 2011 the shelter received its first child. From there, the hostel – now called Inspira – has become a true oasis amid so much adversity.
As of July of 2017, the shelter has received around 900 families; their beds have been occupied more than 50 thousand times; It has served more than 250 thousand servings of healthy food. Currently, it also supports the arrival of any child with treatment associated with Down syndrome, burns and cerebral palsy.
Inspira becomes a light among so much adversity. The main objective of the shelter is to promote the reduction of the mortality of children.”
There is a short (3:04) video that introduces Dr. Pun-Chong far better than I could. I cannot embed the video, but you can view it here.Recently Dr. Pun-Chong was interviewed by CNN for their Heroes feature:
CNN: What are some of the obstacles facing these families?
Ricardo Pun-Chong: We have people who come from the Amazon, travel on a boat and from there take a bus. And you’re with a sick child, with a fever. Once they reach the city, they don’t have any resources. Sometimes they don’t even speak Spanish; they speak Quechua, Aymara or other dialects.
For leukemia, the most frequent cancer in kids, the first treatment is about six months. But to stay here is too expensive. Sometimes families, they have to sell everything they have. They feel helpless. They feel really alone. They either have to make it work and stay, or they make the difficult trip back home without their children receiving full treatment.
CNN: What kind of environment have you created at the shelter?
Pun-Chong: The shelter is a very special place. We not only wanted people to have a place to sleep and food to eat, we also wanted to create a space to help the kids be cured. It’s a place with a lot of love.
I don’t want it to feel like a house, I want it to feel like a home. In the shelter we don’t have TV because I prefer to talk to the kids and teach them how to create things. I want them to use their imagination.
The families can stay in our shelter as long as they need, and I want them to know they are not alone, there are a lot of people that are with them.
CNN: What is the unique approach you take with the children?
Pun-Chong: Here we live the day-to-day, but we don’t talk about tumors and surgeries and cancer. When I go to the shelter, I leave my stethoscope at home. I come in here as Ricardo, not as a doctor. I want each and every one of them to feel special. I try to lift the spirits of these kids who probably have just undergone surgery. I play and have fun with them and make sure that during this hard time, these kids get to just act like kids.
We are doing everything we can to connect and engage with them. We listen to stories, color, paint, play in the park, ride bicycles. We try to give these kids special things and special experiences. I try to make them laugh, to enjoy themselves. I want these kids to play, to learn, to share. I want to help them to be the happiest they can be.
What a wonderful thing Dr. Pun-Chong has done for the people of Peru, don’t you think? It is people like him, people who care more about their fellow human beings than their bank account, that renew our faith in human nature. Thank you, Dr. Pun-Chong!