It was 4:30 A.M. as I sat in the back seat of the car staring out into the darkness, on my way to the airport, sister at side, preparing for one of those life-changing moments. “What do you think will be the greatest thing I take away from this trip” I asked my father. He smiled and raised his eyes to the rear-view mirror, giving me one of those looks and said, “I think you’ll realize how fortunate you are.” I was expecting an earth shattering response that would turn my world upside down. This seemed too simple to me. After all, I thought I appreciated everything and tried my best not to take it for granted. He continued, “You may realize how fortunate you are compared to those living in the United States, but this trip will make you realize how fortunate you are compared to the rest of the world.” That lesson would resonate for the next three weeks as I traversed the highlands of Peru.
I had seen poverty before but never lived it. In Peru my sister and I spent time living among children at two different orphanages. We were there as part of the Quechua Benefit team, a charity that sponsors dental trips to the poorest regions of Peru every year. Our main goal was to get ideas for a new orphanage, Casa Chapi, which Quechua Benefit plans to build in the Colca Valley.
We interacted with children who owned one pair of clothes, who couldn’t brush their teeth because of the cost, and whose faces were scarred by the blistering sun. Yet every face shined with a smile. A smile that made us realize how so little meant so much to them. I began to realize that the poor people of Peru did not realize what they were without, so what they did have, made them the happiest people on earth. These people do not pity themselves, they want change, they want to go to school, dream of being doctors, and be able to provide for a family. When I asked the girls living at the orphanage in Macusani what they wanted to be when they grew up many answered a doctor, a lawyer, a biologist. These children have big dreams and it is Quechua Benefit’s mission to give them hope and tools necessary to make their dreams a reality.
Quechua Benefit is building an orphanage with this in mind. We know they will come. There are many societies living with pride that prevents them from welcoming help from others. Peru is different. One evening I came back from dinner to go to bed and five boys and girls were secretly hiding by the door to my room hoping I could teach them English before bed. They sacrificed playtime to learn a language they hoped would be important in attaining a better life. These acts that made me confident the children living in the Colca Valley would benefit from Casa Chapi. Not because they wanted help, they sought it. And if we are willing to build the orphanage needed in the Colca Valley they will come. They will come to learn, they will come for the promise of a better life, and they will come because they want to.
I am an accounting major at the University of Washington. I’m going into my senior year: the light at the end of the tunnel is near. One challenge I faced at the outset this trip was trying to figure out how an accounting degree would benefit those living in poverty. I sit in a class room all day crunching numbers and analyzing accounting schemes that assist big corporations in preparing their financial statements, paying their taxes, and managing their inventories. These skills are a far cry from the highlands of Peru. Most of those living in the Colca Valley probably don’t know what the word accounting means. They do know the value of a smiling face and a positive attitude.
During my three week tour of the orphanages my accounting skills were of little use. The beautiful landscape and happiness I experienced while I was living in Peru was a nice break from LIFO, FIFO, and Weighted Average (if you did not understand this please keep reading, accounting humor can be quite dry). When I returned however I had the opportunity to put my skills to work for the Quechua Benefit Organization. I learned some interesting things.
I was able to analyze all the financial statements beginning in 2004. I had access to every check Quechua Benefit received from donors, affiliates, and foundations up until the beginning of 2008. With these resources, I was able to draw conclusions that illuminated the generosity of people who donated to the charity. In all, 1,172,917.75 was donated to Quechua Benefit through the annual auction, individual contributions, gifts from foundations, and affiliate donors. With this money Quechua Benefit has been able to sponsor a full time dental team treating over 40 towns in the Peruvian highlands, provide disaster relief, fund feeding programs, and support various orphanages. Virtually all (about 98%) of the money is used directly to help the people and programs in Peru. The charity’s low overhead promises donors their money is being spent effectively.
Another tool I learned when studying accounting is how to break down and make sense of numbers. When you can group numbers into smaller categories, patterns begin to emerge that can be helpful. I decided to group contributions in the following way: Bronze donations are any amount up to $500, silver donations $500 to $1,000, gold donations $1,000 to $2,000, and platinum donations any amount over $2,000. Platinum donations combined to make up 91.43% of all donations. Gold donations contributed 1.41% while Silver donations made up 2.85% of the total donations. Bronze contributed 4.31% to the total donations Quechua Benefit received. The Platinum donations were the most significant source of the charity’s contributions and yet they only made up 16% of the 225 contributors. Gold donors made up 5% of all contributors and 9% were Silver donors. The majority of donors were Bronze, making up 70% of all contributors. Every penny has been put to good use.
The generosity Quechua Benefit has experienced is remarkable. Fourteen people donated $10,000 or more and two people gave over $50,000. In most American charities $50,000 might be used to pay salaries and overhead expenses. But in Peru $50,000 will build the dormitory for 50 children, the kitchen, and still have money left over for a green house at Casa Chapi. Just imagine the possibilities if 225 more people decided to contribute what the previous 225 did. Casa Chapi would be fully completed and have three years operating costs in place. Over the past four years the average donation was $2,167. This amounts to someone setting aside $180 a month to contribute to Quechua Benefit.
I learned a lot this summer. I learned that no matter what your field of study or what your life’s work, there is always something you can do. I learned that the people living in desolate conditions are awaiting our help and welcome it with the biggest of smiles. Casa Chapi will be built; there is no doubt. But it will require the same generosity put forth by the previous 225 donors. If you know anyone at all who would be willing to contribute to Quechua Benefit’s cause please send them to the donation page of our website at http://www.quechuabenefit.org/Donate-24.htm. This summer gave me the hope that there is a life outside the audit room and we can all join the effort to build the orphanage for the children who are waiting.