More than 30 years have passed since the moment in which I saw the dark world of the sewers and their inhabitants for the first time. I still remember the girl who led me with her little candle to that living hell full of human excrement, rats and nauseating smells. From that moment my life took a new direction and although I had helped many homeless children before, this cruel and inhuman situation attracted all of my attention and energy. I started to use all the power of my imagination and creativity to fight for a cause that up to that point was in limbo. What shocked me most was not the pain, the cold or the misery of those who lived there, but the social indifference, the insensitivity and the rejection of all the good people who, being in a position to do something, decided not to. I started, despite not having even the support of my closest friends, to try and help each child, always with the philosophy of not giving them fish but teaching them to fish. Most people said that I was crazy and that this was work for the government or the church. They told me not to waste my time because I was never going to make a difference to such a big problem, but despite all the criticism I carried on. It didn’t matter if I helped one child or a thousand; the only thing that mattered was that I gave each girl or boy hope and support so that they could find their own light in the darkness. I clearly remember that I never expected to save thousands of children, because I always thought that for the whole world I was just a stranger, but for the human being to whom I gave my support, light, love or protection, I was the whole world.
So a few years ago I understood that heaven really is on earth, when a surprise party was thrown at the Children of the Andes Foundation to celebrate my 50th birthday and before me were hundreds of children who I had helped and who had become happy parents or grandparents. I felt so emotional to see so many generations full of love and hope, sharing not only with me but also with Pata, my two children Esteban and Alejandra and all the team who have supported me over all these years. It was a dream come true.
That’s why when someone approaches me asking what they can do to help, my advice is always the same: “Start helping today without expecting anything in return. You may help a child, an elderly, unwell or handicapped person, even a member of your own family who needs your help. The important thing is that you start immediately and don’t get bogged down by grand projects, plans and budgets, because an intention without action is only an illusion”.
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