My name is Celeste Marion. I threw my backpack on in 2004 with a plan to travel Peru and Brazil and return to Seattle to continue my master’s in special education. When I arrived in Peru to volunteer at a school for special needs, I saw very quickly that I had been called there to represent the children without a voice, who nobody understood – children with autism. As I watched the social worker throw a bucket of water on a young man having a wild tantrum, I knew I would need much more than two months as a volunteer to help train staff and advocate for this population of children.
What was supposed to be two months as a volunteer has turned into 11 years in Peru as these children’s advocate. From volunteering and working for a rural school, I found the energy and initiative to found my own school together with a Peruvian school teacher. We started in her living room in 2007 with two students. Our mission was to show the community these children are not a shame or a burden, but human beings who areable to learn and be members of society. We started without capital and without funding. We both worked full-time jobs in the mornings and dedicated ourselves to the children in the afternoons. We slowly won the trust of parents, showing them what their children were capable of doing.
We opened the doors of Camino Nuevo, the first and only private, non-profit school for special education in the entire region of Cusco, in 2009. We began with 30 students and five teachers. Today, in 2015, we now have 75 students, a professional team of 31 members, three strong projects, two school buildings, and a strong reputation for education in the community.
My life was in Seattle, WA. My intention was to return to Peru in 2007 for a few months to help Mercedes, my associate, fulfull her dream of opening a school. It was never my dream. I hated Peru in this time. I was frustrated, hurt, overcome with helplessness. I had no intention of dedicating my life to Cusco’s most vulnerable population.
It took me a while to listen to what the universe had in store for me. I even married a Peruvian guy, was set on returning to the States. I applied to three different graduate school programs over two years, was accepted, and deferred. I even brought my new husband to the States in 2009 to begin our life. One week before we left for the States, I realized that was not my dream. I was being called to stay in Peru. I left him in the States and returned to Peru.
I spent one month on my yoga mat in 2010 praying, crying, and meditating. My vision had changed entirely, and I was lost. I had no idea why I was back in Peru. But I surrendered to the universe and said, “I am yours; do what you want with me.” It was 2010 that continued to show me throughout the year why I was back in Peru. So many signs, so many blessings, so many positive changes that confirmed I had made the right decision.
Now after living in Peru 11 years, happily married with a one-year-old baby girl, I feel fulfilled. No, it is not easy running a non-profit in a developing country, managing a staff of 31 people or supporting 75 families in this community. What is easy is loving every student and seeing them fulfill their potential, their dreams, seeing their happiness.
I am constantly fundraising to support the future of our students. At the moment we have 15 days remaining to raise our goal of $15,000 online that will be matched by the Children of Peru Foundation. This campaign will support our newest project, Phawarispa – the first and only vocational training center for young adults with intellectual disabilities in the region of Cusco. It is my commitment to see these students fulfill their dreams.
Will you join me?
This is my story, my commitment, my passion. Thank you for reading.