When Katherine and Gerry Parent looked at their teenage kids last year, it was a huge wake-up call. Daughter Janelle, son Matthew are finishing high school and heading for post secondary experiences. They'll both leave in September.

Katherine and Gerry decided to tick off one big item on their 'bucket list.' They toted up their air miles, got out the atlas and booked air passage to Peru for the four of them plus Gerry's parents, Rita and Bob.

Katherine, a busy nutritional consultant who runs her own business, and Gerry, a stalwart Toronto commuter, wanted to reconnect with Gerry's brother, Ron, and his wife Guiselle. Their children--Marcel, Gerald, Solange--are barely known cousins to the Barrie teenagers. They decided to stay for three weeks.

"This was an investment in our family," says Katherine. "We wanted to see where Ron and Guiselle lived. We'd met their kids only once. We skype, of course, but it's not the same. And the older the kids get, the harder it is to bond."

Before leaving Canada, the Parent family decided to make this Christmas trip count in another way, too. They took the Christmas present money they would normally spend on each other and decided to benefit an orphanage in Moquegua, the southern part of Peru where Ron and Guiselle live. The orphanage is home to up to 200 children, dropped off, abandoned, deserted, or just economically deprived. Babies, toddlers, youngsters and teenagers live in this facility, run by a religious order. Women abandoned by their husbands often arrive with all their children because they have no means of support. The moms sometimes live and work at the orphanage.

Called the Hogar Belen Orphanage, the home was levelled by an earthquake and has had to relocate to smaller, rural location. [See You Tube video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJsAH2e4e7w]

The Parent family decided they'd buy sheep for the children at Hogar Belen with their Christmas money.

They lucked out in their purchase; they were able to buy two sheep, one male and one female that was already pregnant with two baby sheep... four for the price of two! A bargain! The deal was arranged by the Carmelita nuns who operate the orphanage.

"Why sheep?" I asked Katherine. Sheep give milk. They give wool which is carded and spun and knitted into sweaters or sold as yarn. And extra sheep are sold for much needed cash. It's a real economic boon. The milk can be sold to a nearby cheese 'factory'.

"These are very creative people. Their art, the blankets and sweaters that come from the wool, these are very popular products."

Just going to the orphanage to sit and hold the babies is a real help to the overworked nuns who are running the place. They try to keep the kids clean and fed. They try to have enough uniforms so they can go to school Just helping out in these small ways made a difference.

Katherine says they were delighted to have enough money left over from the sheep purchase to buy 12 pillows and 12 pairs of socks for a nearby seniors home. In all, the cost of their gifts was 792 Peruvian sols... $300 US dollars.

The vast differences between the Canadian lifestyle and the humble, proud Peruvian lifestyle was a true learning experience for the entire family. And while it's easy to notice the differences in terms of amenities Canadians enjoy that Peruvians don't have, Katherine said the differences went far beyond that. She was particularly appreciative of their humility, their pride, their cleanliness.

"When we came home, Matthew and I opened the tap and each drank a huge glass of water, right from the tap. We are so lucky. They can't do that in Moquegua."

The Parent cousins connected as if they'd known each other forever. The kids have firm plans to meet and travel together. The Canadian Parents are going to take spanish lessons.

What a Christmas gift! In so many ways.

Thanks, Katherine.

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