Robert sprinted down the path in the waning afternoon light frantically searching for Dolly. I could see him over Ruth’s head as she and Dolly were reading her school books. The young man looked desperate. Finally he spotted us, and climbed the stairs, winded. He looked exhausted.
Dolly Beaver was his goal. Dolly and I were working with the granddaughters of the local shaman, reviewing their school work, as part of the Angels of the Amazon sponsorship program. Ruth was proudly showing Dolly her work as Robert approached.
He had an animated conversation with Dolly, pain and worry clenching his young face. Satisfied, he went back to his business, and Dolly finished with the little girl. A few minutes later we were done with Llerme’s family and on our way to the boat. Robert met us there and climbed into the bow. He sat with his head down, his body clenched into itself.
Dolly Beaver, who in 2006 formed the not for profit Angels of the Amazon and who is the wife of Dr. Paul Beaver, the founder of Tahuayo Lodge, is accustomed to interruptions like this. When she is in her home land of Peru, which is often, the villagers constantly come to her for help. While this may work for now, it’s critically important that Dolly hand these responsibilities off to local women leaders in the community for a time when she is needed to take care of her own family. Now, however, she has Robert.
Robert was only fourteen. His mother, Elva, was gravely ill, short of breath and having headaches for several days. Local medicines from the woods weren’t working. She needed immediate help. The boy’s father, who worked a cargo ship out of Iquitos on the river, was unavailable. Money was practically nonexistent. At this particular moment, the young boy was the only decision maker in the family, but not old enough for anyone to loan a speed boat to get his mother to a clinic. Because motors and gas are expensive for the villagers, it’s even more difficult for someone like Robert to find a way to get his hands on transportation for Elva.
Dolly has known and worked with Robert since he was eight years old. His mother, who is illiterate, sometimes paid the teacher for the boy’s homework with a chicken to pay a tutor to help him with his homework after school. This cost the family a meal, but it speaks to Elva’s commitment to her son’s future. Robert is one of the boys in the Angels of the Amazon Scholarship program, which provides additional assistance to families where economic difficulties impact the childrens’ education. She was at a loss to help him herself. Her biggest wish for her children was that they would read and write and not be ignorant like her, explained Dolly. “She was willing to do anything to help them rise above their circumstances.”
“That’s commitment,” said Dolly. “I have to help them. This is what it’s like for people here.”
Their house is a war zone, the sleeping area a tumble of clothing and bedding covered with multiple mosquito nets. The house itself is a mass of junk, smelly clothing thrown willy nilly, dirty dishes left everywhere. It is the picture of abject poverty. The only food is a bunch of green plantains on the floor. The walls are open to the elements in places, allowing for winds to blow through in storm season. Dolly is determined to help the mother support her commitment to the kids, especially since this fourteen-year-old boy has to act in place of the absentee father most of the time.
Robert would be transporting his mother along with his four younger siblings to get help. Dolly would provide them money for food and medical care at the clinic, neither of which they had funds to pay for. Dolly also provide a note to the clinic professional, which also operated like money, to ensure health care for his mother.
The clinic, like so many other essential services in this area, is yet another essential part of life touched by Angels of the Amazon. From the facilities themselves to the furniture, two nurses and a lab tech and many of the supplies, the tiny but critical facility provides life saving care- along with help from the Peruvian government in the form of a head clinician and additional supplies- for more than thirteen communities along the river. AoA also pays for transportation, meals and housing for families like Robert’s.
Dolly Beaver and AoA, along with the many partner organizations that Dolly has worked hard to engage in order to build support for the many villages along the Tahuayo River, have developed an increasingly powerful support network which is slowly but surely changing the face of poverty and improving prospects for those who live in this part of the Amazon. The members of Angels, tourists and those taking an interest in the welfare of those like Robert and his family, get to see how their support directly impacts the lives of these kids, providing them with options that they otherwise couldn’t contemplate.
Robert hunched over in the breeze as we approached the lodge. Worry wracked his strong young body. He was close to tears. He jumped out of the boat and pulled us to the dock. As l left the boat I grasped his shoulder and squeezed it.
He was in good hands.