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Couple sells house to help kids’ home

Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyRobyn, left, and Joel Hanson, right, had their car packed outside the First Lutheran Church in Gypsum. The couple who will spend a year in a Peruvian orphanage said they want to serve someone other than themselves.
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GYPSUM ” They’re now homeless, truck-less and dog-less.

And while they ruefully admit that sounds like the lyrics to a country song, Joel and Robyn Hanson are about to embark on an adventure they believe will immeasurably enrich their lives.

By enrichment, however, they don’t mean material wealth.



Thirteen days from now, the Hansons ” longtime Gypsum residents and stalwart members of First Lutheran Church ” are leaving ski country behind to spend the next year at an orphanage in Peru.

At the Hogar de Esperanza in Trujillo, Peru, elementary school teacher Robyn will work as a teaching assistant while Joel will be an all-around maintenance handyman. The couple also will coordinate volunteer efforts at the facility. They also plan to share their music talents with the children.



“When it came right down to it, we didn’t just want to serve ourselves any longer. We wanted to open our hearts to serving others,” Robyn says. “It’s a risk, sure, but the people in Peru are going to be changing our lives far more than what we can do for them.”

The couple learned of the Hogar de Esparanza from a childhood friend of Robyn’s. The orphanage was started by Kansas City businessman David Miller and his wife, Vickie, in 2003.

On the facility’s Web site, http://www.perukids.com, Miller says he has been traveling to Peru for more than a decade. While out on morning runs, he noticed children eating out of garbage cans.



When Miller sold his business four years ago, he used the proceeds to build the orphanage. Located outside of Trujillo, a city of roughly 700,000, Hogar de Esparanza ” which means “Home of Hope” ” can accommodate up to 72 children.

The facility is barely a ripple in the sea of need for kids in Peru.

According to the orphanage’s Web site, up to 10,000 homeless and underprivileged children in Peru die, alone, every year. Only 8 percent of Peruvian children attend school; but more than 1.4 million children between the ages of 6 and 17 are working regularly.

“You see little kids who have never had water or electricity and now they are in a loving environment,” says Robyn.

She tells the story of the facility’s first orphan ” a little boy who literally spent the first three years of his life in a dirt hole. The child’s mother was a prostitute. She would place her son in the hole and cover it over when she had to leave him.

“When you see a kid like that, they are so happy to be in the home,” she notes.

Robyn made her first trek to Peru in 2006 when she volunteered at Hogar de Esparanza for one month. She was so affected by that visit that when she returned home, she began planning for a First Lutheran youth mission to the site.

Two months ago, the Hansons led a 33-member delegation of 22 high school kids, two college students and nine adults to the orphanage.

The group painted the dining hall, installed new window screens, cleaned up the playground area and dug sand away from the facility’s well.

When the students returned home they wondered how they could return to their every day lives with the knowledge of the struggles that other people face.

“Each of us struggles with that question ” we need to find out for ourselves what we are supposed to do to serve others,” she says.

To finance their trip to Peru, the couple sold their home and their truck. Their dog is spending the year with family. Joel won’t be parted from his trusty guitar, and looks forward to teaching music to the orphans. He has been the music director for First Lutheran for the past few years.

The couple will be volunteer liaisons, coordinating an ever growing number of volunteers.

“I just picked up my last paycheck. That’s a pretty weird feeling,” says Joel.

The Hansons are learning Spanish, but are far from fluent.

“Language will definitely be a hurdle for us,” Joel says. “I don’t think I can go out in the city by myself for a while.

“I don’t think material things we be hard to adapt to,” Robyn adds. “What I will miss is the First Lutheran Youth kids, friends and family.”

During an emotional talk at church last week, Joel spoke of his 15 years in the valley. And what do the Hansons hope to build during their year in Peru? Relationships.

“Everything else can be taken away. Relationships are so lasting,” Robyn says.

“That’s the biggest thing you can hope to leave behind : A place in the hearts of the orphans and the people who we will work with,” Joel says.

Keep track of the Hansons’ activities by visiting their blog: http://www.jeolerobynhanson.blogspot.com.


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