by kathryn schiliro • photos contributed by dave belton
Pilot, Buckhead resident and BOE member Dave Belton visits an orphanage in Peru to lend a hand and ends up gaining perspective
However, in November, his associations with the airline took him to a place less desirable – an orphanage, La Sagrada Familia, near Lima, Peru, nestled in the Andes.
According to Belton, the orphanage houses more than 800 children ranging in age from babies to 18 years old. "No child is turned away – many of them are fleeing from abusive homes," Belton writes in email correspondence.
The day-trip was orchestrated by a fellow Delta employee, a flight attendant, Carla Soto Mitchell. An annual trip for Mitchell, last year, six people accompanied her; this year, that number grew to about 40, including many gate attendants and Belton, who'd flown with "some of these gals" and was asked to join them.
"We often talk about military leaders, important statesmen, and captains of industry who 'move and shake' our world. I'm more impressed with people who touch the hearts of the little ones," Belton writes about Mitchell. "She challenges me to do even more."
There for the day, the group spent time visiting with the children. They also spent around $6,000 to rent a band of clowns and jump castles, provide candy and presents to each child and to give all of the children there a meal of hamburgers – their first-ever, according to Belton.
"My primary goal was to help," Belton writes. "As ridiculously busy as I am, I always feel guilty about not doing more. I also wanted to experience [first-hand] the lives these kids are living."
Belton said he spoke – in English – with one young man who had hopes of becoming a lawyer. The orphanage places a heavy emphasis on education, Belton writes.
The boy fled his home because of his abusive parents, Belton found out. This was also the case for many of the teenage girls at the orphanage. And, though they eat a sole "decent meal" of bread and soup a day, "they are delighted to be there," according to Belton.
In another anecdote, Belton tells of having a discussion with a teenage girl when a baby threw up on its shirt. "Without being told, this teenage girl immediately crossed the cavernous room and cleaned up the little girl," Belton writes.
"Despite their meager conditions, the children are happy, educated, and care for one another in a selfless way that is frankly amazing," Belton writes.
Belton hopes to make his way back to the Peru orphanage next Christmas. In the meantime, he's been asked by Mitchell to return around Valentine's Day.
"I truly feel like I gained more than I gave from the experience," Belton writes. "We are so fortunate to be living in America. The poorest of us are so much better off than these people. Yet they are happy and smiling with a positive outlook that most of the people I know in the States seem to lack."
Printed in the January 5, 2012 edition.