27 years ago, Walter Meekes, a young teacher from Holland came to Cusco to do a year of volunteering in the very tough neighbourhood of San Isidro in Cusco. He never went back. He fell in love with the city and working with kid so he founded the HoPe foundation with the intention of improving education for marginalized communities in Cusco. 25 years later HoPe has built 700 schools, trained thousands of teachers, had their curriculum imbedded into the regular school curriculums and literally has changed the lives of thousands. Walter and HoPe are role models for how development work should be done. For his accomplishments here he received Holland’s highest civilian honour for good deeds (a bit like the Order of Canada I think). Recently he received a phone call from a former student and was invited to come for dinner in that person’s community. When he arrived the whole community was there to celebrate the young man’s recent graduation from law school. He had not forgotten Walter and neither had the community. While walking yesterday evening with him to one of our projects in Cusco he casually pointed to a building and said “that was our first kindergarten”, and then another “that was our first home for abused girls”, and then another …. it turned into an informal walk-by of his legacy in this city.
I had the good fortune of meeting Walter six years ago and he has been our main advisor here since. He sits on The Alma Board of Directors here in Peru and travels with me on most project visits. He was with us in Bolivia last week and it happened to be his birthday. Children and teachers from over the years all sending him songs and well wishes (we were in the jungle area of Bolivia so this burst of social media activity was kind of fun). When my kids are asked to do projects on “heroes” in school, and they ask me my opinion, my mind goes immediately to Walter Meekes.
Walter last week at an Alma project in Bolivia: