Karen MacKenzie-Stepner from Chester is leading a team to Peru on August 16 to work with deaf school educators in the South American country as part of the Deaf Schools Teacher Training Project.
The team will include MacKenzie-Stepner, a retired speech language pathologist and two teachers from Nova Scotia, along with a physiotherapist from Ottawa who will work with physically disabled children.
They will work with five centres and one school located in the poorest region of the city of Lima.
MacKenzie-Stepner, who has been on more than 40 trips with the organization, explains why she is so passionate about this project.
"I feel very fortunate in my life. I was born a coal miner's daughter in Cape Breton in a relatively poor family," she said. "But I had lots of opportunities. I went off to university, I've been to five. I have multiple degrees and worked in many wonderful places across Canada.
"When I go to other countries, I see those opportunities are not there, or are very scarce," she added. "So for me, personally, this is my way of giving back and I always feel that I'm so fortunate to have been born in Canada and people, just by the fact of where they've been born, do not have the same advantages as I've had."
MacKenzie-Stepner has a team of about 13 volunteers from across North America that she can call on depending on what has been requested. They began working in Haiti in 2012 and then expanded their work to Belize, Peru and Guatemala. The teams normally make between two-to-four trips per year to visit schools and communities.
Trips can last two weeks to a month depending on the need. The trip to Peru is scheduled for two weeks and will cost each volunteer $2,500, with each individual having to come up with the money on their own through fundraisers or out of their own funds.
Teams go where there is a need.
MacKenzie-Stepner said that she started going to Haiti with Team Canada and when she was working in a clinic and orphanages, she was approached by a school director, who indicated that he needed help developing a program for deaf students in Guatemala.
After that first contact, a team was formed and through colleagues and different contacts, they now also work in Belize, Guatemala and Peru.
The upcoming project in Peru, a country with 32 million people, is to help restore programs for the deaf after the Peruvian government - facing budget constraints - cancelled all special education programs for the deaf. Since then parents have had to scramble to develop their own programs.
Now, however, the new government in power is starting to fund more programs once again, and MacKenzie-Stepner says that has given rise to a lot of hope in Peru for deaf people.
She says they are playing catch-up now, educating teachers of the deaf and communities.
The Deaf Schools Teacher Training Project team is part of Team Canada Healing Hands (TCHH) is a registered Canadian charity based out of Fredericton and they have about 400 volunteers from across Canada who provide rehabilitation education and training where there is an identified need. Under the TCHH umbrella they have nine specific teams such as the Teacher Training Project.
Volunteers include psychiatrists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, audiologists, speech-language pathologists, prosthetic and orthotic specialists in addition to education professionals such as university professors, teachers and sign language instructors. Over the last 15 years, TCHH has sent teams to countries around the world.