Trinity Alumna's Organization Changes Lives in Peru
It was the spring semester of 2007 when Lara DeVries ’07 was completing her history and Spanish field education in Peru. Her academic goal was to study both ancient and modern Peruvian history in relation to community development and involvement. As a Trinity student, DeVries expected her four months of study to provide an experiential learning opportunity but not for it to provide the means by which God would call her to one day change lives in Peru.
After returning home to the States, DeVries, the daughter of Louella ’93 and Dr. Michael
DeVries ’74, professor of psychology at Trinity, could not ignore the clear call on her to somehow attend to the needs of the women and children of Huaycan, in the poverty-stricken district of Ate-Vitarte in Lima, Peru. Just one year after graduating in December of 2007, DeVries had successfully co-founded the Light and Leadership Initiative (LLI), a non-profit offering education programs to women and children. She serves as its executive director.
The organization operates out of a three-story community center that houses classrooms and living quarters for the program volunteers, many of them Trinity alumni, as well as other volunteers from around the world.
One of those volunteers is 2008 Trinity alumna Kristin Bolan. “God has truly blessed us—from Lara’s passion, which catches on like wildfire, to the friendships that originated at Trinity and help make this dream an international reality.”
A Conversation with Lara DeVries
Trinity: Describe a typical day at LLI.
DeVries: Our days are filled with English, French, and physical education classes in the afternoons, in addition to private tutoring sessions in the early evenings. The weekends are very busy. Over 40 kids come in and out of our program site for English, physical education, art, and dance classes.
Trinity: Explain the process of turning God’s call on your heart into a non-profit organization. How did you meet co-founder Luz Ccasihue?
DeVries: Through the support of Dr. Bob Rice, professor of history, and Dr. Aron
Reppmann ’92, associate professor of philosophy, and many others on Trinity’s campus, I was able to volunteer and study in Peru for four months. I met Luz while I was completing my field education credit in Lima in 2007. She invited me to her home in Huaycan. Luz and I, along with her mother Yrma and father Casi, talked about the conditions in Huaycan: drugs, gangs, extreme poverty, sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, familial violence, and more. I left that day promising that I would “talk” with others about what was going on in Huaycan. At the time, I didn’t think I could promise anything—I was a senior at Trinity and wasn’t sure what direction my life would take. Yet, I do specifically remember for the first time knowing in my heart that I would return to Peru.
“At the time, I didn’t think I could promise anything—I was a senior at Trinity and wasn’t sure what direction my life would take.”
Upon return to the U.S., Luz and I continued to communicate through e-mail about issues Huaycan faced and what we thought we could do about it. One day, in July of 2007, I wrote an
e-mail to Luz. I explained I kept thinking about the situation there and had decided to form a non-profit. I asked her if she was “in.” Her answer was, of course, yes. Light and Leadership started that simple—Luz and I were both young women who saw a need and shared the desire to do something about it.
Trinity: What was your plan for changing the community?
DeVries: For Luz and me, education was always the clear key to community transformation. It’s amazing that we never sat down to have a bullet point discussion about what we believed and what we wanted our vision to be. Instead, Light and Leadership formed as a natural alignment of both of our beliefs that education is the long-term solution. Education keeps kids out of gangs. It helps prevent STDs and drug use. It reduces teen pregnancy. It makes a promise to the community that soon, it will no longer have to live in extreme poverty.
Trinity: How have the needs of the community been met by LLI?
DeVries: Since we’ve begun, I’ve noticed what a huge difference our Light and Leadership community is making among the kids. Now, they have a safe place to come hang out after school or on the weekends. Not only is it safe, but it’s a positive, encouraging environment where volunteers and kids alike are all friends. I’m learning everyday about the increasing problem of gang and youth violence. Our programs offer an important alternative to getting involved with gang or drug related activities.
Trinity: Share a moment that was life-changing or that especially validated your efforts.
DeVries: There have been several moments when I have taken a step back to see the amazing work of Light and Leadership. In October, we expanded to a new area in Huaycan, in addition to adding two new English classes and a Spanish literacy class in other areas where we’re working. I was really proud of our volunteers when we counted the number of our total students—130 students all eagerly attend our programs. I think it’s an amazing feat for just six months and six volunteers.
Trinity: How did other Trinity alumni became involved, including your parents?
DeVries: My parents, Michael and Louella DeVries, have been a constant support from the beginning. They’ll be volunteering in Huaycan and leading mental health workshops this January. My mother is LLI’s treasurer and works with Jessica Beukema ’08 and Mary DeLange on our U.S. half of the board of directors. The three of them make our programs possible.
My friends are fantastic. Their interest in Light and Leadership and their commitment is something I never imagined. Kristin Bolan ’08 is here working on our case management system. Sara Carlson ’08 has been essential to structuring our English program. They have both dedicated a year of volunteering with LLI. Bridget Durkin ’07 is also scheduled to arrive to volunteer this December.
“Light and Leadership has become my life, and I wake up every day excited and grateful for this opportunity God has given me.”
Beyond our volunteers in Peru, Carolyn Koonce ’08 and Corenna Vander Weele ’07, among several other Trinity graduates and faculty, have been amazing Light and Leadership advocates in Chicago.
Trinity: Any final thoughts you’d like to share looking back on the time you first visited Peru during your Trinity field experience?
DeVries: In the past few years, I can see how God has shaped my path and directed me towards Peru. It still amazes me how it all has come together. For two years, the whole chain of events, from deciding to study in Peru and meeting Luz to obtaining non-profit 501(c)3 status and moving my life to Huaycan, is incredible. Light and Leadership has become my life, and I wake up every day excited and grateful for this opportunity God has given me. It wouldn’t have been possible without the amazing support of family and friends (both in the U.S. and Peru) God has put in my life.
For more information, visit www.lightandleadership.org.
NOTE: NBC Nightly News recently taped a segment on water conditions in Peru and contacted DeVries to help coordinate the visit. She gladly arranged a visit to the Ate district, and LLI’s neighbor allowed NBC to film him while he delivered water by truck to areas that do not have water piped-in. The segment is scheduled to air this month during Green Week.
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