Angela, 19, is happiest when she’s baking cupcakes. Thanks to the vocational programs at Asociacion Hellen Keller Peru, this once shy teenager has blossomed into a confident and hardworking young woman.
Angela, who has low vision and Downs syndrome, spent two years learning to bake and work in a kitchen. She now sells her culinary creations to customers out of her parents’ home.
“Angela is very proud about what she does,” said Gloria Rodriguez-Gil, regional coordinator for Perkins International’s programs in Latin America and the Caribbean. “I think it has made a big difference in her life.”
Perkins International has partnered with Asociacion Hellen Keller Peru, a Lima-based service provider for the visually impaired and multiply disabled, since its founding in 1995 by Maria Graciela Laynes Valdivia, a graduate of Perkins’ Educational Leadership Program.
The organization was the first in Peru to offer services for people who are deafblind. Today it assists 140 individuals through community-based educational programs, vocational opportunities, teacher training and support for parents, including many living in extreme poverty.
“We started without money, without a facility – nothing to work with other than the training that Perkins had given us,” said Laynes Valdivia, the association’s director. “Our growth is a testament to our mission to serve those with multiple disabilities and visual impairment.”
Angela enrolled at Asociacion Hellen Keller Peru in 2011 at age 16. When she first arrived, she was lonely and struggled to follow instructions from teachers. Today Angela is known as an outgoing and cooperative member of the program who loves to listen to music and dance.
Angela is a standout member of the bakery program, which teaches culinary skills to participants ages 17 to 25. She uses a special cookbook featuring large picture instructions. The kitchen is also equipped with other accessible features like braille and tactile cabinet labels.
What makes the bakery program at Asociacion Hellen Keller Peru unique is the inclusion of family members. This builds strong family bonds like the one shared by Angela and her mother, Gloria. After learning to bake together at the program, Angela and Gloria now run a small business selling their treats to neighbors.
“Their dream is to open their own storefront bakery,” said Laynes Valdivia.
The vocational programs at Asociacion Hellen Keller Peru are designed to prepare students for adult life. During a recent visit to the baking program, Rodriguez-Gil was pleased to watch young adults and their parents working side by side in the kitchen.
“Everybody was completely engaged,” said Rodriguez-Gil. “The students follow a schedule. They follow rules, like wearing proper uniforms and washing their hands. I think they like the structure. They know what they are supposed to do and they love it. And at the end of the day there is a finished product. They feel very proud of themselves.”