When Brendan Hieber moved to Peru in February, he thought he had his whole life planned out.
“I was interested in getting a master’s in international social work from Columbia,” the 30-year-old Highland Park High School graduate said. “In order to even apply for that program, I needed to become completely fluent in a second language. I chose Spanish. I also needed to work in a need-based organization for at least nine months outside of the United States.”
Call it fate, or just good luck, but Hieber’s landlord had a nonprofit in mind — her place of work, La Casa de Panchita. The charity works with women and children who come from the poorest area of Peru’s capital, Lima. Pamplona Alta is known for shantytowns, poor health conditions, and little upward mobility. Young or old, many of its residents are employed as domestic workers who average 60 hours a week, and are typically paid with only a plate of food or two soles per day, which amounts to about 75 cents.
“They are truly treated as second-class citizens,” said Hieber, who graduated from Northwestern with a degree in radio, television, and film. “La Casa de Panchita is a safe haven where they can come, have clean water, learn English, learn about their rights as domestic workers, and that it is a valid profession.”
When Hieber saw that one of La Casa Panchita’s buildings, La Ludoteca, was not being used to its full potential due to low funding, he jumped to action. Through GlobalGiving.org, he has started “Human After All,” a grassroots campaign to raise funds to support La Ludoteca.
He is about halfway to his fundraising goal of $22,000. All the money raised will go to extending the hours that La Ludoteca is open to the children in Pamplona Alta, providing them with clean running water, sanitation, a daily snack, a psychologist, and educational toys.
Terra Tolley, a friend who visited Hieber in Lima in April, is amazed by his transformation.
“Brendan has taken the best qualities of being raised in a supportive community in Dallas — compassion for people, generosity, and a good work ethic — and has applied them to helping one of the most vulnerable populations in the global south,” she said via email. “He represents the things that are truly important in life: love, compassion, integrity, hard work, kindness, and the struggle for human rights for all.”
Five months after setting foot in Lima, Hieber has chosen to postpone getting a graduate degree in order to ensure that La Ludoteca serves the community.
“Being is more important than having,” Hieber said. “Giving of yourself — of your spirit, of your soul — is where true happiness lies for all mankind. I know for a fact now that every single human on the planet yearns and dreams and wants the very same things. We just may go about getting it in different ways.”