Off the beaten path: Making a difference around the world

How does one build compassion within children at a young age? This is the question Julie McBroom, AnneMarie Evans, and Tammy Highfill Garcia pondered as mothers and global citizens.

The answer came in the form of an excursion to a distant locale in the summer of 2010 – a voyage that created indelible memories and fueled their passion to continue working with indigent children and mothers within their own community and abroad.

Julie and AnneMarie, along with Tammy, a middle school Spanish teacher, came together to discuss exposing their children to another culture, constructing a valuable experience, and offering a new perspective.

Julie McBroom shares how what started out as a desire to nurture a spirit of altruism within her children has evolved into a yearly learning and giving trip and a platform via for mothers to impact the lives of those less fortunate.

Beanie Babies Abound
Let’s start here, with the Beanie Babies. “My in-laws collected Beanie Babies. I’m not sure why,” Julie McBroom relates this seemingly random fact with a laugh and knits her eyebrows together. “There were hundreds of them!”

We will soon find out how these Beanie Babies, packed tightly into knapsacks and carried upon the backs of four of her diminutive traveling companions, will collide with the lives of numerous Peruvian children, miles away, in ways she never imagined. (More on the adventures of the stuffed animals later.)

A Journey through Love
Julie unfurls the story of the first annual service trip for the three mothers and their eight children, “In 2010 we decided that each summer we would spend two weeks immersing our kids in another culture and involving them in service to others.”

The first year the intrepid trekkers focused on Casa De Milagros, a home for abandoned and abused children with accommodations for volunteers. Julie expounds, “We identified this orphanage with the objective of engaging our kids in a meaningful encounter, collecting supplies, and supporting a children’s home. We traveled to the home with our kids to personally deliver supplies and set-up the project. We spent a full week at the orphanage to facilitate true connections and cultural exchange between the kids.”

With so many organizations throughout the world to choose from you might wonder how this particular orphanage in Peru was selected. All three mothers set out to do their homework, researching established programs whose mission aligned with their own goals. Each mother was also an avid traveler, yielding an openness and willingness to travel to distant locations. Their decision was also informed by Tammy’s knowledge of South America; having lived there previously, Tammy was fluent in Spanish. After much deliberation the setting was finally chosen: they would venture to Peru.

The Universal Language of Amor
Prior to departure, each mother ensured her children possessed a solid understanding of the culture as well as the work at hand once in the new country. They researched and studied the Peruvian culture, its traditions, and of course it’s language.

The kids learned to speak Spanish, and were equipped with phrases such as “Hello, my name is and how are you?” Most importantly, the children were able to articulate the importance of making a difference in the lives of others when asked about the impending trip.

The budding humanitarians had orchestrated a small talent show in their own backyard with hopes of raising funds and collecting shoes and art supplies for the orphanage. Julie shares, “All the children participated. Some sang, others danced, one played the guitar. Even the two year-old chipped in by reciting the alphabet!”

And the turnout and support was astounding: by the time the three mothers and eight youth were ready to take flight, they had twenty-one pieces of luggage – filled to the brim with 145 pairs of shoes, heaps of art supplies, and yes, bags of Beanie Babies.

A Road Less Traveled
Upon arriving, a motorbus was sent to pick up the three families. And so the adventure began.

A storm had damaged the lodging house they were due to stay at, so they were off to a retreat center that would serve as their makeshift accommodation. Down a dusty dirt road filled with boulder-sized cavities, the families bumped and bounced around inside the bus. As they made their way to an unspoiled corner of Peru, they marveled at the wonder and beauty of the lush and verdant landscape.

Julie, AnneMarie, and Tammy wanted this experience to be both positive and constructive. While their own children came away with a profound understanding of the Peruvian children’s life situation, they focused on moments of joy, spending time with the orphans playing games, breaking down communication barriers as only children know how, and soaking in an experience that would forever change them.

On the first day, they set up a pop-up retail shop where each child was able to pick out a new pair of shoes. And on the second day the families organized a communal art activity. Upon sharing this, Julie is gazing ahead and clearly she is standing amongst the many swarthy tots and teens at the orphanage – if only for a fraction of a moment – and she’s smiling in a way which unmistakably communicates that this experience was both poignant and affecting for everyone involved.

Children of the Streets
There’s one experience that still brings tears to Julie’s eyes, one that each parent and the children revisit time and time again – and it involves the Beanie Babies.
In the city of Cusco, the three families came across several destitute children on the streets who were working. Suddenly the tiny plush animals that Julie’s in-laws collected for so long made perfect sense: they became necessary, invaluable.

The youth offered the vagrant children a reprieve from their workday, if only for a moment, by presenting the Beanie Babies as gifts. They found homes for the tiny stuffed toys in the hands of these tiny laborers.

Peru is known for its rich wildlife, including pink dolphins, spotted jaguars, giant river otters, and feathered creatures. The stuffed animals mirrored not only the diversity of the land’s natural wildlife, but also the myriad hues of happiness conveyed by every child who gleefully accepted the colorful toys.

“One small child was selling birdseed on the streets to tourists,” Julie relates, her voice simultaneously conveying joy and sorrow, “and one of our children approached him with a Beanie Baby, a dolphin. He stopped what he was doing and sat down to play with that dolphin for an hour! The look on his face was incredible – it was sure disbelief! It was as if he had won the lottery.”

A Path to a Better Life
Julie, AnneMarie, and Tammy knew then that upon their return they would formally map out the itinerary and offer direction to families interested in helping to build a better life for others: “We have set up an organization called 8Kids and we’ll be sharing our itineraries and experiences to inspire other families who would like to do similar work. Our families are offering a road map for your family.”

Future excursions continue to generate great excitement and foster aspirations to effect positive change amongst the eight traveling children. 8Kids aspires to galvanize other families to sojourn to places near or far and into the hearts of children open to receiving your love.

This summer Julie, AnneMarie, and Tammy – along with their eight petite activists in tow – have chosen an orphanage for abandoned and abused children near Rivas, Nicaragua called Nuestros Hermanos Pequenos/Our Little Brothers and Sisters.

The orphanage is short of farm animals and currently they don’t have enough cows to provide milk for all the children. The three moms and eight kids are focusing their energies on raising funds to procure the much-needed cows. Each animal represents an opportunity for self-reliance.

Stay tuned for more news on the progress of this very worthy cause.

Christina Pippin, Oak Park IL


  1. Carole Meyer said...

    I am sooo impressed!! These moms go straight to the heart of the matter- building personal relationships with those less fortunate.

    Keep me posted. I will help support your efforts.

    P.S. I am Marron Meyer’s step-mom, indirectly a friend of Julie’s.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:39 am
    • HipMum said...

      Hello Marron Meyer’s step-mom – thanks for you comment!!

      May 12, 2011 at 9:02 pm
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