San Lucas Sacatepequez, Peru
Rosa Mercedes Chávez
After years of teaching, Mercedes grew exasperated with the education that public schools offered children with disabilities. Many children with cognitive difficulties are marginalized and hidden from the community, some even ostracized from their families. Mercedes felt that the schools were no more than day care centers, often isolating special needs children from their peers and doing little to equip them with job or life skills for when they graduate. She knew that with the right type of support, special needs children could become effective members of their communities.
Alongside Celeste Marion, Mercedes founded Manos Unidas in 2008 as the first, and only, private special education school in Cusco, Peru. Mercedes and Celeste began Manos Unidas in Mercedes’ living room with just two autistic children as part of an afterschool tutoring program. For the first six months, Manos Unidas worked with an average of 5-7 youth. However, their reputation quickly grew. Families searching for options for their special needs children began to seek out the organization and the unique services it was offering. Manos Unidas now works with 30 local professions to assist 75 youth between 3 and 25 years old.
Manos Unidas has begun training employers and neighbors, educating the community about the abilities of the children it serves, and the opportunities available to those who open their hearts, and their businesses, to those with cognitive difficulties