Lizzie Martin steps off the bus carrying one of the children for the 6th Dr. Tony’s Beach Day. (photo: Diego M. Ortiz)
Originally from Tampa Bay, Florida, Dr. Lazzara has devoted most of his life to working with children. This April will mark his 30th year in Peru. He’s lived here since the early 80s, after working in academic pediatrics at Emory University in Atlanta.
If anyone asks the doctor why he left the United States, where he had a comfortable life working at a well-known university in Atlanta, Georgia, he would tell him or her that he simply felt like he needed to be somewhere else.
His unease, as he calls it, led him to South America to work with a Franciscan monk who invited him to lend a hand in a medical dispensary for the destitute in Peru. After four and a half years Lazzara was able to branch out on his own thanks to the Villa la Paz Foundation, which he and his family started, and buy the home that would become his life’s work, Hogar San Francisco de Asis (St. Francis of Assisi Home) in Chaclacayo.
Over the years, scores of sick children whose parents could not afford to buy them required medicines or treatments to restore their health have been nurtured and cared for by Dr. Lazzara and his nurses.
The children live in the home where they receive medication, food, rehabilitation, and attention, at no cost to their families.
“Children arrive here directly from hospitals or by judge’s orders or a number of different ways,” Dr. Lazzara said. “We house the children for as long as they need. There’s no time limit, but we want them to eventually leave and have productive lives.”
For many children that’s a challenge that won’t be attainable due to the gauntlet of medical conditions they face, which include, chronic respiratory diseases, birth defects, severe burns, vision impairment, and multiple sclerosis.
Lunch time picnic on the beach.(photo: Diego M. Ortiz)
Lizzie Martin, 25, is a volunteer from North Carolina. She first came to Hogar San Francisco de Asis when she was 16 and fell in love with the home. This is her fourth stay as a volunteer.
“It totally changed the way I felt about my life,” Martin said. “ Everyone at the house has a good attitude and they take care of each other.”
Martin says that as a new volunteer it takes a few days to get settled and adjust the house’s routine.
“Every time I come it takes a few days to settle in and it can be kind of overwhelming,” Martin said. “ But Dr. Tony (Lazzara) is a skilled manager who the kids and staff respect and appreciate. It’s a great time to learn.”
Sarah Bollinger, 20, from Germany has been volunteering with Dr. Lazzara and the kids for the last five months. She says the most rewarding part of working at the house is making the bonds with the children and staff.
“You get to know the children so well,” Bollinger said. “I am leaving in three weeks and when I think about saying goodbye to some of the children I feel like I want to start crying already.”
When I asked Dr. Lazzara about where he saw his children’s home in ten years, he gave me a subdued answer.
“Hopefully, I will have a successor,” he said. “I’m 70 years old, with great health; I’m lucid and can still think; I can practice, but that might end one day. I’m going to need someone to back me up.”
Hopefully, Dr. Lazzara will be able to continue on his calling of helping the children of Peru for decades to come.
A volunteer walking with one of the children after the day at the beach. (photo: Diego M. Ortiz)
Dr. Tony spends 365 days of the year taking care of some of Peru’s most helpless children. This week and his kids from Hogar San Francisco enjoyed a day in the sun.