Eyes opened by trip
A backpacking holiday took on much greater significance for Kristina Cavit after a tour company offering to show people the ‘real Bolivia' caught her eye.
The Parnell resident met children who had been sold into slavery and an 11-year-old girl forced into prostitution.
"I was devastated by what was going on," she says.
"In New Zealand we don't learn about extreme poverty. I didn't know that kind of thing happened."
What she saw was enough to set her on a new course working with charity Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos - Our Little Brothers and Sisters - which runs orphanages for abandoned and at-risk children.
The programme provides the youngsters with education, healthcare and spiritual formation.
Cavit lived and worked in the orphanage in San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, mentoring the the new arrivals, from 2009 to 2011.
She was also a project co-ordinator and communications assistant helping to provide aid to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
She says there was much to enjoy about the work but it could also be gruelling.
She ran health workshops dispelling myths about Aids, teaching sexual education and showing people how to prevent cholera.
Getting to know the children and becoming close to them was a highlight but hearing stories of abuse, beatings and life in brothels was tough.
"When you are thrown into a situation like that, you learn fast," she says.
Cavit returned home to set up a branch of Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos in Parnell where she has carried on the work.
She and her 30 volunteers raised more than $30,000 from their last two fundraising events alone.
She has also signed up 52 New Zealanders as sponsors and is organising volunteer trips to Latin America.
Next year's participants will travel to Peru in February.
The 26-year old was made a Kiwibank Local Hero on December 3 for her work and has been shortlisted for the Coca-Cola Amatil Young New Zealander of the Year award.
Cavit misses her life in the Dominican Republic.
"The Dominicans are crazy, very hot-blooded and passionate people.
"They are a lot of fun; there's dancing and music on every corner.
"People don't have money but somehow they find a way to have a sound system.
"I learnt a lot about opening up, letting the small things go and not stressing about the things you can't change."
Go to nph-newzealand.org for more information.
East And Bays Courier