Warmakuna means children in Quechua, the second largest spoken language in Peru, after Spanish. To a University of Florida doctoral student and Fulbright scholar, warmakuna hold a special place in her heart.
“Children are very special to me and are full of potential,” said Fiorella Guerrero, MA, a Rehabilitation Science PhD student. She explained that she saw a need for more opportunities for Peruvian children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), and that she wanted to be an advocate for change for those children.
In conjunction with her doctoral research project on evaluating quality of life in Peruvian families with children with disabilities, Guerrero is able to directly support Peruvian children with IDD. Through her efforts as a founder and board member of Warmakuna Hope, a nonprofit based in Lima, she and the volunteers are providing free rehabilitation services and workshops for the children and their families.
Like many nonprofits, Warmakuna Hope started from humble beginnings.
In 2017 after returning from a fellowship at the Michigan Developmental Disabilities Institute and the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, Guerrero learned that due to lack of funding, the Peruvian nonprofit that she had previously worked at had closed.
Feeling compelled to help the children and their families, Guerrero and former colleagues called the volunteers and families affected by the closure. They collectively decided to continue their efforts despite the financial challenges. This is what sparked the beginning of Warmakuna Hope.
“The beginning of Warmakuna Hope was the expression of love and commitment to a vulnerable population,” Guerrero said. “Even a pandemic cannot shut down our operations.”
The volunteer-led nonprofit aspires to improve the quality of life of children with IDD who have Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or autism spectrum disorder, all while recently having to adapt to COVID-19 protocols.
Providing rehabilitation services during a pandemic was no small feat, especially when the team was forced to update their sustainability model.
Before the pandemic, the nonprofit offered two tiers of rehab services: a $5 option and a free option. Once the pandemic hit, poverty drastically increased. The team knew the importance of their work, so they decided to provide all of their rehab services entirely free to the families. The volunteers also put in great efforts to help the families transition to a virtual environment, given that most did not have digital devices or internet.
When the world was compelled to navigate the virtual environment, volunteers at Warmakuna Hope were thankful to have been working with committed rehabilitation professionals who could provide virtual therapy sessions and workshops for the families.
Additionally, volunteers collected donations to provide 20 tablets to the families, allowing their children to access both their school classes and therapy sessions safely during COVID-19.
“I believe the investment we put into working with children in their first years is crucial,” Guerrero said. “The way we treat our children determines the destiny of a nation. Through our work, children with disabilities who were excluded from schools for years are now attending one for the first time.”
As she continues her studies within the Disability, Occupation, and Participation Science track in the PhD program, Guerrero recognizes the importance of her studies and how they can translate to her work serving the children and their families.
As a board member of Warmakuna Hope, she leads the communications team and manages the operating model to develop processes. Building on past professional experience and developing skills she has learned throughout her doctoral studies, Guerrero also writes and coordinates projects to send to funding agencies.
“Bringing happiness to children and their families is priceless,” Guerrero said. “Hearing about their dreams for the future and that they don’t feel alone anymore is extremely rewarding. Seeing how committed the volunteers, children and their families are is not only motivating my work in Lima, but also to continue my PhD studies here.”
is a Rehabilitation Science PhD student studying within the Disability, Occupation, and Participation Science track under the mentorship of Jessica Kramer, an associate professor in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions' department of occupational therapy. Guerrero's dissertation work focuses on evaluating quality of life in Peruvian families with children with disabilities.