ORLANDO, fla. - It’s a busy week ahead for Pedro and Paola Ramirez as they prepare to host their biggest Thanksgiving celebration yet, but the guests won’t be family this year. Instead, it will be 50 little girls and their teachers who will be visiting from Peru coming to live out their dancing dreams.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Pedro, can you cook for 50?’” laughed Paola, to which Pedro shrugged and said, “No problem.”
It all started when Paola and Pedro heard the story of a ballet school in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Lima, Peru; a neighborhood where running water is a luxury for many.
It’s there that former professional ballerina Maria del Carmen Silva runs the class for young girls out of an empty classroom in a public school, teaching her girls to strive and prepare for a future outside of their current situation.
Via video call Friday night, she showed the small room where girls, ages six to 19, found their share of space to practice the dance form they’d fallen in love with.
As part of Silva’s mission, she wanted to bring the girls to compete in a real, international ballet competition here in Orlando. Since many of the girls can’t afford dance shoes, none the less international plane tickets to the Sunshine State, the team has walked the streets of their neighborhood collecting plastic bottles and recyclables to fund their airfare.
That’s where the Ramirez family comes in -- Paola and Pedro are natives of Peru and wanted to help give the kids the opportunity to truly have a dream trip when they made it to town.
“We just look at each other and we say, ‘should we?’ and it’s like, ‘go ahead!’” said Pedro.
Pedro and Paola are opening the doors of their home to the 14 girls and teachers from that impoverished neighborhood, allowing them to stay with them for the trip so they don’t have to try and fund hotel rooms as well.
The group arrives on Nov. 26, just in time to celebrate their first American Thanksgiving, so the couple, of course, planning that big Thanksgiving dinner for the girls staying with them as well as their teammates from a wealthier part of town who train alongside Silva’s class and will also compete in the event.
However, the neurosurgeon and his wife didn’t want to stop there, especially knowing what conditions and day-to-day life is like for many of the girls in their home country, and knowing how hard the girls worked to get where they are today.
“We know the necessities that they have,” said Paola, “all the effort they make every day just to go every day and dance.”
So the family and their friends have started a GoFundMe for the ballerinas to raise money to make their trip memorable and, they hope, send them all to Disney World for a day of fun during their Orlando Adventure. As of Friday evening, the campaign had raised $850 of their $2500 goal.
A group of friends nearby also donated Disney-themed gift bags, customized for each of the girls when they arrive, and for their teammates also staying in town.
The couple says any money raised beyond the $2,500 will go to the team to take home to improve their ballet studio and help pay for gear for the hardworking team.
“My first thought was that, we need to help, we need to do something for those girls because it actually touched my heart very, very deep,” said Paola recalling the pictures of the girls recycling to pay their way to Orlando.
The couple hopes, with all the help they’ve gotten, the girls will have the trip of a lifetime and continue to be encouraged in their efforts for a better future.