Photos courtesy of Not Forgotten.
Allison Fuqua still loves to hear her husband, Tyler, tell the story of his first trip to Peru.
Ten years ago, Tyler found himself in a jungle with strangers. At age 18, it was his first time in a Spanish- speaking country. He was sharing a twin mattress with another man. It was hot, and there were bugs. He had lost his luggage and was borrowing clothes and sleeping gear. Boys who lived on the streets were teaching him how to wash his socks in the river.
Tyler had signed up for the hardest-rated mission trip he could find, but this was not the adventure he expected.
“God took away every possible comfort on that trip,” Tyler said. “It was a humbling experience. At the same time, I was exposed to street boys and learned their stories, and God did a lot of work through that.”
The boys he met, generally ages 4-12, are the lowest in their society even lower than prostitutes, he said. People see them as an eyesore, and they see themselves as an eyesore.
Before the trip ended, Tyler knew he wanted to come back and be a part of the boys’ lives long-term. He had seen that they already had seen enough people leave them.
“They have poor self-esteem, to put it mildly,” Allison said. “They view everything as a result of their own badness, and they feel like they deserve how they live. It’s hard for them to believe that anyone else can love them.”
And so the purpose of their nonprofit ministry, Not Forgotten, is to show the boys that they can be loved.
“If they can see love in Gringos, we hope they can start to see the love of God,” Allison said. “They can tangibly grasp that they are worth loving when they see people coming back to them. We are trying to be a visual of that truth. We want them to see that they are not forgotten—not by us and more so not by God.”
Personal and pointed growth
Although the vision to build the boys’ hopes and dreams started with Tyler, Not Forgotten has always been a team effort, with more than 200 Samford students and others from around the Southeast making trips over the past decade.
During his sophomore year at Samford, Tyler convinced seven college friends to go with him to Peru as a next step to help the missionaries there in the long-term.
“The missionaries sent us off into the jungle with no interns or anything. It was just us,” he said.
Spring break his junior year, he took 23 Samford students, and his senior year he took 37—the first year Allison and Kristen McKee, now the Forgotten Team Coordinator and Church Liaison, would go.
After Tyler and his friends graduated from Samford in 2006, they continued not only to take trips, but also to explore organic ways to do more for the children.
“We found it was hard seeing so many more needs than we could meet in a trip, like education. So we started supporting teachers,” Tyler said.
It was then in 2007 that Not Forgotten was born — to do more to support local ministry and home there.
A vision for long term, holistic change
The more needs the Not Forgotten team tried to meet, the more needs they saw. And they began to see that the homes they had been working with, in their efforts to provide food and shelter, served as a band-aid over more serious problems.
They started brainstorming with people on the ground and dreamed up a new home to provide a more holistic approach to “build hope, break the cycle,” as the organization’s tag line says.
In April 2011, Not Forgotten purchased 100 acres in Peru to influence the community where they had been working, and the team’s ideas for their property are endless. They broke ground last summer for a children’s home to get more kids off the streets or from neglected homes.
“We could open tomorrow and have 50 kids,” Allison said. “We have a vision of ways to do this well and to involve the community in taking care of the kids.”
In the future, they hope to build a school and teach the children to speak English and use computers so they can work in the tourism industry. They also want to open a farm and a business such as a gas station or ecotourism site to benefit local residents and teach the boys trade skills.
Next steps, here and there
Not Forgotten hopes to partner with more churches and schools in Birmingham, adding to their existing network of support.
Allison is now a foster care social worker at Lifeline Family Services, Tyler is an internal medicine and pediatrics resident at UAB and Kristen teaches language acquisition at Montevallo Elementary. All three still live in Homewood, not far from their college friends who are still very involved in Not Forgotten. They bring their own professional skill sets in speech language, construction, nonprofit management, business and accounting to the ministry.
Tyler’s dad, Joe Fuqua, an architect in Huntsville, and Allison’s dad, Randy Pittman, the Vice President for University Advancement at Samford, are both very involved as well.
In all they do, the overarching idea of any long-term plan is for Not Forgotten to pour into locals who can be on the front lines in Peru to connect with the children on a deeper level. Realizing that as Americans they have some cultural disconnection in Peru, the team said they want to be as involved or removed as they should be in their vision for the boys.
“We can help be motivators for them,” Kristen said. “By working with locals we can teach them to take advantage of the opportunities they have.”
Allison added: “Our heart is not to turn them into little Americans but to listen to people about what they need and connect them with things. We try to lay aside what makes the most sense to us here, knowing that we are still not Peruvian.”
How to support Not Forgotten
- Donate. The team is working to build a steady donor base but is grateful for any donation.
- Keep up with their work. Follow them on their blog, Facebook and Instagram, or sign up for their newsletter on their website.
- Go on a trip. Not Forgotten sends two summer teams and one over Christmas to love on children, work on construction and renovations, and teach Bible schools and English to the boys. They welcome anyone who is willing.
- Share their story. Not Forgotten is interested in making connections with local churches and other people who are interested in learning their story and become a part of their work.
For more information, visit Notforgotten.org.