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Utahns taking shoes to Peruvians

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A group of Utah students and Amazon River villagers will walk in each other's shoes — the students figuratively, the villagers literally.

Closed footwear is a necessity in Yanamono, Peru, where dangerous parasites infest the soil. But the 44 families living in the remote farming community can't afford shoes.

The students will deliver the much-needed shoes along with medical, hygiene and school supplies as part of a two-week YouthLINC humanitarian mission to the Amazon rain forest. They also will build a new school room while living among the villagers.

YouthLINC (Youth serving the Local and International Needs Community) is nonprofit organization affiliated with Utah Rotary clubs and colleges and universities.

A total of 31 Utahns, including high school and college students, medical professionals and Rotarians, left for Peru Thursday. Each will lug a 60-pound duffel bag packed with supplies.

"I have so much," said Tawny Stratton, a recent Lone Peak High School graduate who will study international relations at Utah State University in the fall. "I feel like I should take a little time to share because I have so much."

Stratton and other team members organized shoe-collection drives throughout the state, gathering 400 pairs. Students also collected more than 1,000 children's books in Spanish and English.

Each student performed 80 hours of local community service prior to the trip. Their work earned them scholarships from Rotary clubs to help offset the cost of the trip.

Alvin Kwok, a University of Utah medical student who volunteered at the Fourth Street Clinic, will teach villagers how to treat injuries incidental to jungle life, including machete cuts, snake bites and near-drownings. He also will hand out first-aid kits.

The YouthLINC team will help villagers construct a wood classroom with a tin roof. The current thatched roof leaks in the daily rains, said YouthLINC coordinator Judy Zone, who visited the site earlier.

"I'm building the school. I'm one of the only boys. We got elected to be the horses, you could say," said Garrett Rees, a senior at North Summit High School.

YouthLINC's previously sent students to a deaf school in Kenya and a school for children with disabilities in Mexico. This is its first mission to Peru. The group is scheduled to return July 8.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com