Think of VISIONS Peru and Nico Jara comes immediately to mind, so inseparable is Nico and VISIONS Peru. Nico (pictured above, leading the group) was our driver the first summer in 1999.  But from the start his role was so much more for he freely labored with us every day at the work site, always with a fierce passion, wide smile, and his huge heart.  Rich Webb established VISIONS Peru and directed the first season.  He recalls first meeting Nico.

A day into my exploration of Urubamba I made my way to the bus station with a name in my pocket that I’d gotten from the nephew of a contact I had only met the day before.  A family friend told me to “look for an American Peace Corps worker who finished her tour in 1965 and stayed on in Urubamba…”  I found Linda Ochoa easily (everyone in Urubamba knows Señora Linda); she sent me to her nephew who in turn told me about a fellow he knew from playing pickup soccer on weekends who had a bus.

I arrived at the bus station and moved through the hustle and bustle of buses lined up to start their runs to Cusco and the buses just arriving, on past the shouting swell of bus barkers, and headed toward the back of the station to a line of parked buses with seemingly no drivers around.

A sleepy character strode toward me.  I caught his attention as he passed by, saying simply: “Nico?”  He glanced back over his shoulder and pointed to a few buses lined up off to the left.  As I came round the back of the first bus, I spied an agile little man with a sharply pressed short sleeved collar shirt and jeans. His smile was easy, if not curious, and his hands found his back pockets as I approached.

“Excuse me, are you Nico?”, “Yes,” he said. I explained how I had found him and said what I needed.  We chatted easily and wound up hammering out a contract right there on the spot.  Looking back, I’m not surprised that we got that far in our conversation.  Nico is a man for whom “everything is possible.”  And so it was on that sunny afternoon in Urubamba, and so it has seemed to be ever since with Nico.

Nico’s contributions to VISIONS are matched only by a relentless optimism and positivism—not to be confused with naiveté for Nico is a very astute fellow.  Several hundred VISIONS participants and staffers have passed through Urubamba and have come to share Nico’s belief that at least in this magical part of the world, with Nico, everything is possible.

Nico is still our driver and also our Projects Coordinator and community liaison.  It’s inescapably apparent how revered Nico is in the Urubamba Valley.  Everyone seems to know and love him.  He exchanges well wishes, jokes and laughter with people on the street, at the worksites, wherever we go.

Nico’s passion for helping his community impossible to resist.  He loves introducing VISIONS groups time and again to his country, his thoughtfulness ever present in the way he speaks Spanish slowly and clearly to us gringos—he has that down to an art.  Another Peru program director wrote about Nico:

A female participant was getting flack from male community members about her inability to do the heavy work of building an adobe school, and she was feeling quite discouraged.  Nico got up on the roof with her and spent the whole morning personally teaching her how to do the work, encouraging her to ‘prove them wrong.’ This was the same girl who later had a gastrointestinal issue.  Berta spent the entire night by her side, caring for her as her own mother would.

Berta is Nico’s wife, a registered nurse.  Together they are the heart and soul of VISIONS Peru. They have two daughters, Patty, 13, and Kelly, 18, her father’s business partner in their bus tour company, J Tours.

Nico took his first international trip last June to VISIONS staff training.  Typically,. he joyfully embraced the experience (no jet lag for Nico!).  Who could forget the day training ended.  The packed vans were waiting to head out for the long drive to the airports. Peru staffers were first to leave because their flight departed that night, and all, except for Nico, were in the van ready to go.  Nico was moving slowly through the crowd, stopping to hug each and every new friend and to say a few tearful words.  Literally, we had to pull him along so as not to be late for the plane.

For eight years and many more, Nico, gracias, y gracias, Berta.  Nuestra familia en Peru.

VISIONS in The New York Times