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Do you believe in fate? As an MIT grad, I steer clear of things that can’t be explained scientifically. But after a life-changing trip to Peru in May 2004, I think a hidden force may guide some events.

Shortly after we visited the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu, my wife, Dee, and I were strolling through the Plaza de Armas in Cuzco when 15-year-old Jhon Farfan ­Auccapuma approached us to ask if we wanted to buy one of the small paintings he was selling to help support his family. Jhon, whose mother wanted to give him an American name but didn’t use the traditional English spelling on his birth records, spoke passable English and seemed a very earnest young man. We bought a watercolor of a traditional street scene for $5.00.

Jhon offered to guide us back to our hotel. Although we knew our way, we accepted his offer and struck up a conversation, advising him to get off the streets and concentrate on school. With a good education, we told him, you can do almost anything. But getting an education is easier said than done when you are one of six children supported by a mother whose sole source of income is peddling handicrafts on the street. Jhon and his twin sister Mirian, the youngest of the six, were only two years old when their father left the family.

Back at our hotel, we asked if Jhon had an e-mail address so we could keep in touch. As soon as we got back to the States, we started e-mailing each other; Jhon responded from an Internet café. After three months we decided to put our money where our mouths were. Without our financial help, Jhon couldn’t concentrate on school. You have to eat before you can study.

Jhon graduated from Ciencia, a Cuzco high school, in 2005 and then moved on to the Academia Antonio Raimondi, a university prep school; he also began English classes at the Instituto Norteamericano. We started communicating with his English teacher, Silvia Cervantes, who looked in on him for us. In 2006 we began supplementing e-mail with Skype, allowing us to have face-to-face conversations–and to hear the progress Jhon was making with his English.

A great day came in 2007, when Jhon was accepted at the Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco. He had progressed from the streets to the university, where he is now majoring in contabilidad (accounting).

During a Skype session in February 2008, Jhon told us that he and his sister would mark their 20th birthday in a few months. We asked the date, and he replied, “June 22.” Dee and I couldn’t believe our ears. June 22 would be our 40th wedding anniversary! It was fate.

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Credit: Dee Geisler

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