Thoughts on Lima, Peru

By Lorie Neighbors

November 9, 2008

On November 2 my husband, Chuck and I met a team of 7 other people in Lima, Peru for a 4-day learning experience. Most of us are Artist Associates with World Vision, the Christian international relief, development and advocacy organization; others are staff facilitating this event. As performing artists (actors and singers) we talk to our audiences in the U.S. about child sponsorship and how they can impact a child in this simple yet life-changing way. We were invited to see firsthand what World Vision is doing in the inner-city slums of Lima. Bob Pierce founded World Vision by praying a simple prayer: “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” Mission accomplished.

Peru is a beautiful country and Lima boasts some breathtaking beauty! Our hotel was just a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean, which was similar in some ways to the Oregon coast-pounding waves and except for a few designated areas, not very swimmable (they do have great surfing, though). Palm trees, cacti and aloe, but vegetation is sparse. The coastal area is a desert, which is odd since it is very humid and the temperature is moderate.

It was fascinating to learn that in some areas, if land belongs to someone but is vacant for 10 years, anyone has a right to it. So, slums are erected on empty land (so-called “invasions”) and it’s not unusual for 5,000 dwellings to spring up literally OVERNIGHT. The government provides electricity relatively soon, but it takes years for water and sewer. (The usual time from “invasion” until a community becomes self-supporting is 25-30 years.) The slums are built into hilly, unstable areas. No paved roads; just myriad dusty paths and roadways barely drivable. The further away from the city center we drove, heading to the slums, the more apparent it became that we were in a desert. Sand and dust everywhere and virtually no vegetation. A stark contrast.

Each day after breakfast at our hotel, we boarded a bus and drove to a different Area Development Project (ADP) where we were enthusiastically met by staff and volunteers eager to share what World Vision is doing in their area. It was exciting to see World Vision Peru partnering with the local people to enhance their lives and help enact sustainable solutions for the future of their communities. We were shown homes in three phases: before, during and after World Vision’s help. They augment or rebuild, depending on what is needed-giving the homes sturdy foundations and walls of brick, mortar and rebar; flooring and glass windows; plumbing, a toilet. It was also encouraging to visit marketplaces and see micro-enterprise made possible by low interest loans from World Vision. One woman had a produce stand; another an upholstery business.

The main component is child sponsorship. Once an area is chosen for an ADP, families are visited to determine children eligible for sponsorship. We met many sponsored children and were proudly shown letters and photos that their sponsors in America and Canada had sent to them (other countries have sponsorship programs, but we only saw U.S. and Canadian projects on this trip). World Vision helps all of the families in an ADP by offering classes on nutrition and child development to mothers of children under 5. We were told that anemia is the main health issue for children in these slums-almost 40% of children here are anemic. Each day families are offered iron-rich food to supplement their diets. Two ADP’s made a spread with chicken blood, powdered milk, sugar and water, which is boiled, then cooled and served on crackers. A few brave souls (yours truly included) ate some. I actually thought it was good, and had 3, to be extra polite! (I became ill that evening . . . hmmmm, could I have had one too many chicken blood pate crackers?)

We were told that, sadly, these children grow up not knowing how to play. World Vision believes that the future of any country lies in its children, so its focus begins there. Two of the ADP’s had “toy libraries.” These brightly painted buildings were divided into focused learning areas: there were puzzles, books, musical instruments, a little “store,” a “house” (each had a definite educational purpose). Kids could earn the right to come to the toy library for 2 hours each day by minding their parents, doing chores, getting good grades in school. Wonderful teenage volunteers help out-we were so impressed by the teens we met! All of them were respectful and fiercely loyal and loving toward their families even with difficult upbringings. All were committed to going to college, even though it is very expensive and we were told there are no scholarships or student loans. They give many hours each day mentoring younger children in good values and non-violence. Abuse and domestic violence are critical issues in the slums of Lima. However, Peruvians are private people and normally don’t report domestic violence.

(Side note: We were told that Peruvians believe that expressing personal feelings is rude and don’t tell their problems to anyone. Someone could be dying and no one would know! Our translator told us it is shocking to see the changes in a Peruvian who goes to live in America then returns-they talk too much about themselves [“we don’t have to know about every ache and pain you have!”].)

The highlight of the trip for Chuck and me was getting to meet the little boy that we sponsor, Enrique, and his mother, Patty. Words cannot describe the feelings we had as they walked into the room and we hugged her and got to hold this precious child that we have been helping to support through our prayers and finances. Thanks to sponsorship, he is healthy and happy. His mother loves him so much but she is poor, lives with her parents and cannot support him alone. She was so appreciative that a family in America would care enough to help them have a better life. A very moving experience for us all.

A lovely Peruvian woman we met asked me to tell people in America that art is not commonly seen among the poor, and they believe they have no right to access art. They struggle for the children to understand that LIFE IS ART! They want to incorporate drama, art, painting, as it helps children’s spiritual and cultural enrichment. Some people believe there are no artists among the poor. “We are a repressed people and any contact with art helps us glimpse reality.”

I believe we helped with that in a small way last week. Everywhere we visited, we shared our art with them. We sang, played instruments, did a simple improv game. The children sang for us, performed authentic dances in traditional dress and proudly showed us their artwork. I believe there are artists among them. I believe that with World Vision’s help they are learning to play and love and glimpse a future that holds out hope for them.

If you would like to sponsor a child like Enrique and bring help and hope to a community like the ones we visited in Peru you can do that now by clicking the World Vision logo below!

Blessings to you!

Lorie Neighbors

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