Maria wakes up shivering. It’s winter and the cold air finds its way through the open cracks in the unplastered grey walls. There is no roof above the bed and the black plastic stretched across wooden logs fails to trap much heat, the sun isn’t in the sky yet. She pulls her feet round and brushes the dirt floor with her toes, searching for her sandals.
Rubbing her eyes with grubby hands, she contemplates her next move. The water ran out yesterday. It looks like there is still no water and she smiles happily, washing in winter is hateful, it’s always too cold and there is no way to get warm again afterwards. It’s been over a week, though, she won’t be able to avoid it for much longer. Her skin under her clothes is greased with a layer of dirt, ingrained in the skin as if it were part of her and in a way it is, washing will have little impact.
El Porvenir, where Maria lives, is the most populous district of Trujillo. It was founded in 1934, but its major growth started more recently, when refugees from war and poverty in the highlands and jungle moved in. Today, more than 150,000 people call El Porvenir home; most of them are young, and many are as poor as Maria is.
It’s easy to forget in our cushioned lives how much harder life is without those creature comforts. When all your clothes have to be washed by hand, meals are cooked on wood fires, when you earn 1 sol per hour for backbreaking work, when you don’t have shoes, when you have no running water in your home, when there is no electricity. This is about survival. In the programme there are women who hand sew shoes. In a frantic attempt to make enough money, they sew all the time; walking to the office, talking to a teacher about their child; sitting in a meeting. Every second is precious and must be used to maximum effect – to even suggest laziness is nonsensical.
With support from SKIP, Maria’s family would access a conditional incentive in the form of paying for school uniforms, shoes and materials for the children. In return her family would need to agree to participate fully in the programme. This is no small challenge. Primary age children attend three times per week for additional lessons which compliment the curriculum in government schools by improving their reading ability and basic maths skills, amongst other things. Teenagers also attend self selected educational workshops and we have a nursery that we run with help from the parents in the mornings.
SKIP students at play
Maria’s parents would attend social workshops where they would learn about anything from behaviour management techniques to use at home, to how to check for breast cancer. We would talk to them about changing to a gas or wood burning fire with a chimney, instead of the toxic briquettes. Her parents could, if they wanted, talk to a psychologist about their marital problems. They could receive financial advice from the Economic Development Department. In time they would be eligible to apply for a micro finance loan for a roof, or to plaster the walls.
SKIP has seen some incredibly promising results. 80% of children in Primary Grades 2-6 have now improved their reading grade with 60% having improved by two or more reading levels. Families in the programme are four and a half times as likely to be registered for free government health care as other families living in El Porvenir and Alto Trujillo. Our micro finance loan repayment rate is a staggering 98% which is a true reflection of the close working relationship this department has forged with the programme families.
I hope that this article can work to dispel some of those myths about people who live in poverty in Peru. Battling against incredible odds, constant financial uncertainty and living in areas where it is so dangerous that you simply lock the doors at night and hide inside waiting for morning, these families have not given up. Lazy? I’d call that inspirational.
So if we’ve sparked some interest, you can find out more about the charity on our website www.skipperu.org We are in constant need of enthusiastic volunteers to help in the projects and donations of anything from clothing to art supplies, as well as in direct financing. Help us be a part of giving these children a chance at a brighter future.
Note: Maria is a composite character, representing the children of El Porvenir.
An NGO is bringing happiness and opportunity to the children of one of Peru’s most notorious slums.