Monday, February 28, 2011

Class room or farm field?

How do you progress from a perennial third world country to a developed nation? While there may be several valid answers to that question, we believe that education is the foundation. Too many kids, especially in the less populated areas of Peru are working in the fields instead of learning in the classroom. It’s not that the parents of these kids want to deprive them of an education – in fact it’s the opposite, but what do you do when the money for a school uniform, tuition and notebooks just isn’t there?

Collique Alto is one of 23 caserios (a community too small to be classified as a town) in the district of Pucala. Many of these villages are lacking in basic services including a clean water supply. Individual homes are often without water and electricity.

The school at Collique Alto, named Jose Carlos Mariategui doesn’t require uniforms and in most cases forgoes tuition (teachers are mostly volunteer and there isn’t much overhead). But there is no avoiding the need for school supplies. The school’s total enrollment is 155 students from kinder through secondary. The average cost per student for all needed items is about $15 per student, which comes to $2325. We want to help, though we don’t feel that amount is realistically within our means, nor do we necessarily want to relieve the families of all responsibility, in keeping with our credo ‘helping people to help themselves.’ We believe the following is a reasonable goal:

Basic school supplies list:

Notebook (math) $1.10 x 155 = $170.50
Notebook (literature) 1.10 x 155 = 170.50
Pencil (plain) .20 x 155 = 31.00
Pencil (bi color) .25 x 50 = 12.50
Eraser (large) .20 x 155 = 31.00
Ruler .11 x 155 = 17.05
Folder .75 x 155 = 116.25
Paper (poster 100) 5.50 x 1 = 5.50
Paper (plain 1000) 8.00 x 1 = 8.00

Total = $562.30

Thanks to donations already received we’ve got a good start but time is short and we need more help to get the rest of the supplies. School is scheduled to open March 7th. Wouldn’t it be great if all eligible students in Collique Alto were in school on that day with pencils and notebooks in hand?

And there will be other projects following on the heels of this one. For example, the sanitary facilities at the school need improvement. We have had one meeting with a representative of the Mayor from Pucula and will do everything we can to get water connected to the restrooms, and toilets and sinks installed. We’ll need your help. Please visit the Promesa Peru web page. It’s got a donate button. :)


Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Montenegro Family of Collique Alto

This is the home of Magno and Juanita Montenegro and their 6 children. Magno built the house himself eleven years ago with the help of neighbors. The adobe bricks were manufactured “near the river” and hauled to the building site by burro cart. Previously the family had lived in the lush, forested mountain side village of Santa Cruz where they had a small farm with livestock and cultivated acres, but that all changed when their son Samuel at one and one-half years of age experienced an extreme fever followed by convulsions. Unable to get immediate medical help, Samuel suffered permanent brain damage. The cost of medical follow up and medication soon ate up the family’s savings and ultimately took their farm.

Hoping to start over and rebuild their lives, Magno, Juanita, Esther and Samuel, now 16 and 13 moved to Chiclayo where job opportunities were better. They lived in a one room house until a friend offered them the use of her small home in Collique Alto. After living in the home for a few months and earning a living working as a field hand, Magno became aware of a plot of vacant government land outside of the village. He cleared the plot, made application to the government for the land, and with the support of neighbors was awarded the land at no cost. Since then Flor 11, Lisbeth 9, Sonia 3 and Daves 1 ½ have joined the family.

Good paying jobs are scarce in Collique Alto (as they are in most of Peru) so both Magno and Juanita work as field hands when work is available. In addition Magno, who is a young looking 40 attempts to sell Gano Excel brand natural medicine. While the parents are out working Flor and Lisbeth take responsibility for cleaning the house and looking after Samuel, Daves and Sonia. On an average day the family income is about 18 soles ($6.52 USD), but there are days when there is no income. They have a cow for milk, raise ducks for meat and grow vegetables behind the house so they’re self sufficient for the short term regarding food. There are no utility costs; they don’t have electricity, they have well water and cook outside with corn cob fuel and wood taken from the desert.

The oldest daughter Esther spends school vacations living with relatives in Lima and working as a domestic servant. She normally saves enough money to pay for her own school supplies and clothing. Still, sometimes tough choices need to be made between new clothing, school material, replacement household items and other necessities. Magno acknowledged that frequently it is Samuel’s medicine that looses out. We watched Samuel (flanked by Maribel and Betzy) closely during our visit. His verbal communication is limited to grunts. He smiles a lot and obviously likes attention, but without his medication to control his emotions he is subject to brief episodes of rage. We saw him swing a belt in what looked like an attack on his sister Flor.

The Montenegros are good people. When Betzy mentioned to Magno that I had commented about how quiet and peaceful the area is, Magno took Juanita aside for a moment and after a brief discussion promptly offered a piece of their land to me to build a house.

We want to help this family. It’s probably been years since Samuel has seen a doctor. We’d like to arrange for that to happen and also determine what medicine is needed and see if we can get it at a reasonable cost so he doesn’t have to go without. We’d also like to buy school supplies for Esther, Flor and Lisbeth. In fact, at a cost of about $15 per student, we’d like to insure that on March 7th all the school-eligible kids in Collique Alto who need help have the supplies and clothing to attend school. If you would like to help us please visit the Promesa Peru web page. It’s got a ‘donate’ button. :)

This is the school the Montenegro kids attend. Jose Carlos Mariategui reflects the extreme poverty of the community. The school has three main buildings that house the classrooms and administration offices. They appear to be in reasonably good condition but could use some fresh paint inside to brighten things up. A forth smaller building located some distance from the classrooms serves as the restroom. It is used by students and teachers.

This is the restroom interior. It may shock you, but we wanted you to see the facility that Esther, Flor, Lisbeth, Sonia and the other kids have been and will be using when school opens again March 7th. The school has water, but there is no connection to the restrooms. We don’t know why boards haven’t been nailed together so people don’t have to ‘squat’ unassisted, or why buckets of water to wash hands are not available. Our questions went unanswered.

We were told that the Mayor of Pucala needs to approve the finances to run and connect water to the restroom. We hope to visit him next week, and if we’re successful in getting running water to the restrooms we’ll see about getting toilets and sinks in place. It’s not possible to educate kids about hygiene using what they have now as an example. We’ll keep you posted on our progress. In the meantime, please think about helping those kids to attend school.

Tom & Maribel

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Mythical Naylamp and the Chotuna-Chornancap Pyramids

Legends differ regarding where Naylamp and his entourage came from, but all agree that he arrived on the shores of the Lambayeque Region sometime after the demise of the Moche culture, and was responsible for the rise of the Chimú and the Sicán (often used interchangeable with Lambayeque) cultures and the rebuilding of civilization in the region. The pyramid complex of Chotuna-Chornancap, located 10 miles to the southwest of the city of Lambayeque and discovered in 2008 is the physical ruin most closely associated with Naylamp.

Chotuna doesn’t see many visitors. Asking someone in Lambayeque how to get to the pyramids results in quizzical looks or at best vague arm motions indicating ‘somewhere out there.” We recently made our second try to locate the site. The first, 8 months ago ended with a terribly lost and confused moto driver dumping us in the middle of nowhere, leaving us to walk back to Lambayeque. This second attempt found us in a moto taxi on what amounts to a goat trail with a driver who stopped several times to ask directions from field workers. The 25 minute ride can best be described as a chiropractor’s delight.

After paying the 5 soles admission charge visitors are escorted to the one-year old site museum. The museum doors are unlocked only when the occasional tourist succeeds in finding the location. Once inside, the tiny museum is impressive with a wealth of written information and artifact

The artifacts on display are original with many found in the complex. This tumi, or sacrificial ceremonial knife greets the visitor upon entry. Several sacrificial knives were found in a pyramid apparently dedicated to sacrifice.

The Sicán, Chimú and Inca cultures are known to have practiced human sacrifice at the Chotuna location. The museum has the remains of several victims on display, including this young boy.

Most of what is known about Peruvian cultures comes from their pottery, and the museum has fine examples of beautiful pottery dating from the Moche, Sicán, Chimú and Inca cultures.

Many of the more impressive artifacts, including murals and the excavated temple of Naylamp are located at the pyramid Chornancap, seen in the far distant center. We were told by museum staff and the moto driver that there is no possibility of getting anywhere close to Chornancap, and even if we could get there the site is closed to visitors. Which to us is the major problem of the complex.

Tantalizingly close to the museum is the pyramid Chotuna. You can almost hear ancient voices enticing you to walk the ramp to the entrance door, but the voices of the museum staff speak louder. Like Chornancap, Huaca Chotuna is closed to visitors. In fact, leaving the immediate area of the museum grounds is prohibited.

As informative as the museum is, and as rich as the site’s history is, without being able to at least make contact with the pyramids a visit to the Chotuna-Chornancap complex is incomplete and not worth the effort.