Thursday, March 22, 2012

Of Machetes and Swords

Frequently in the smaller towns near Chiclayo men will board a combi with a machete strapped to their back or belt. Many men earn their living cutting sugar cane so the tool of their trade is always with them.

Machetes designed for cutting cane typically have a blade about 10” long and 5” wide at the top. This one in the photo is commercially made. Most of those seen in our region are home-made but follow the same general pattern, except they have a longer and thicker handle, perhaps either for better balance or two-hand use. They’re sold in Chiclayo’s mercado modelo for about $17.

The edged weapon carried by the man who boarded our combi when we were coming back from Tierras Blancas last week was a whole different animal. The handle appeared to be flawless and of an exotic wood, and wire-wrapped… something normally seen only on expensive knives and swords. The sheath looked to be hand-tooled leather, housing a blade estimated at 24” in length. A question to a fellow passenger revealed that the man is a well-known local shaman, and that he uses the sword when conducting his rituals.

He got off the combi at a remote desert crossroad where there were only a couple of houses and a handful of people standing around. We wondered where he could be going, so looked for him as the combi pulled away. Neither one of us saw him. There was no trace of him. The guy had vanished! Maybe there’s something to this shamanism thing.


Monday, March 19, 2012

How the School System is supposed to Work

The political structure in Peru that ultimately determines the quality of education and the environment in which learning takes place is comprised of three parts… the Regional Director of Education; the school Director; and the Parents Association.

The Lambayeque Region has three Regional Directors located in the cities of Chiclayo, Lambayeque and Ferreñafe. Their job is to administer to hundreds of National schools located in their districts. In theory it is their responsibility to distribute funds annually to the schools for maintenance and improvements based on need, and to insure that school staff is qualified and competent.

The school Director has primary responsibility for day to day operation of the school. The Director’s job is to insure that Regional policies are being adhered to; that students have adequate learning materials and that the teachers are doing their job. In theory, the school director regularly meets with the regional director and parents association to discuss the status and needs of the educational system.

I’m not certain if it is mandatory, but I do know that every school we’ve visited, from the most remote village to schools here in Chiclayo has a Parents Association. Its primary purpose is to work with the school’s director for the betterment of the school and students. Election of association officers is held annually in November at which time a President, Treasurer, Secretary and two “Vocals” (advisors) are chosen. In theory members of the Parents Association donate to a monetary fund to be used for school related purposes. In theory the officers meet regularly with the school director to identify needs and establish priorities.

That is the way things are suppose to theory. In practice it can be vastly different. Regional directors feel overwhelmed (understandably) by requests for funds they simply can’t supply. Some school directors are little more than bodies occupying a position, either accepting the status quo or feeling helpless to do anything about it. Parents associations almost never have money and often exist in name only. Compare the following photos of entrance-ways and restrooms of three different schools in three different villages.

The three villages are located in the same Regional District. All three are isolated; have approximately the same population and are agriculturally based. All three schools were originally constructed at about the same time. And all three have an equal opportunity to apply to the Regional Director for funds.

What accounts for the differences? When I ask that question the standard response from school directors and parent association officers is, “The Regional Director will not give us money.” The reply from regional directors is, “We don’t have money to give.” While both responses are basically true, a large part of the problem in my view is a lack of leadership by the school director or the parent’s association and in most cases, both. It doesn’t require Regional money to pick up garbage and clean up the school entranceway, or to ask a paint dealer to donate a can of paint and a brush, or to ask for volunteers to do the work.

Two years ago a school director stopped us on a Lambayeque street minutes after being denied a request for project funds by the Regional Director. He had no idea who we were, but he knew we weren’t locals so pitched his project right there on the street. He got his money and the project was successful. Another director literally ran after our moto taxi to ask for help with school supplies and clothing for kinder kids. We met with her recently; she convinced us and we were able to help. Both of these directors are well known throughout the region for their persistent and aggressive approaches for assistance. And not just for their schools. They are also community leaders; working to improve the health and financial well-being of their community.

We’ve met other directors and association members who are as dynamic as the people mentioned above. But we’ve also met school directors and parent association members who simply bemoan their fate, lacking either the vision, ambition or ability to work for change. The differences between the communities with leaders and those without are readily apparent even to the most casual observer. The former have a vibrant look and feel to them; a sense of community that seems to reflect the intent behind the slogan sometimes seen in local government town halls... “Poor does not mean dirty!” In the leaderless towns there is almost a palpable feeling upon entering of Dante’s... “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” That may sound extreme but it’s true.

I don’t know what the answer is. Perhaps leadership qualities in candidates for the position of school director and teachers should receive more emphasis in the hiring process. Maybe Regional authorities can provide training sessions for parent association officers. I know for a fact that the successful school directors mentioned earlier would willingly work with their counterparts who need guidance if asked. Whatever the answer is, something has got to change because until it does, the kids and ultimately the community will continue to pay the price.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Blue Egg Rookery in the Park

A belt of pine trees extending for about one-half mile boarders the north edge of Chiclayo’s Las Muses Park. These days the tops of the pines are home to hundreds of nesting birds. Some are just building their nests while many others have laid eggs.

So far we haven’t been able to identify the species. They’re large birds…in size and shape resembling small penguins. Tail feathers are almost non-existent. There are two distinct color variations – one having black on the head and black wings; the other being a uniform tan. Both appear to have red eyes. Our theory at this point is that the tan is female, the other is male.

At the base of the trees are hundreds of eggs shells in various shades of blue. Scattered among the shells are dead fish and frogs; perhaps intended as food for hatchlings. The fish and frogs are probably coming from the Reque River, 8 miles south, or the Pacific Ocean, about 12 miles west. Either way it’s a significant flight.

I thought that given the characteristics – the large size and shape, red eyes and blue eggs it would be easy to identify the birds, but asking locals in the park and searching the internet has so far come up empty. It would be much appreciated if anyone who is familiar with these birds would post a comment.


Monday, March 5, 2012

School Opened Today in Tierras Blancas

When we arrived at the kinder school “Niño Del Milagro” in Tierras Blancas at 9:00am this morning the kids and parents were waiting for us. It had rained hard yesterday and there was a thick, gooey mud everywhere but it didn’t dampen the mood. The school director Lady Gonzales Saenz had everyone fired up and we received a loud and rousing welcome. A little girl in the photo front row right is wearing a white shirt that says “We are the future of Peru”. That sums up why we were there.

The good feeling continued inside the classroom when we presented to Lady and the parents every essential school item on the required list plus some used but serviceable clothing and a variety of toys, all made possible with the help of donations received. Following the presentation Lady lead the group in song and prayer.

As we were getting ready to leave, this woman asked to speak. She was obviously nervous but surprisingly candid, saying that she is the grandmother of three young children who have been abandoned by their parents. She went on to say “life is difficult in Tierras Blancas, and” … we can’t know for certain what more she was going to add because seconds after this photo was taken she choked up and was unable to continue. I think a pretty good guess would be that without the donated school supplies, her grandchildren would not be in the classroom today.

Maria, Paul W, Norma and Joyce – you have most certainly had an impact on the life of at least one person today and undoubtedly many more. Thank you.

Tom, Maribel and the Promesa Peru members