Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Caserio Casa de Madera

Frequently, when I ask how a caserio got its name the answer is lost in time. Not so for Casa de Madera. The English translation of Casa de Madera is ‘lumber house’ and the name dates back many years to when a huge hacienda constructed of wood dominated the site and served as the administration offices for the cooperative sugar factory in nearby Pomalca. When the administrative functions were centralized in another area the cooperative donated the land with the provision that a school be constructed on it. Whether the hacienda was dismantled or deteriorated over time to nothing is unknown. School I.E. 11575 now sits on a very small portion of that land at the end of the road adjacent to the church.

Casa de Madera is home to about 80 families. Beside the school the caserio has a church, water and electricity but nothing more…not even a bodeguita; a tiny one-room general store usually located in a private house. The school offers kinder and primary classes. Those graduating from primary go to secondary school in Pomalca to finish high school. There are presently 18 kinder and 26 primary students enrolled. School officially starts each year on a date proclaimed by the Minister of Education – this year the date is March 4th but that date is regarded as a guideline in the smaller towns and villages. What happens in reality is that when the school is ready to accept students, word will spread throughout the village, and on the appointed day only a few kids show up. It will take a few more days before teachers, students and parents are settled into the school routine.

Luisa (left) teaches 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades. Maribel (center) is the director and also teaches grades 4, 5 and 6. Both have been at I.E. 11575 for 20 years. On the morning we arrived they were busy wiping down walls, mopping floors and generally getting organized for the return of the students. We were impressed with the upkeep of the schools exterior and interior. Maribel told us the village has an active parents association that takes pride in keeping the school in good repair. A year ago they were able to get donated paint from a Chiclayo business and held a ‘painting party’. The three classrooms are clean and bright. Desks, tables and chairs were donated five years ago by Solaris Peru, an NGO based in Spain. The furniture has been kept in surprisingly good condition, indicating discipline on the part of the teachers and students.

Government donated food for a two-week period consisting of rice, sugar, canned milk, quinua (a seed from a species of goosefoot), canned tuna, cooking oil, and oats had arrived an hour before our visit. The food will be prepared in a communal kitchen and served to the students for lunch. Village women take turns cooking the food.

Maribel told us that though it’s a burden, most of the families are able to provide the basic school supplies for their children. Also, as with all poor caserios the requirement that students wear uniforms is waived. When we asked her if there was anything Promesa Peru could do to help the school or community we were surprised by her response. She said one of the classrooms needed a new chalkboard to replace one that was no longer serviceable but then added that the primary reason she contacted us was to see if we could help Edith Fuentes and her family.

In April 2007 Edith’s husband Julio Campos was driving his cousin’s car in Chiclayo when he was involved in a fatal accident. Julio was judged to be at fault and was sentenced to four years in prison or a fine of 50,000 soles ($19,000 USD). Not having money Julio went to prison. Julio’s prison sentence expired in 2011 but he remains in jail. More about that later.

Edith has seven children. In the photo with her are the two youngest. Leslie is 8 and Janina is  9. Both attend school in Casa de Madera. Her eldest son, 18 year old Julio Jesus cuts wood in Tuman and other villages to help with expenses. Her daughter Alexandra is 17 and has not attended school for two years because of a neurological disorder that prevents her from retaining what she learns. Alexandra spends her time looking after her younger siblings. Another daughter, Luz Angelica is 15 and attends 3rd grade in Tuman. She enjoys school activities and hopes someday to be a singer or actress. For the past year Edith’s eldest daughter Evelyn age 19 has worked as a maid in Lima. The day before our visit Evelyn had just returned from Lima for a two-week vacation and brought with her used clothing for her siblings that had been donated by her employer. Attending school with his two younger sisters in Casa de Madera is Jean Piere, age 13. The two teachers at Casa de Madera pay the combi transportation cost for these kids each day.

About a year ago the old adobe home that Edith and the kids were living in literally crumbled down around them one night during the rainy season. Now all eight of them occupy one room (the door behind Leslie, Jean Piere and Janina…their kitchen/shower is on the left) in a small house owned by Julio’s mother and shared with her, her other son and daughter-in-law.

Edith works 7 days per week at a store in Chiclayo. She works from 9:00am to 7:00pm as a sales clerk, and from 7.00pm to 9:00pm cleans the store. She arrives at home every evening at about 11:00pm. Just getting to the highway for Edith to reach Chiclayo or the kids to get to school is a difficult task. The Reque River has to be crossed, and at the crossing point on this day it was about 50 yards wide and hip deep with a strong current. The depth of the river varies daily depending on rain run-off from the mountains. There are days when the river can be crossed by stepping from rock to rock without getting wet. On days when it is too deep or the current too fast the kids don’t go to school, but Edith somehow crosses it to go to work. Once across it’s a 15 minute walk to the highway. It’s difficult to imagine the smaller kids crossing this river safely every day, and Edith fording that river in the dark at eleven o’clock at night. There is a road of sorts that loops around the river through sugar cane fields which is how we arrived at Edith’s house, but it took us 30 minutes to drive it. To walk it to the highway would take nearly two hours.

This family is living in the most depressed circumstances we have seen and is just barely hanging on. One of the younger girls told us she didn’t like it when there wasn’t enough food to eat. Edith’s husband remains in jail because of the Peruvian judicial system which, as it was explained to me, requires a lawyer and many formal documents to be filed before a person whose term is completed can be released. This family doesn’t have money for a lawyer. And even when Julio is released there isn’t going to be any dramatic changes in their circumstances. Julio cuts wood and sugar cane for a living...he’s not a bank president.

The immediate future doesn’t look promising for the Fuentes family. As we see it Edith has two needs. Most importantly she needs a lawyer versed in judicial system law to get her husband home. We’ll explore that and do what we can to help. Secondly, she needs a break. She’s done an incredible job of holding this family together the past six years and we’d like to take the pressure off of her…at least for awhile. Two or three new sets of clothes with shoes for her and the younger kids would help. So would stocking her house with non-perishable food items like rice, sugar, beans and cooking oil. We don’t know at this time what an attorney will cost, but around $500 should cover the tangible items.

If you would like to help Edith’s family, clicking here will take you to the Promesa Peru donate page. Please…we need your help. And for anyone who has experienced problems in the past with our PayPal button, we’re happy to report that the problem has been corrected.

Oh…and we can get a new dry-erase board with mounting hardware and markers for the school for about $80. We’d appreciate help with that also. J

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