Friday, October 18, 2013

The Caserio La Raya

Last February we were contacted by Gilberto Santa Maria, a police officer who works in Tucume. For many years he has helped needy families and sponsored Christmas parties for poor communities at his own expense. Gilbert had learned of Promesa Peru’s charitable activities and invited us to visit La Raya, a poor community located just east of Tucume at the foot of Purgatory Mountain. We finally had the opportunity to do that recently. Gilbert was in Lima on the day of our visit so we were escorted by several village leaders and curious residents; all of them eager to show us their town and answer questions.

There really isn’t anything that sets La Raya apart from dozens of other caserios we’ve visited, other than that it looks a little poorer and a lot older, which it is. The village has existed in the same location for over 100 years, and the land has been continually occupied for at least 1500 years. Purgatory Mountain is surrounded by 26 pyramids and mounds dating back to the Moche culture. In fact parts of La Raya appear to have been built atop mounds.

We began our visit at the school. Our first stop was at the kinder, where we found 35 happy young kids; many of them surprisingly in uniform and in a bright cheery classroom. Carlos Fernandez is their teacher. He has been there 22 years and obviously enjoys his work. He’s got an enthusiasm about him that shows in the kids and in the atmosphere of the class room. The school’s primary grades have an enrollment of 80 students for a total of 115…unusually large for a village the size of La Raya. 

Our next stop was at the medical clinic where we met Dr. Corrales, a young woman who is at the clinic 6 hours each day Monday through Saturday. She sees on average about 15 patients daily, and if there are no patients she visits the homes of people with medical concerns. She told us the single biggest health concern is malnutrition, caused primarily by poor diet and contaminated water. She said that a lack of vitamins is also a problem.

The subject of malnutrition led us to the community kitchen where Maria Sandoval (green vest - the kitchen is behind her) runs the show. The purpose of a community kitchen is to prepare and feed to the poor food supplied by the government. Usually the parents take turns with the cooking. Maria told us that she receives only enough food for 60 people each day. The village has a population of 1000 people, and though not all of them need free food, decisions have to be made as to who gets fed. Maria indicated that there is one family whom everyone agrees is a priority.

This is the home of Luzmila Valdera and her daughters Ruth (9), Romelia (7) and Ariana (2). Luzmila is 27 and is a single mother. Five months ago her husband abandoned the family. The rumor is that he took off for Argentina.  Frankly it’s hard to understand how she’s any worse off without him. Based on what we saw he obviously didn’t contribute time or money toward the upkeep of the homestead. Perhaps there are circumstances we’re not aware of.

Luzmila’s income consists of a few soles for tending a neighbor’s goats and when work is available in the fields she earns a few more coins. The kids get a glass of government milk every morning, and the community kitchen feeds her and the kids a noon lunch Monday through Friday.  Weekend and evening meals are less sure.

The condition this family is living in has to be seen to be believed. She has hung old sheets, potato sacks and plastic bags over most of the holes in the walls in an attempt to keep out the wind and sand, but she can’t cover the gaping holes in what remains of the roof. And after repeated urging from the neighbors that had gathered, that is what she asked us for…a new roof. The problem is a new roof won’t do it. The walls of her home are constructed of cane and mud. They have deteriorated badly and there is no way that house is going to survive another rainy season, which has already started.

And yet despite her poverty she is doing all she can for her girls. If you look closely at the photos you’ll see freshly washed clothing hanging to dry, and the inside of the house with its few meager possessions is as organized and as clean as possible. That is the Peruvian pride and dedication to children we’ve so often commented on in this blog. But Peruvians sometimes also feel shame and despair which, according to Maribel is probably what prompted the tears from Luzmila and her oldest girl during much of our visit in her house.

After leaving Luzmila’s house we had a brief discussion with some of the village leaders. We were told that a replacement house could be built for her at a cost of about $1500. It wouldn’t be fancy…the walls would be adobe brick and the roof corrugated plastic, but it would be large enough for her and the kids and with luck would provide adequate shelter for the next 20 years.

We don’t have the money to do that alone. If you would like to help us to literally put a roof over the heads of Luzmila, Ruth, Romelia and Ariana please visit the Promesa Peru web page to make a donation. If we’re successful in raising the money we’ll post updates and photos of the construction progress. If we’re not successful we don’t know what we’ll do, but it’s not a situation we can ignore.

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