Friday, May 30, 2014

The Distinctive Sounds of Chiclayo

Over the years I’ve become oblivious to them…those distinctive sounds of Chiclayo. It isn’t until a first-time visitor asks about the sounds that I hear them again. I’m not talking about the constant drone of vehicle noise, Latin music, poultry cackling or dogs barking. Those noises I’ve learned to shut out except in extreme conditions, for instance last night when the music from the celebration of a neighbor’s birthday party forced Maribel and I from the family room to a bedroom to watch television and read. The sounds I’m thinking of are sometimes softly melodic and, when I do open up to them they often bring a smile to my face when I think about the people, culture and customs that have been echoing these same sounds for generations.

What I’m referring to mostly is roving street vendors. Each ‘product group’ of vendors has their own distinct sound. If you hear the soft tones of a flute you know that a knife sharpener is plying his trade nearby. A bicycle horn on a hot afternoon will have the kids scurrying outdoors to meet the ice cream vendor (pictured) - provided mom has a few centimos to spare. A broadcasted recorded message extolling the virtues of soy milk indicates that a mototaxi with a stainless steel tank attached will soon be passing your door. Those are mechanical sounds. More distinctive and interesting is the vendors who use their voices to attract attention.

“Compra licuadoras… compra baterías” (I buy blenders and batteries) is a chant regularly heard in our neighborhood. I don’t know why they use those particular words because usually the carts of these men contain anything from old mattresses to bird cages… they’ll buy anything they think they can resell for a profit.

“Leche!” (milk) is a cry heard in the early morning hours from men on motorcycles with two stainless steel milk buckets attached. Normally these men have a regular route and customers, and shout “Leche” only to announce their arrival. The milk is direct to you from a cow or goat milked before dawn.

“Pan y dulces” (bread and sweets) is another chant most often heard in the wee hours of the morning. The vendor is usually a woman but men also sell these products. Usually they sell from a bicycle with a huge basket attached, but some simply balance the basket on their heads while walking their route.  Chances are that the bakery came from Monsefù where it was taken from the oven at 4:00am. A few vendors also sell bakery in the afternoon, usually produced by a Chiclayo bakery.

One of my favorite chants involves two favorite foods in Chiclayo – tamales and humitas. The roving women vendors who sell these items announce their products with something that resembles a song: “tamaaaaaaaaaleeees………..humiiiiiiitaaaaas.” It reminds me of a mother trying to sing her baby to sleep. It’s a very pleasant sound.

All of the above are common sounds heard many times daily, but the most common sound heard by far is, “Buena palta!…palta Mallares!” (good avocados…avocados from Mallares). I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that avocado carts rank second only to Tico taxis as the most numerous vehicles on the streets. I would be surprised to learn that all of these avocados actually came from the Mallares area located a considerable distance north of Chiclayo in the Piura Region, which is regarded as producing the most flavorful fruit. By the way, this avocado vendor’s cart, which also contains a few pineapples and papayas is typical of street vendor carts. They are almost always pushed rather than ridden usually because peddles are missing or a chain is broken or a gear is stripped.

Those are only a few of the distinctive sounds of Chiclayo. I could list others and there are probably some I’ve forgotten at the moment, but these are the most common. I sometimes wonder if the modernization taking place in Chiclayo is going to have some impact on these vendors. I would expect that as the commercial areas expand, street vendors will be banned from an ever-widening area of the city. But they’ll survive. They’re firmly entrenched in the culture and they sell cheaper than the big supermarkets. Most Chiclayanos also believe their produce is fresher than the supermarkets. Maybe so.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

To Create a Library

It was a fine morning in San Miguel. Because the sun hadn’t yet broken through the clouds there was still a faint hint of coolness in the air and that feeling of ‘freshness’ I’ve come to associate with desert villages. The air probably isn’t any purer or freer from odor than Chiclayo’s air but I’ll settle for the illusion.

One of the reasons we were there was to deliver a CD player and five CDs to the kinder school; something we’d promised to do during a previous visit. The teachers were appreciative and promptly plugged it in to try it out. It was fun to watch the kids marching and singing to the music. Jamie, who is a volunteer teacher, took the opportunity to give the kids a Marinera dance lesson.  

The other reason for our visit was to continue discussion about plans for a new library with Guadalupe Gallardo, the director of the primary school. We had talked with her about the concept previously. There is an unused classroom that would make a very serviceable library but it needs some work. We were happy to see that the room had been emptied of unserviceable items (clutter) and that some plastering and painting had already been done by members of the parent’s association sometime after our last visit. During this visit the room was being used to inform the students about earthquake procedures.

Structurally the room is solid. There are three windows that need extensive glass panel replacement, and probably should have protective metal screening to prevent further breakage. Guadalupe has put together a four-page project plan that calls for the parent’s association to deal with the physical room issues, and asks for book donations from former students and community members. To equip the room she lists a whiteboard, six tables, twelve chairs, three book shelves, and “if possible” a computer. There is a carpenter in nearby Picsi who makes furniture for classrooms, and Guadalupe is waiting for his price quote. She has asked for whatever assistance Promesa Peru can offer in equipping the room.

In her project plan Guadalupe in part justifies the need for a library by saying that, “…the library is necessary not only for information, but more importantly to foster an interest in reading and literature.” We couldn’t agree more and want to help her with this project. As always, we need your assistance to do that. Please visit the Promesa Peru webpage to donate. Any amount will help.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Six Years and Still Going

More than three years ago I wrote a post about how an NGO in Peru functions. At that time none of us wondered or thought about the future of Promesa Peru. If we had, we might have asked if we’d still be in existence, and if so would it be the same small grass-roots organization with the same purpose?

Though we registered as an NGO in Chiclayo in November of 2010 we’d actually been doing small charitable activities going back to 2008. We’ve done some good during these last six years. We’ve helped communities by sponsoring medical campaigns and Chocolatadas .  We’ve helped several individual families with emergency assistance in the form of food, clothing and cash. But mostly we’re about doing what we can to help parents and teachers provide education to children. If the teachers don’t have what they need…basic things like chairs, tables and whiteboards we try to help. If the students don’t have what they need…school supplies and clothing, we try to help. It hasn’t been easy. We’re dependant on donations for situations that go beyond providing help for a few individual kids or supplying a few simple items for a classroom. And donations don’t come easy.

Over the years there have been quite a few modest one-time donations. There have also been people who have made multiple donations and then for whatever reason have stopped.  We do appreciate every one of those donations. We would not have made it this far without them. When we ask for support for a specific activity we usually receive a few modest donations. Never have we received enough to cover the entire cost so we board members pay the difference if we can, and that’s okay…that’s what we agreed to do from the very beginning.

As I mentioned in a recent post, requests for assistance are being received at an increasing rate. Often we decline, either because what’s being asked for may be worthy but is outside of our scope, or because we couldn’t realistically hope to raise the needed cash.

Above is a very recent example of a request we received (click on it to enlarge). It was sent to us by the director of the kinder school in Eureka, a village we visited not too long ago. The English translation is:

Gentlemen:     NGO Promesa Peru

Subject:           Request donation of uniforms and educational material

I have the honor to cordially greet you in the name of kinder institution #190 of the caserio Eureka in the district and province of Lambayeque and also express the following:

That Eureka is a place where the condition of life is very poor with a student population of 56 children ages 3, 4, and 5. You cannot require them to attend the school without uniforms, and some children do not have the respective educational material.

Therefore we turn to you to be good enough to donate 56 complete uniforms (pants, polo tops and jackets) to relieve the coming winter in the following sizes:

(She goes on to list the ages and sizes of the students for uniform purposes, and also lists the ages and names of 11 students without school supplies)

I look forward to this valuable support for these needy children and deeply appreciate your cooperation.

We consider this request to be a worthwhile project but one beyond our means. The price of a two-piece uniform consisting of pants and t-shirt is about $11.00, but it gets cool in the desert at night especially in winter and these kids are walking for 30 – 45 minutes to school in the early morning hours so a jacket is necessary. Adding a jacket to the uniform increases the price to $15.47. For 56 students that comes to $866.32.

The director indicated that eleven students are without basic school supplies.  The cost of those supplies plus a bag to carry them in is $15.69 each. The cost for eleven students is $172.59. The total for uniforms and school supplies is $1038.91. That is a lot of money and we would not normally consider it but fortunately this time we’ll be able to do it thanks to a grant from the friends and family of The Alice Cool Foundation.

The school supplies are being purchased, and manufacturing of the uniforms will start next Tuesday.  We’re eagerly looking forward to delivering these gifts to Eureka in about two week’s time and will post lots of photos. To the folks of The Alice Cool Foundation, please accept our thanks and gratitude. Your generous donation is going to help keep those kids in school and make a lot of teachers, mothers and fathers very happy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

About Definitions

Maribel proof-reads every post I write. Often she will point out a technicality…usually a matter of minor detail that makes what I’ve written not completely accurate. My response is that the general reader does not need to know the nitty-gritty and in spelling out every detail it will only needlessly lengthen the post and perhaps confuse the reader. Still… I occasionally get emails and Maribel gets phone calls from Peruvian readers who assume I’m not completely familiar with the subject matter (they’re right) and offer corrections. I admit that often I use one term/word interchangeably to simplify things. The following are some examples.

If I were to say, ‘the police were on the scene’ I think that presents the image I’m trying to convey.  Technically I could differentiate by saying the national police were on the scene. All official police officers are part of the national police force. I could also say that Serenazgo was on the scene. The men of Serenazgo are armed; wear uniforms, drive patrol vehicles and to all intents and purposes perform many of the duties of the national police but they are not police officers. They are hired by the city to guard and protect people and property. Usually the two forces cooperate but occasionally there can be friction as happened a couple of years ago in Chiclayo when the national government in Lima accused Chiclayo’s mayor of non-cooperation. I could stretch the definition of police even further and say that SS was on the scene. SS is a private security firm and is contracted by many private and public institutions here in Chiclayo to provide security. They are recognized by their distinctive yellow shirt, brown pants and boots uniform. In some cases they are armed. They guard a specific building/location but also are a general deterrent and will take action if a near-by situation calls for it. Lastly there is the neighborhood vigilante. This is a guy who is paid by neighborhood people to guard their homes and cars. He patrols the neighborhood while often blowing a whistle to announce his presence. Vigilantes do not get involved in confrontational situations, other than blowing their whistle and contacting police. In other words, even though they may be ‘on the scene’ don’t expect these guys to help you if you’re being robbed or assaulted.  

Another area I receive correction in is my use of governmental terms, particularly as it refers to the educational system. Let’s start at the top. All national schools, from kinder to university are under the auspices of the Ministerio de Educacion located in Lima. Often I write that a school is supported by the regional government though that may not be the case. All or some of the support could be coming from the Ministerio de Educacion (Ministry of Education); the Direccion Regional de Educacion (Regional Direction of Education) located in the capital of a region, or the Oficina de Cultura y Educacion de la Municipalidad (office of Culture and Education in whatever municipality). For example, the village of San Miguel is in the municipality of the city of Picsi, which is in the Region of Lambayeque, which is under the auspices of the Ministry of Education in Lima. Pronoei capullitos - the kinder schools that are not officially recognized by the Ministry of Education in Lima are funded from a contingency fund from the office of Culture and Education in the municipality.

Let me finish this with one more example. I often use the words ‘caserio’ and ‘village’ interchangeably. There isn’t that much difference between them. A caserio is smaller; usually a lot smaller and poorer. We spell out the difference between the two on the home page of the Promesa Peru webpage. I usually write ‘village’ because first-time readers won’t know what a caserio is, and regular readers may have forgotten.

So…for our non-Peruvian readers I’ve probably bored you to death with this post or given you information you didn’t need to know. To our Peruvian readers, I do appreciate your comments and criticisms. I will never know as much about Peru as you do and I welcome your input.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

How to ‘Discover’ a Remote Desert Village

I’ve written before that one of my favorite activities in Peru is taking a leisurely, meandering walk through the streets (often nothing more than paths) of a small isolated village, looking for that object, person or custom that gives uniqueness to this particular village. Initially we would locate the villages by looking at satellite views on Google Maps. The smaller villages are never named on the map so we would look for clusters of dwellings and then try to figure out how to get to them, which usually involved going to the nearest large village and then asking anyone we came across if they knew of a caserio (a community too small to be called a village) located about x kilometers in whatever direction. Eventually we would find someone who knew of the caserio; knew its name and how to get there. The ‘how to get there’ part normally involves haggling over a price with a mototaxi driver who says it is “too far and takes too long and I will lose time and customers and the road is terrible and I might damage my mototaxi”, but eventually we agree on a price with him or some other driver and enjoy a semi-scenic, teeth rattling 10 – 15 minute ride to our destination. Sometimes we walk. Getting back is always an adventure, though with the help of the villagers who after 15 minutes treat us as long lost friends, we somehow return to the larger village and then to Chiclayo.

That’s how we located these caserios in the past. Now, as our Promesa Peru activities are becoming more well known it’s the opposite… the villages find us. As an example, just yesterday Maribel got a phone call from a professor at a primary school in the caserio of Cascajal, a tiny community located near the city of Olmos quite a distance north of Chiclayo. The professor had learned of Promesa Peru during a teacher conference in Lambayeque and phoned to invite us to visit his school/community. The unspoken intent of these invitations is always with the hope that we will provide assistance to the school, one or more students, or to the community in the form of a chocolatada or medical campaign. Though the motive may be financial, the friendliness of the villagers upon welcoming us is genuine and lasting friendships have been formed.  

Often upon returning to Chiclayo I am usually unable to locate the village we visited on Google Maps because as I said, they are not named on the map and reaching them involves mototaxi rides on winding paths through sugar cane fields, rice paddies and rock hills. To solve this problem I started carrying an old hand-held GPS that I used while hunting many years ago in Wisconsin. When we get to the village I take a satellite reading; mark the coordinates and after converting them to decimal enter them in Google Map and, bingo!.. a little green arrow usually appears on the site of the village. I like to know where I’ve been!

Sometimes we come upon a village by pure chance. That was the case recently when Marcos, Saida, Maribel and I were traveling to the village of Eureka. We were driving on one of those sugar cane field paths raising a ton of dust behind us when I glanced to the right and saw what appeared to be a school among a hand full of buildings. We stopped to check it out. The words Pronoei Capullitos written on the side of the school need a bit of explaining. Pronoei is an acronym for ‘program unschooled initial education.’ Capullitos in this context translates to cocoon or bud, indicating the kids are in the process of blossoming. Pronoei capullitos are not Peruvian government supported schools. They are cheaply made one-room buildings constructed and minimally supported by the regional government. Though they are not officially recognized as kinder schools, kids graduating from them are regarded as having completed kinder and are accepted into government primary schools. Pronoei capullitos can have their status changed to a government recognized kinder school by submitting a petition and going through a lengthy documentation process. The school in El Faicalito where we recently donated a whiteboard and shelves is in that process now. If successful the temporary one-room building will be replaced by a permanent three classroom kinder.

Based on the initial impression of the school and its surroundings we expected to find primitive conditions inside but were surprised. The classroom is clean, organized and reasonably well equipped. Even more surprising was that the kids were in uniform. And their lunches from home were packed in modern plastic containers. The teacher is Karen Flores Castillo and like many teachers in these tiny villages/schools she is very young and a recent college graduate. She told us that the village…Horcon One (there is a Horcon Two) is generally poor, but fortunately the parents place importance on education and do their best to send their kids to school with supplies and in uniform. Karen said she has what she needs to teach, but added that three of the students did not have uniforms because their parents could not afford them. The uniforms cost $21 each which is a bit more than typical but they also include an apron. We think those three kids should have uniforms. If you agree, please help us/them by donating at the Promesa Peru webpage.  Thank you.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Back In El Faicalito

In the previous post we talked about visiting three villages and the schools of two of them - El Faicalito and Eureka. Thanks to several donors we were able to return to El Faicalito and address some of the needs expressed by Norma Urbina, the teacher/director. We had alerted Norma that we were coming and when we arrived it seemed as if half the village was waiting for us.

We put some of them to work moving chairs and tables outside to give us room to work. Others helped to assemble shelves and attach hangers to mount the white board on a wall. Our guiding principle is, “helping people to help themselves” so whenever possible we try to get the villagers actively involved in whatever the project may be. While that was going on Maribel was handing out cookies and candy to keep the kids occupied. It was too hot to send them outside.

Ready for use…two shelve units and a white board with markers all ready to be put to the test. If you look closely at the whiteboard you’ll see it already has some letters on it. They read…”Gracias to Judith B., Chris R., Marcos and Saida. These are the people who made this donation possible. We thank you and so do the folks in El Faicalito.

We’ve still got school supplies and uniforms in El Faicalito and at the school in Eureka to deal with and will need more donations to do that, but today was a good start. Any day we can do something to help keep kids in school and give them an opportunity to learn is a good day.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Three Village Day

I often ponder on and am fascinated by the chain of events that lead to a particular experience. One such experience occurred recently when we visited the village of San Miguel and happened by chance to meet Marcos and Saida.  In talking with them we learned that they also are involved in charitable work. And like Promesa Peru, they have limited resources but do what they can…perhaps a bag of oranges to one family today and a pair of shoes to another family tomorrow.  They told us about several other villages near San Miguel and when they offered to show them to us we gladly accepted. Marcos and Saida are interesting people and fun to be with. I know we'll be seeing more of each other.

El Faicalito is a typical caserio with vast expanses of dirt and deteriorating adobe houses and poor families just managing to survive. The men are mostly involved in working in sugar cane fields and rice paddies. We saw a few farm animals probably for personal use.

About a year ago regional authorities constructed a small dry-wall structure to be used as a temporary kinder school because the kids were walking as much as one hour to other village schools, and those other schools were at maximum enrollment. The government has provided textbooks but nothing more. The few pencils and notebooks are shared. There is no white board and only a few borrowed chairs and tables.

Norma Urbina is the teacher. Though she is only 22 and a recent college graduate, she has a strong personality, obvious organizational and leadership skills and knows exactly what she wants. She needs basic school supplies for 25 students. She needs shelves to store and organize the text books and school supplies. She needs tables and chairs and a white board with markers.

The twelve students pictured will be graduating to first grade at the end of the cycle and going to a primary school in another village. The uniforms are on their third year and second set of kids and are showing their ware. Norma is proud of these kids and feels that, despite the classroom equipment limitations she did her best to prepare them to move on. 

As we were preparing to leave, an impromptu discussion took place outside the school with some women who had assembled. They told Maribel that one underlying problem of the village was too many babies to feed, clothe and educate. They asked for advice on what they could do, including operations, to prevent conception.  When Maribel suggested that the men could have vasectomies the women were horrified…they thought that meant the removal of the male organ. We’ve discussed a lot of issues in many villages but this is the first time birth control has come up.

Pancal was our next stop. It is a tiny caserio of about 20 families. There is no electricity and water is carried from a nearby reservoir.  The kids walk to a school in another village. We were invited to the home of a woman who administers the ‘glass of milk’ program. Though poor, people indicated they were ‘getting by’ and no one expressed any needs. We sat in the shade, talked, ate pomegranates fresh off a tree and drank Chicha de jora. Our travel companions Saida and Marcos are second and third from the left.

Eureka was our final stop. Everything written above about El Faicalito (except for the birth control discussion) is applicable to Eureka.  The school is overcrowded but is in good condition physically and supply wise. Flor Sera is the director, and when asked if there was anything she needed, she pointed to a set of twin girls and said the family was poor and the girls lacked clothing and school supplies. Another girl has similar issues.

This is Maria. She is an orphan living with her grandparents who are struggling financially. Maria often needs to borrow shoes and clothes and school supplies from other students. I don’t know if that situation troubles her, but it sure bothers me. We are going to talk more with the school director to see exactly what is needed to help Maria and the twins.

As we were leaving, Flor somewhat hesitantly broached the issue of uniforms. She said that most of the students have only one set of school clothes that are washed every night, but if the mother doesn’t have time to do that the child doesn’t come to school, and some days as many as a dozen students are absent. At one time there was an NGO from Spain operating in the Chiclayo area that focused on providing school uniforms to schools for that very reason. Flor asked if we would consider providing school uniforms to be kept at the school for the kids. Norma at El Faicalito didn't ask for uniforms but the need is evident. We can have quality two-piece uniforms made for $14.50 each. Flor has 56 students so we'd be looking at $812 and for Norma's 25 kids $363.  

We want to help Norma Urbina equip the school in El Faicalito. A white board with markers costs $65. The price for two metal five-shelf units is $72. 

We want to help Maria and the twins in Eureka with school supplies and clothing. We estimate about $125 total for the three girls. And if possible we'd like to provide at least some uniforms for the more needy of Flor's and Norma's students. 

The assistance we're talking about will help these kids to get a better education and perhaps a better quality of life. We’re going to need help to do this. If you’ve ever considered donating, please do it now at the Promesa Peru webpage. Thanks in advance.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

San Miguel…Not Your Average Little Village

It was somewhere around 70 years ago during a severe El Niño induced flood that an irrigation canal overflowed its banks and effectively wiped out the town of San Miguel. Undaunted, the town promptly rebuilt on higher ground less than 200 meters to the southwest. The ruins of the old abandoned village are still evident today, and viewed from the air they appear to be mirror image siblings joined at the hip, though one is a ghost.

Present day San Miguel with a population of about 200 is anything but a ghost village. True, it shares many of the identifying characteristics of most caserios. There is no commerce, industries, businesses, restaurants, stores, taverns or night life. But that’s where the similarity ends.

Upon entering the town the visitor is greeted by a small but beautiful and well cared for botanical garden. The centerpiece of the garden is an ancient cart that was used for trash collection. This garden is in stark contrast the piles of rocks, debris and miscellaneous nothingness usually found at the edge of isolated villages.

Next to the garden is the town library with over 2000 books including three full sets of encyclopedias; a valuable reference to have at hand when no internet is available. The library is open from 6:00am to sundown and is operated by Lucretia, who also maintains the botanical garden plus serves as the village vigilante. It was she who told us of the history of the village and, along with several other women took us on a tour of the town.

Central parks in these small villages, if they exist at all usually consist of a square of burned out grass with a few scrub trees and flowers that died long ago. San Miguel has a pleasant park, maintained through volunteer effort. In fact the whole village has a pleasing appearance. During our tour we noticed there was no trash in the streets…not even a plastic bag which unfortunately seems at times to be the dominant feature of most villages and cities in Peru. I can’t emphasize enough how clean and well maintained the streets, church, schools (for the most part…more on that later) and other public buildings are, as are the private houses to the best of their owner’s ability.

The town has a large meeting hall used for various activities. We were invited to attend a meeting of the women artisans, who asked for help and advice on how to more efficiently manufacture and market their products, and how to work more effectively as an association. Maribel suggested they document their specific needs and ideas, including how we may be of help. She apparently said the right words as she was given long and loud applause and the end of her comments.  

Adjacent to the meeting hall is the primary school. Director Guadalupe Nunton (green blouse) has four teachers to help her teach grades one through six. The Peruvian government pays the salary of only Guadalupe. Three of the other four teachers are paid from a combination of a regional emergency fund and parent’s contributions. There is no money to pay the fourth teacher, who is doing the job out of love for the town. Seventy years has taken its toll on some of school building. Several classrooms have deteriorated badly and are no longer usable. Guadalupe would like to remodel one of the rooms as a library but has been unable to come up with the funds.

The kinder is probably the most innovative we’ve seen. In addition to the colorful and well equipped classroom, a portion of the building contains a model house for the purpose of teaching ‘social living.’ Director Yola Edquen says she has everything she needs except a CD player for instructional CDs and for recreation.

San Miguel is as as close to a self-sustaining caserio as we’ve seen. Their medical clinic was closed several years ago for lack of a doctor, but the larger town of Picsi is only two miles away and has a clinic. The town even pays for its own trash collection service, which is probably why the streets are so clean.

We were told that there is one family in town who has some problems. A single mother is caring for her retarded son who also has a thyroid problem and is supposed to be taking levotiroxina daily, but that’s not happening because of cost. The mother earns money by taking in washing and collecting and selling recyclable material….bottles, cans, etc. Several town folk told us that the family could use some clothing and basic household items.

We’re looking forward to our next visit to San Miguel. We hope to be able to work with the artisans, and we’d also like to give a CD player to the kinder school and supply clothing, medicine and other things to that needy family. If you’d like to help please visit the Promesa Peru webpage to donate.