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.

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