Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Throw-away Society?....Not in Peru!

Our first television had a 6” screen that our family would gather around from 6:00 pm when the station began broadcasting, until 10:00 when the signal stopped. I don’t remember what programming we watched, but I do remember my dad having to phone the TV repairman because the TV stopped working….again. TV repairmen and doctors made house calls in those days. The problem was almost always a tube. All electronics in those days were dependent on vacuum tubes. It seemed like the bigger the tube, the more expensive the repair bill. If it was the picture tube, well, then you were without a TV until you could afford a new one. Cash ruled in those days. If you didn’t have the cash, you didn’t buy it. Cars and houses were the exception.

I wonder if anybody does TV repair work anymore in the USA. If they do I’m pretty sure they won’t come to your house to do it. It seems like the mentality these days is that if something stops working you throw it out and replace it. But that’s not true in Peru. In Peru whatever broke can be repaired. If it’s metal it can be welded. If it’s got parts they can be replaced. Every neighborhood has several men who can repair whatever needs fixing - cars, motorcycles, sewing machines, chairs, coffee makers, lamps, electric razors and most everything else that can break. Including televisions.

This 7 year old Philips TV sits on a dresser in our bedroom. One of us is usually watching news or a movie before sleeping. A few nights ago when I turned it on I thought I was watching a psychedelic presentation of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. A barely visible Johnny Depp was covered by a big pink circle in the middle of the screen. The circle was surrounded by another circle, only this one was green. The remainder of the screen was blue. Not appreciating this version of the movie I changed channels, but the colors remained. Okay, I’m thinking that a new TV is in our future when Maribel mentioned a friend who “can repair it.” I seriously doubted that but having nothing to lose agreed to try it.

Do you see that little part on the right next to the TV? It’s stamped W3 MZ72AL 9RM in case anyone’s interested. Anyway, Maribel’s friend speculated that that part was probably the culprit, based just on Maribel’s description of the problem over the phone. He bought a new(?) part somewhere – in Chiclayo you can almost always buy or have made parts for almost anything that’s less than 100 years…no, make that 200 years old, and replaced it in less than 20 minutes. In our home. And it worked.

I’m a little disappointed. I was kind of looking forward to a new HD thin-screen TV on that dresser. But the old Philips is okay for something to fall to sleep by, and for the $16.67 repair cost including labor I am content to watch Willy Wonka without high definition.

Friday, January 23, 2015

An Afternoon in Mòrrope

The city of Mòrrope is the capital of the District of Mòrrope, which is one of 12 districts in the Lambayeque Province of the Lambayeque Region. It is located about 20 miles north-northwest of Chiclayo.

Mòrrope combines the appearance of a city with the feel of a small village. Peace and tranquility reign here. There is combi and mototaxi traffic, but not much and they don’t drive with their horns or roar their engines. There aren’t elbow-to-elbow people, and those on the streets are walking slowly, conveying the impression that whatever or whoever is at their destination will wait a few minutes.

The women wear traditional clothing…dresses made at home from an inexpensive shiny material. Bright orange, green and blue are popular colors. Only the young women wear pants.

The city has a pleasant, well maintained central park with enough shaded benches to accommodate those of us who like to sit, relax and watch.

Across from the park is a huge church. We were told that sections of the church go back to the 1500’s. Inside are some beautiful religious relics dating to colonial times.

Several blocks from the park is the city’s Fun Park. It occupies an entire block. It offers a wide range of playground equipment as well as a basketball/soccer/tennis/volleyball court, and a full size swimming pool with a kiddie’s pool adjacent to it. On this day what were missing were the people. It was a hot day; school is closed for vacation and there were no kids…nobody in the pool. I don’t get it.

During our stroll through the town we stopped at the mercado. We always stop at a mercado in every town we visit. And Maribel always buys fish. And I always ask her, “What’s for dinner tonight?” And she always replies, “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

We had another reason to be in Mòrrope besides visiting the town. We were there to learn about the district and the many villages within it. Of the 38 districts within the Lambayeque Region, Mòrrope is 1 of 4 districts that are classified as being in extreme poverty.

Approaching Mòrrope from the south you pass mile after mile of what were active farm fields now lying uncultivated. The area has little irrigation to draw from and the lack of rain for the past two years has been devastating. The loss of crops was followed by a reduction of farm animals. Without farming, options for income are limited. There is a thriving plaster manufacturing industry (see Getting plastered in Morropebut the work is unskilled and doesn’t pay much. Some of the women formed an association to cultivate and make articles from native cotton for sale in Chiclayo but the drought has hampered that effort. A lack of education is another limiting factor. Most of the adult population of the villages didn’t complete primary school. Last year the Australian Embassy in Lima donated 10 milk cows to the village of Cucufana, located just a few miles north of Mòrrope. At that time the embassy people discovered that 95% of the village population was illiterate.

Henry Llonto, a civil engineer and the Manager of Urban Area Control supplied us with a lot of information about the district and the over 40 villages within it. He was genuinely happy and enthused to learn that we were interested in working with the schools in his district to hopefully improve education. He said that there are one-page documents describing each village including schools, and that he would assemble the information for us.

Henry also gave us a map, and with it a caution. He reminded us that the area is poor and suggested that for security and safety reasons we should contract with a taxi from town, and to have that individual stay with us during our visits. He also said we could call on him for any help we needed.  

As we were leaving Henry asked, “With over 40 villages, where will you start?”  Good question Henry.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Few Days in Lima

It’s been a couple of years since we visited Lima. We’ve got some good friends and family there, and we kept telling ourselves and them that we’d visit but you know how that goes…unless you make the time it doesn’t happen, so that’s what we did.

Usually we arrive at the Lima airport late in the evening, around 10:00 PM or so. On this day the plane touched down at 9:00 AM. We couldn’t check into the Miraflores hotel until 3:00, so we had some time to kill. If you have time to spare the Lima airport is not where you want to spend it. There’s nothing to see; main terminal seating is very limited, and outside of the food court there is really only one real restaurant…by that I mean with comfortable chairs and people who come to the table to take and deliver food and drink orders. Anyway, we‘ve been there so often and pulled so many over-nighters there that we know every nook and cranny of that place.

The ubiquitous taxi drivers were there to greet us, offering to deposit us at the hotel door in Miraflores for 60 soles ($20.43 USD).  Not too long ago the rate was 50 soles. We had only shoulder bags for luggage, and with lots of time Maribel suggested we ride a bus. I’m glad she did. We had to walk two blocks from the airport to the bus stop.  Maribel had previously lived in Lima and knew that we needed to look for a blue bus with ‘Benavides’ shown on the side as one of the destinations. The bus dropped us off at the Miraflores ovalo (round-about) an hour later; about twice the time of a taxi. The cost for both of us was 2.4 soles ($0.81 USD). We saved some cash, and I saw parts of Lima I hadn’t seen before.

I was disappointed to see that cats have overrun both the Miraflores Central Park and adjacent Kennedy Park. I don’t particularly like cats (although Siberian tigers are my favorite animal), and I like even less the strong cat odor as we walked through the parks.

Maribel’s brother and his son met us in the park. It was too early for lunch, so for something to do we rode the Mirabus for an hour. It really doesn’t show you anything…not like other tour busses I’ve ridden. We did stop at a huge archeological site – Huaca Pucllana which I didn’t even know existed. I need to do some research on that. The only other attraction was a lengthy ride along the ocean front, where the driver pointed out things like the La Rosa Nautica Restaurant, Love Park and the Larcomar shopping mall. We’ve been to those places before but the bus gave us a different view. There is a Wong grocery store in the mall that is new since we were last there. I was impressed with how tastefully they’ve blended a grocery store into an upscale mall.

Following the bus ride we had lunch in one of the many restaurants of Calle de las Pizzas. I’ve forgotten the name, but it was the first one on the left as you enter the street from Diagonal Ave. I chose it because it looked clean and had a wide variety of offerings on the menu…not because the woman at the door urging us to enter had “great legs”, as Maribel’s brother accused me of.

The days went by quickly. We had a nice lunch at the La Baguette Restaurant with our friend Alan, and also got together with Mark and Anna Maria, who took us to the Nicolini Automobile Museum. What a great way to spend a half-day. Several of those cars I could personally relate to. There was a 1946 Nash in the garage waiting to be restored. That was our family car when I was a young boy. And there is a restored 1956 Olds 88 that differed only in color from one that I owned (I bought it used shortly after I started working). I still prefer the looks and styling of those 50's cars over anything made these days.

There are still some museums and colonial churches in Lima that I haven’t seen, and some attractions that we’d like to see again. We didn’t get to the Plaza de Armas, where I’m told some changes have taken place since our last visit. We talked about returning to Lima as we rode the bus to the airport.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Promesa Peru 2014 Financial Report

During the year 2014 Promesa Peru took part in eleven activities*. They were:

Month/Activity                                                                               Expense    

May - El Faicalito pronoei equipment                                   $153.78

May – San Miguel pronoei equipment                                         51.99

June – Eureka pronoei uniforms/school supplies            1097.43

July – San Miguel library equipment                                        655.24

September - Tùcume Viejo primary school equipment     461.89

September – Payesa primary school equipment                  208.87

September – Payesa pronoei school equipment                   412.38

October – El Pavo pronoei school equipment                       378.14

December – San Bernardino chocolatada                                 554.51

December – El Pavo chocolatada                                                 102.66

December – Pinglo Santa Maria family                                      154.95
                                                             Total expense                     $4249.84

Donation information

Source                                                                                                  Amount

Public donations                                                                          $3848.37

Promesa Peru board member donations                                 543.68
                                                           Total donations                  $4392.05

                                                           Balance                                     $142.21

In- kind donations in the form of candy, cookies and used clothing distributed in Payesa and San Bernardino amounted to an estimated $400.

As always our focus this year was on education. We furnished classroom equipment including teaching aids, whiteboards, shelves, tables and chairs to eight schools. We provided school supply kits and uniforms to individual students and at Eureka to the entire class of 58 students. 

Thanks from all of us to those who made 2014 so successful. We hope we can count on your continued support in 2015.

* We also participated in a Special Education celebration in October however our involvement and financial contribution was not significant.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

They’re known as Recyclers

They can be seen at all hours, in all areas of the city. Sometimes it’s a man, but usually it’s a woman by herself or occasionally with a child or two. Some of them have a small two-wheeled cart but mostly the things they collect are put into the ragged polyethylene bags slung over their shoulder.

When the bags are full the recycler will find a place to sit and reorganize the bag’s contents… flattening out the plastic bottles and cans to make more room; folding any corrugated cartons they may have picked up, and perhaps discarding anything that at second glance won’t earn them anything.

In Milwaukee many years ago we used to call them garbage pickers. I don’t remember my parents or anyone else talking disparagingly about them, but we were told to “stay away from them”, the implication being (at least to us kids) that they were different and perhaps dangerous. It’s not that way in Chiclayo.

In Chiclayo the view of ‘recicladores’ is that they are unfortunate people trying to earn a living the best way they can.  They are not feared nor treated with distain. In fact recyclers who ply the same neighborhoods are often given food or clothing. People save bags of bottles, cans and paper to give to them.

There are several areas on the outskirts of the city where recyclers can sell what they’ve accumulated. Current prices are 7 cents per kilo for paper and plastic, and 14 cents for cans and corrugated paper. The items are ultimately shipped to Lima where several large recycling companies reclaim the raw material.

It is often said in Chiclayo that "any work is honorable work", but it is doubtful that anyone would want to see the kids carrying on that career.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Promesa Peru Year in Review

Every year in December we look back at what we’ve done and ask ourselves if the projects we sponsored were in keeping with both our motto; ‘helping people to help themselves’, and with our belief that education is the key to improved quality of life in Peru. In reviewing our activities we think we stayed on track.

As we see it there are four basic things we can do to promote education. We can help to ensure that:

1) Classrooms are properly equipped. This usually means tables, chairs, storage shelves and a whiteboard. In national primary and secondary schools the local government normally supplies those items. In pronoeis (pre-schools) the government supplies just four walls and a roof – no water, electricity, restrooms or furnishings. In theory the community is responsible for those things.

2) Teachers have teaching aids. These items include tangrams, abacus, whiteboard erasers and markers, poster paper and dozens of other miscellaneous things. If the teachers have them it’s because they paid for them from their own pocket.

3) Students have school supplies. These are the basic items such as pencils, paper, notebook, crayons, scissors, glue, etc. Parents are responsible for providing these items but all too often it’s the teacher who does what she can to help, or when possible the students share, or a student simply goes without. In the later case they usually drop out of school.

4) Students have uniforms where the culture or climate calls for them. Usually in poor villages the requirement for uniforms is waived and the kids attend class in whatever everyday clothing they have. In some villages/districts the culture is that the parents won’t send their kids to school dressed improperly, and because they can’t afford ‘proper clothing’ the kids don’t attend. Also, in the winter months it’s cold in the morning when these young kids are walking to school. Having a warm uniform to wear can make the difference between a mother sending her child to school or not.

There are other things that can be done to promote education that are not as obvious. The cooking equipment we supplied to the Tùcume Viejo school helped education indirectly by taking less time for food preparation thus providing more time for classes. Providing a CD player can facilitate both physical education and general learning.

It could be added that students need proper nourishment to study effectively. A recent government report said that 17.5% of Peruvian youths suffer from chronic malnourishment, but that mostly applies to families in the Andes. None of the Lambayeque Region doctors we’ve talked with have mentioned malnourishment as a problem.

Overall health is a larger issue. Villages like La Raya and Tùcume Viejo have medical clinics staffed by a technician and visited weekly by a doctor. Most villages are not so lucky. If the distance is great and transportation difficult parents are less likely to take their kids to a clinic for anything other than an obviously serious condition. And making a second trip for a follow-up visit or prescription refill may or may not happen. We don’t mean to imply that parents are derelict, but time and expense are considerations for anything that may not seem to them to be critical.

In our opinion a perfect location to build a medical clinic would be the village of Collique Alto. It’s a small, poor village surrounded by several even smaller and poorer villages. It’s located 10 difficult miles from the nearest clinic and 25 miles from a hospital. There is a vacant lot in the center of the village that eight years ago was supposed to be the site for a medical clinic but construction never began. Back in March 2011 we were asked by the village president if Promesa Peru could help to build a medical clinic on that lot. We had to say no. We received another call from the village last spring with the same request. We again said no, but who knows?....maybe someday.

We had many good moments this year but none bigger than when the director of the school in San Miguel called us to say that her students won the district math contest, and that she credited the Alice Cool Library in part for being a perfect place for the students to study. We would love to be able to get involved in more projects like the library in the coming year.

There were no real problems other than the usual transportation issue. Contracting a truck is expensive, and while it can carry all of the donated items, it is limited in the people it can transport. Contracting a private car provides for the people but not the baggage. Contracting two vehicles is too expensive. Maybe this is the year we will find an individual who owns a reliable combi (a vehicle capable of carrying all of our items and crew) and will give us a discount, and who understands that departure at 9:00 AM means departure at 9:00 AM.

All in all it was very good and very busy year, primarily because donations increased substantially over the previous years. And with the increased donations came an increased sense of responsibility to use the money wisely. We think we did that.

This is a list of the activities we either sponsored in 2014 or took part in. All of them have been written about individually on this blog.

May - El Faicalito pronoei equipment                           

May – San Miguel pronoei equipment                             

June – Eureka pronoei uniforms/school supplies                 

July – San Miguel Alice Cool Library creation                                    

September - Tùcume Viejo primary school equipment         

September – Payesa primary school equipment                   

September – Payesa pronoei school equipment                   

October – El Pavo pronoei school equipment

October – A Special Education celebration                   

December – San Bernardino chocolatada                                

December – El Pavo chocolatada                                               

December – Pinglo Santa Maria family assistance

Most of our focus this year was on pronoeis, because they’re usually poorly equipped and because teachers tell us the 3 to 5 age group is where discipline and study habits are formed. We don’t dispute their opinions and experience, but we think the 6 to 12 age group in primary schools are certainly still in their formative years and may be as important. In the coming year we’re going to take a closer look at some of those schools.

There is no way to know for sure that equipping classrooms, providing teaching aids, and supplying students with school supplies and uniforms is helping to keep kids in school. It would be nice to see documentation showing that the continuation rate in the schools we’ve worked with has improved, but to our knowledge statistics like that do not exist. Still, it seems like we’re doing the right thing and hopefully we’ll be able to continue in 2015.

Our thanks to Chris R. and the Alice Cool Foundation for supporting us throughout the year, and to the many others who contributed to individual projects/activities.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Puerto Eten’s New Look

Puerto Eten has always served as our getaway destination. It is a small, quiet village with nothing of note to see. It does have several impressive though decaying colonial homes and a church that speaks of the towns glory days when it was the railroad hub of the Lambayeque Region, but beyond that there is nothing. Tourists don’t go there, and most of the local’s experience with the village is seeing it from a combi window in route to Eten, a larger town seven miles distant.

The beach is our main reason for going there. For whatever reason it has the most distinctive and attractive stones of any beach in the area. Nature doesn’t produce many green stones, but they can be found on Puerto Eten’s beach. And there is no competition while looking for them. On most days we have the entire beach to ourselves, with only the sound of the waves bouncing off the towering bluffs as our companion. It had been awhile since we’ve been to the village. Working with our charity and traveling to more distant places had kept us away, so we decided to start the New Year with a walk on the beach.

What a difference 18 months can make! This is the same beach from the opposite angle. There were as many people behind me as in front when I took this photo. There were easily over 10,000 people on the beach, and hundreds of busses, taxis and mototaxis in the village streets constantly dropping off and picking up passengers. To the left are two new condos. We saw three more being constructed. Condos in Puerto Eten…I would never have imagined it.

Many of the younger people had been on the beach overnight. There had been a staged event to bring in the New Year, and given the size of the now mostly dismantled structure and number of empty beer cases we assume a good time was had by all.

The beach has been completely transformed, with the center piece being a brick and concrete malecòn that extends for perhaps a half mile. Along the way there are shaded area with benches, restrooms, and outdoor showers to wash sand off the feet.  There is also a modern restaurant with attractive outdoor seating with an unusual amount of elbow room between tables.

Walking through the village we saw, in addition to the new condos several new homes and many new restaurants. It appears that the town is hurrying to catch up to the transformed beach.

In only 18 months Puerto Eten has changed dramatically. A few years ago the town had an internet site (if it still exists I can’t find it) showing ambitious modernization plans with futuristic 3-D graphics that looked other-world. I doubted those plans would materialize, at least in the foreseeable future.  It looks like I was wrong.

The New Year’s Day crowd is not an everyday thing, but there is no doubt the village is on its way to becoming a tourist destination for visitors from the surrounding area, and in the very near future rivaling Pimentel for foreign visitors as well. It’s a good situation for the village, but not so good for those of us who went there to get away. We’re going to have to find another isolated beach somewhere. Preferably one with green stones.