Thursday, September 24, 2015

An Interesting Day in the District of Patapo

When Josè, a high school classmate of Maribel’s and a surgical nurse at a Chiclayo hospital phoned earlier this week and said there were some schools and other things we might be interested in seeing in the Patapo District, it sounded intriguing so we agreed to go.

Our first stop was at the home of Josè’s friend Jesus where we chatted for awhile and had lunch before boarding a mototaxi to the village of Las Canteras. Jose is on the right.

Unlike most villages in the area, the economic base of Las Canteras is a mix of agriculture and a commercial rock quarry. Las Canteras in Spanish means ‘the quarries’.  There isn’t much to the town. There is one main road which sees a steady stream of dump trucks coming and going. As a result there is a constant thick blanket of white dust in the air that coats everything that doesn’t move. We were told we could not enter the quarry area for safety and security reasons. 

Kinder #443 is a happy, cheery and friendly school. School director Silvia Aguero is a personable woman and very competent administrator. Her school is well furnished and equipped. This year she used her $625 annual budget to construct two new restrooms and make repairs to the classroom.

We were told that over time the parent’s association provided the cooking equipment and furniture for the kitchen. The equipment, cleanliness and organization of the kitchen were impressive but the real eye-opener for us was the three-burner, two-tank semi industrial stove behind the girls. It was provided by the QaliWarma government food program.

Nearly every school we’ve visited in the past two months has asked for a stove, telling us that the government does not provide them. We did some hurried research upon arriving home and learned that as of May 2015 the QaliWarma program has been delivering stoves nationwide. The goal is to provide 19,260 in total. So far the Lambayeque Region has received 383 stoves of 1380 earmarked for the region. Somehow the kinder in Las Canteras got one of them. We don’t know what the qualifying criterion is.

This is strictly a guess on my part, but I’d estimate that 1380 stoves would amount to about 25% of the schools in the region, and that is if they were all delivered which they probably won’t be. National programs typically begin and end with the standing President. Ollanta Humala’s term ends next July and it is likely that QaliWarma will either cease to exist or change its name, vision and goals.

Though Silvia told us she doesn’t need anything for the classroom, she did ask if she could call on us next March to help the kids with school supplies. She explained that the quarry was not steady work…that the workers were called on a day to day basis and many families struggled financially.

If the kinder in Las Canteras was a pleasant surprise, the pronoei in Posope Alto located just two miles from Las Canteras was the opposite. Jose had warned us that it was “deplorable” and if anything he understated the situation.

The furniture consists of a collection of broken plastic stools and chairs and two tables. The school had closed for the day when we arrived. A neighbor we talked with told us there are 23 students registered but only 14 attend because of the poor conditions. She told us to go in, that the door wasn’t locked because ‘there’s nothing inside to steal’. We’ll be back in the area next week for different reasons and will make a point of stopping at the pronoei to talk with the teacher.

From Posope Alto we returned to Jesus’s house to take part in a fruit gathering expedition. I learned a lot about the sugar cane business by asking questions while stumbling and crawling through a sugar cane field. 

Starting from scratch, first the sugar cane plants are planted. In a year’s time the first harvesting is done. In northern Peru sugar cane is not seasonal, so someone is always planting or harvesting and the processing plants work year-round. Jesus harvests his fields in early October. On October 15th he sets the field on fire to burn the stubble. He said the fire does not harm the plants, and the reason he does it is to drive out snakes. After the fifth year he plows the field and plants new plants. He said there are no profits the first year – the cash received pays off expenses. Two months prior to harvesting he signs a contract to sell at an agreed upon price to the processing plant. The price does vary from year to year based on demand.

It was an interesting and entertaining day in the Patapo District. We made one other stop but that will be the subject of an upcoming post.

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