Monday, December 28, 2015

Promesa Peru 2015 Year in Review

It doesn’t seem possible that we’re looking at 2015 in the rear-view mirror. To our group it feels like we were putting our plans together just a few weeks ago. Those plans called for us to do eight projects at an estimated cost of $3400. We felt that eight projects; one every six weeks plus a chocolatada in December was as much as we could handle and still have personal time for ourselves. We were less sure we could raise the money to support the plan. As it turned out we sponsored thirteen activities; nine school equipment projects, a school anniversary celebration, two chocolatadas, and provided school supplies to a needy family. There were times in the 2nd quarter when we felt a bit overwhelmed but it was manageable. The cost of these projects was $4519.45. They were:

February – Pinglo family school supplies
April – Conchucos pronoei school equipment
April – Conchucos primary school equipment
June – Santos Vera pronoei school equipment
July – Las Salinas pronoei school equipment
July – Los Riojas pronoei school equipment
July – Los Riojas primary school equipment
August – Los Reynoza primary school equipment
September – Sapamè primary school equipment
September – Las Salinas primary school equipment
October – La Raya primary school anniversary celebration
December - Las Salinas chocolatada
December – Los Reynoza chocolatada

Included in ‘school equipment’ are chairs, tables, storage shelves, white boards, propane gas stoves with gas tanks, teaching aids, and for the students cups, plates, school supplies and uniforms. Beginning in 2016 any chairs we provide will be wood instead of plastic. The cost will be about $18 per chair as opposed to $4 for plastic but we’ve seen too many plastic chairs collapse and break. Wood chairs are safer, last longer and can be repaired by parent’s association members.

All but two of our projects were in the Tùcume District. We would have preferred to work in the Tumàn District because poverty is more extreme there and it is closer to Chiclayo which saves time and reduces transportation cost but because of the lack of financial support from either the sugar cane cooperative or the Tumàn Education Office the school year was a shambles. Teachers were not paid; school supplies were not furnished and school maintenance was ignored. This post contains a more detailed explanation of the issue. It has been reported recently that both parties have reached agreement on financial responsibility for the education sector. Hopefully schools can open for the new term in March under near-normal conditions.

We visited five village schools that we declined to get involved with, either because we didn’t see evidence of the community trying to help themselves or in our opinion their need wasn’t urgent compared to other villages. Sometimes a situation is borderline and it’s difficult to say no but our time and financial resources are limited. We’re happy and satisfied with those projects we did sponsor but would have liked to have found something out of the ordinary such as the Alice Cool library project in 2014. Maybe this year will give us something new to work with.

We started the year slowly because of the unexpected turmoil in the Tumàn District, not completing our first school project until April. The year 2016 looks to be different. We already have requests to visit four schools starting in January when registrations begin plus a backlog of two schools we didn’t get to in 2015. The psychology department of the University of Sipàn has student teams working with schools in the region and they have begun referring needy schools to us. And if the situation is indeed back to normal in the Tumàn District we anticipate many calls from school directors there.

We provided educational assistance for 196 students this past year. In every classroom we visited we made a brief speech directed at the kids. We talked about why Promesa Peru is helping to provide the opportunity to study; that their education is important for them, their families and for the development of Peru. We tell them that every parent wants their child to have a better life than they have (any parents present always emphatically nod their heads), and education is the only route to that better life. We ask them to promise to stay away from crime and drugs; telling them that education builds futures...crime and drugs destroys them. We’re always hopeful that the message gets through to at least some of them.

If we’re going to continue to spread that message we’re going to need help. As already mentioned indications are that it could be a very busy 2016 if we have financial support. Donations can be made anytime for any amount at the Promesa Peru webpage. 

The thirteen activities we sponsored in 2015 were made possible by Chris Raupe, Clif Brown, the Alice Cool Foundation and others. Thank you. Because of you those 196 students have a better chance at a brighter future.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Grand Chocolatada

Though Juanita Amenero moved to Los Angeles California 30 years ago with her family she never forgot her Chiclayo roots. The family prospered in Los Angeles and every year without fail she financed a chocolatada for her old neighborhood. Juanita passed away in 2014 and now her sons are carrying on the tradition.

There is an incredible amount of work that goes into organizing a chocolatada for 300 kids in a Chiclayo neighborhood, beginning with the permit needed to close and erect a structure on a city street. Then there’s chair rental, entertainment contracts, soliciting donations and dozens of other details. This chocolatada was held last Sunday.

Fortunately there are dozens of volunteers from the neighborhood who have participated in past chocolatadas and know the routine for distributing food, chocolate milk and toys. They also do a great job of controlling 300 kids. Just trying to keep the kids in their seats is a monumental task. With the exception of nursing mothers adults are prohibited.

The Juanita Amenero Foundation was created both as a memorial to Juanita and for a mechanism to continue her philanthropy. Ricardo Amenero (pictured) and his brother Victor, both living in Los Angeles are two of the principals and though they spend several thousand dollars to sponsor the December chocolatada their main focus as was their mother’s is to help needy families. Every year six families are selected to receive what amounts to nearly total support for a year. Children’s school expenses are covered. They are given clothing when needed and on the 20th of every month food is delivered to their door. But before receiving aid the families are asked to promise in front of witnesses that they will not sell or do anything other than use personally what they are given. Maribel was asked to be a witness to the oath-taking. The foundation also awarded $600 in scholarships though we don’t know the particulars.

To finance their activities the foundation relies on the generosity of a substantial Peruvian population in the greater Los Angeles area. Various kinds of fund raisers are held throughout the year, and there are a significant number of people who donate monthly to the fund.

We were impressed by what we saw and learned. During a discussion with Ricardo we talked about possible synergies between Promesa Peru and the Juanita Amenero Foundation and agreed to stay in contact.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Come See Our Tree

In the late 1940s there was a Christmas tradition in our extended family. I don’t know that the tradition ever had a name but the theme was ‘come see our tree.’ It involved maybe 8 to 10 families. Each family would extend an invitation to see their tree; always between Christmas and New Year. Conflicting dates/times would be resolved and a visitation schedule would evolve. Sometimes there were two or three visits on the same day.

What would happen is everyone would meet at the appointed time for example at Aunt Annie’s and Uncle Ollie’s house. Christmas cookies and beverages were provided by the hosts. While the guests were munching cookies the hosts would show their tree and the presents they’d received. Oohs and ahhs were mandatory. Aunt Annie was really good at withering looks of disapproval if the proper appreciation was not forthcoming. My dad referred to her as “any face” because of the countless expressions she had in her arsenal. They and everyone from that generation are gone so I can say that without offending anyone.

The trees were fresh; bought at one of the many lots that sprang up on Milwaukee’s south-side, so each tree was unique. I vividly remember walking up and down the rows of trees, hoping my dad would buy one so we could leave. There was always a chill and dampness in those lots that didn’t seem natural to me. It was kind of spooky. If mom was with us I could count on this verbal exchange between them - “Hank, don’t tie that tree on the car top. It’ll fall off.” Dad would reply, “Dorothy, it’s going on top! I don’t want those damn needles in the trunk!” It always went on top and never fell off.

You could sort of gauge a family’s financial condition by the type and height of their tree…the taller the tree the more it cost. A 6’ Scotch pine was the cheapest and that’s what most of us had. If you had an 8’ Douglas fir…well, you were the cat’s meow. There were no artificial trees that I remember. You could buy a spray to ‘flock’ your tree but no one in our family did it. That was for snooty rich people earning $2.00 an hour or more and living in $30,000 houses. Tree decorations were usually a mix of boughten and home-made ornaments, many of the later being generations old. Christmas cookies were home-baked, and here too it was proper form to compliment the hostess. For Christmas drinks there was beer and soda with ginger ale being a favorite, but also a cocktail. Brandy alexanders and strawberry daiquiris were favorites of the ladies while the men usually opted for ‘a shot ‘n beer.’ For us kids the cookies and soda were the best part of those visits. They wouldn’t let us play with the new toys under the tree. After two hours or so we’d leave and regroup at Aunt Helen’s and Uncle Tony’s house where the whole scenario would be repeated.

The presents under the trees were usually socks, ties or underwear for the men (gee…thanks a lot! I really needed this!). The kids would have a few modest toys; dolls for the girls and cowboy stuff for the boys. The women usually were given jewelry but occasionally a man would buy a new stove or set of pots and pans for his wife “for her kitchen.” The other women would turn green with envy. All the jewelry giving guys knew that during the drive home they’d be hearing some version of, “…I hope you saw what Bill gave Evelyn?” How times have changed!

Those Christmas visits provided a lot of enjoyment, and helped to refresh family bonds. They also provided fodder for critiques afterward. When my mother and her sister got together I’d hear comments like: “…and that necklace Frank gave Judy that she was making such a fuss about? Well I know I saw it at the five-and-dime two weeks ago.” or, “Marge used too much sugar in her cookies again. Why doesn’t somebody tell her?” and, “don’t tell me Alice baked those cookies. I know bakery cookies when I see them!” There were occasional comments about someone’s cocktail, “…there wasn’t much brandy in Carl’s brandy alexanders but I suppose they need their money for other things; he’s not working steady you know.” They had to know that others were likely making similar comments about them and that was probably their justification. Except for grandmas and grandpas. You never back-bit a grandma or grandpa. It just wasn’t done. If something wasn’t quite right at their house during the Christmas visit you excused it because of their age and respect due them. Everybody else was fair game. Including me. We were at Aunt Helen and Uncle Huntz’s house. They had Grandpa Graf root beer which was my favorite soda. I asked for a second bottle and was told by Uncle Huntz that I’d already had one bottle. I blurted out, “but you had three beers!” Word got back to my mother that Aunt Helen said I was ill-behaved. Well la-di-da!

Though the men complained about having to wear a tie I think all of us; adults and kids looked forward to ‘come see our tree’. The holiday season wouldn’t have seemed complete without it. I miss that tradition and the heady aroma of pine resin. That kind of thing isn’t done here in Chiclayo. Some families put up a few lights but I don’t see many trees, though there is a wide variety sold in stores. Families here do get together for Christmas and New Year dinner but it’s not a ‘come see our tree’ type thing. Maribel says that in the past it was common for people to erect large nativity scenes in their homes. Neighborhood kids would know who had a nativity and would go to the house and sing Christmas carols. The owner of the house would give the kids candy and chocolate milk.

We put up a tree this year. It’s artificial but it looks okay. I doubt if you can buy a real tree in this desert. The ornaments are mostly recently purchased but there are some that are personalized, like my old military dog tags, two Moroccan coin spoons, a mini-ball from the Gettysburg battlefield and an original nail from President Andrew Jackson’s hermitage home. And an acorn from Wisconsin. Don’t ask why we hung those things on our tree…we don’t know.

I’ll tell you what…in an attempt to start a Christmas visit tradition here in Chiclayo we invite you to come see our tree! We’ve got panetòn, beer and wine, and I’ll try to make a drinkable Señor Sipàn cocktail. How does that sound? There is one stipulation though. If you do come, please don’t talk about us afterwards….unless it’s complimentary.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

About Frank ‘n me ‘n Birthdays

Yesterday me and Frank Sinatra celebrated our birthdays. Frank was 100, or would have been if he hadn’t died in 1998. But when you’re a somebody like Frank it doesn’t matter if you’re dead…people continue to celebrate your birthday. Family, Friends and wannabes show up at some posh location decked out in their finest hoping to be seen on the next day’s news. And they don’t have to pony up for presents.

I was 75 yesterday. I didn’t think I’d make it this far. When I was a kid life expectancy was 67 years. You retired at 65 and died two years later, hopefully having enjoyed the allotted 730 days of your golden years. Now life expectancy is 79. That raises a question…which mortality table applies to me? If I go by the 1940 table I’ve lived eight years longer than average. Based on the 2014 table I’ve can expect maybe four or more years before my ticket to the white light express gets punched. But I guess it doesn’t matter. I’m still on the right side of the grass and enjoying life and that’s what counts.

the Tom Filipowicz Combo 
Frank and I have more in common than just birthdates. Frank was a singer. I was a singer. Frank earned a lot of money and won many awards for his singing. I did not. In the late 1950s and early 60s I had a band called the Tom Filipowicz Combo. There were four of us. I was the vocalist. We performed for weddings, birthdays, graduations and other activities, earning not much more than expense money. I added a female vocalist to the group who turned out to be pretty good, and shortly after that two of the guys suggested we go to Vegas and take a shot at breaking into the big time. I chickened out. They went, and one-by-one became disillusioned and went on to other things, except for Terry (playing the guitar) who stayed in Vegas and lived out his life as a session musician. Those were different times. The band and my voice are long gone, though I can still occasionally be heard in the shower belting out, ’…and that’s why the lady is a tramp!’

as Herr Schultz in Cabaret singing the pineapple song
Frank was an actor. I was an actor. Frank earned a lot of money and won many awards for his acting. I did not. I was okay as a community actor; at least the local reviewers thought so. My favorite role was that of the defense attorney Sir Wilfrid Robarts in Agatha Christie’s…’The Witness for the Prosecution.’ My favorite production was ‘Cabaret’ staged by the Actors Repertory Theater. I portrayed Herr Schultz. The male and female leads were New York professionals as was the director. The rest of us were locals. We did 17 evening shows and two matinees – each performance to a packed house. That was my first paid acting gig. I still have a copy of the first check somewhere. My acting in Cabaret led to some paid script writing and acting for in-house promotions for a Green Bay television station for about a year, but that was the extent of my paid entertainment career. Thankfully I never gave up my day job. For the next few years I acted in and directed more plays at the community level than I can remember, but it gradually reached a point where it wasn't fun anymore, so that facet of my life ended. 

There were gala celebrations for Frank in many major cities in the USA and around the planet plus an all-star television special, but the “really big shew” as Ed Sullivan used to say was at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills. Frank Sinatra Jr. and everyone who is anyone was there. Afterwards they probably dined on exotic dishes like Coquilles Saint-Jacques followed by bùche for desert and drank Dom Perignon at $400 a bottle.

My birthday party was at a back table in Chili’s restaurant in the Chiclayo mall. We dined on exotic dishes with names like ‘big mouth burger’ and ‘chicken fried chicken’ and drank Peruvian beer at $2 a pop. Okay…so it wasn’t the Saban Theater and there were no television cameras or tuxedos or fancy foods, but friends being together sharing convivial conversation and laughter aren’t the exclusive domain of high-rollers at celebrity parties, and we had our share of both.
In the evening there was another celebration, this time with family at a restaurant on the sixth floor of the Saranga Hotel. These are some of the same folks I celebrated my sixty-fifth birthday with, except for my niece CJ who is seven. At that time I had known them and Maribel for only four days, being on my first trip to Peru.

After returning home Maribel commented that “the whole day flowed like a river.” It really did. This was one of my more enjoyable birthdays. It was a relaxing day spent with friends and family. I couldn't ask for more.

Maybe in five years I’ll write another post about our birthdays when Frank is 105 and I’m 80. I’ll bet Frank’s party won’t be nearly as spectacular as the one this year. Reaching 105 is no big deal if you’re dead. It’s automatic…everyone does it. Turning 80 will be a milestone for me and I’ll be ready for another party. But this time no Chili’s restaurant. I’m thinking that the San Martin Ballroom at the JW Marriott Hotel in Lima Peru will be the place to be Saturday evening, December 12, 2020. Watch your email for the invitation.

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Special Christmas Card

Last week at the chocolatada in Los Reynoza we were given a Christmas card. It was hand-made by Chiara…a young German woman who has been assisting the teachers at the school since last July. She will be returning to Germany at the end of this month. 

Things were a bit hectic at the time Chiara gave us the card so we didn’t look at it until we returned home. After reading it Maribel commented that the card really belongs to the people who funded our involvement with the school. She’s right. Please take a moment to read it.

Our primary purpose is to help with the education process, and according to Chiara what we’re doing…what you’re doing is working. And so to Chris Raupe, Clif Brown, the Alice Cool Foundation and others who helped us not only with Los Reynoza but many other schools throughout the year, this one's for you.

Friday, December 4, 2015

A Nice Finish to a Good Year

The chocolatada this morning at the primary school in Los Reynoza was well planned. School director Fulgencia Lizana, her staff and mothers of the students had put a lot of effort into organizing the event. Decorations, chairs and tables, CD player and other things were all in place when we arrived. Mothers had started cooking early in the morning so lunch would be ready when it was needed. All of that preparation is the reason why the chocolatada went off without a hitch.

Fulgencia started the day with an inspiring speech. She talked about the effort the kids had shown and their progress during the year. She mentioned the work of the parent’s association in keeping the school in good condition. She thanked her staff and Chiara, a young woman from Germany who has been assisting since last July. But most importantly she talked about the value of education and how the kids need to keep focused. Lastly she singled out the six boys who were graduating and going to secondary school in Tùcume. Today would be their final involvement with this school.

Following Fulgencia’s speech one of the graduating boys took the microphone and said he loved this school and the teachers and was sad to leave. He thanked Promesa Peru for the help we had given the school and finished by saying, “I am leaving but I hope you will still watch over this school.”

Koko Roco the clown was a big hit with the kids and parents. Unlike the younger pronoei kids Wednesday at Las Salinas they were not afraid of him and were eager to be a part of his games. As usual he did a great job of involving kids and parents.
When the clown had finished it was time to eat. This is the traditional chocolatada meal, consisting of hot chocolate, paneton (sweetbread), chicken and an empanada. The parents association provided the hot chocolate, chicken and empanadas. We supplied the paneton, and on a previous visit the plates, cups, uniforms and the gas stove the chicken was cooked on.

Following the meal and clean-up the last thing on the agendas was to give the toys to the kids. We and the teachers were in a classroom determining which kid would get which toy, and you wouldn’t believe the number of excuses those kids came up with to try to get into the room to see the toys. As much as they enjoyed the clown, getting their toys was the highlight for the kids. And seeing the expressions on their faces, it’s probably the highlight for us too.
This will be Promesa Peru’s last activity for 2015. It was a great way to finish the year. Out thanks to Chris Raupe, Clif Brown and others who made this chocolatada one that will be remembered for a long time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Chocolatada for Copitos de Amor

The school term for many schools finished early this year on November 1st and some schools are taking advantage of the early closing by holding their chocolatadas this week before the feared weather phenomenon El Niño arrives. Last July Karina Suyon, the director of the pronoei Copitos de Amor in the village of Las Salinas asked if we could sponsor a chocolatada and we agreed that hers would be one of two schools we would sponsor this December.

We were there at 10:00am this morning in time to see the mothers finish decorating. The festivities started with Koko Roko the clown. He tried hard but was only able to get about half of the kids to participate. You have to realize that these pronoei kids are 3 to 5 years old, live in remote villages, have never seen a live clown and they’re afraid of him.

None of the kids were afraid when toys were handed out, though trying to get them together for a group photo with their toys was impossible. Karina and we finally gave up. The table in the background is loaded with panetone, cookies, candy, marshmallows and I don’t know what else. We probably over did it but it won’t go to waste. After the toys were distributed there was a meal of chicken and panetone with hot chocolate.

It was a chocolatada enjoyed very much by the kids and their mothers. To Chris Raupe, Clif Brown and the others who contributed, these people know that you donated to their chocolatada. This photo is their way and ours of saying thank you.