Friday, September 30, 2016

The village of Bodegones

The village of Bodegones is the first project we’ve done in the San Jose district. San Jose is one of the smaller districts in the Lambayeque province. It has a land mass of 18 square miles and an estimated population of 13,000. It is very flat and mostly desert. Its western boarder is the Pacific Ocean.

There are only two communities of any size; the village of Ciudad De Dios (City of God) and the city of San Jose which is the capitol of the district. We were told there are 17 small villages in the district. All of the district government offices are in San Jose.

The mayor of San Jose (city and district) is Macario Fiestas Fiestas. He and several city and district dignitaries were in Bodegones at the pronoei Rayito De Luz this morning to meet us as we delivered some of the promised items to the school. He had sent a truck to our home for us and the items. I like this guy. He knows how to get things done and wastes no time doing it. As the photo shows, he did his share of the work in unloading the truck. As an aside, last week Chiclayo’s mayor hosted a mayor’s conference to discuss crime prevention in the cities. There are over 30 mayors in the Lambayeque Region. Only 5 attended the conference. Macario was one of them.

While the men were assembling the storage shelves the village women were preparing a delicious meal of arroz con pato (rice with duck). After eating there were several brief speeches by the mayor, the teacher Karina, a city engineer, and the president of the parent’s association (center in the photo). Notice the two women on the right dressed in black. It is the custom in these small villages to dress in black for one year when a family member dies.

On Monday the mayor’s staff will deliver 4 tables and eight chairs that we had contracted a local carpenter to build. This is our first experience with this carpenter and we’re hoping his work is acceptable. He is charging 50 soles per chair – the same as the carpenter in Tùcume, but only 60 soles per table…half of the Tùcume cost. That saves $70 on 4 tables if the quality is good. We did deliver 8 metal chairs we had purchased previously.

After saying our goodbyes we went to city hall and the mayor’s office to discuss the morning and to talk about future Promesa Peru projects in the San Jose district. Macario promised complete cooperation from him and his staff if we decide to work in his district.

The cost for this project was:
8 metal chairs - $131.42
8 wood chairs – 71.53
4 wood tables – 119.23
1 whiteboard – 56.47
2 storage shelves – 47.55
Teaching aids – 81.13
Toys and candy – 26.45
Total - $533.78

San Jose’s mayor, his staff, the teacher Karina and the parent’s association members know who was responsible for the gifts. Our thanks to Chris Raupe, the Alice Cool Foundation, and Johany Glen/Webster University for your generous contributions.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Village of Los Bances

The village of Los Bances, located in the northwest portion of the Tùcume district would be indistinguishable from surrounding villages were it not for three modern concrete buildings in the center of the village. One of the buildings is a secondary (high) school with 200 students. A second is the primary (grade) school with 180 enrolled. Both are reasonably well equipped, including three-burner gas stoves supplied by the government to cook the free food distributed to poor communities. Between the two schools there are 19 classrooms, each well-furnished lacking only whiteboards, though the plaster chalkboards are in excellent condition. Johanna is the director of both schools. She has 17 teachers reporting to her. The third building is a kinder. It too is well furnished and maintained.

The schools are in Los Bances only because the village is centrally located to about a dozen other villages, so the vast majority of the students do not live in Los Bances. When the schools were built five years ago there was adequate room for all eligible students from the area. Now things have changed.

The original kinder was designed to accommodate forty students. There are fifty students in the classroom. Recently a modular classroom was constructed to hold thirty more students. Now it is full. There are at least another twenty students eligible to attend kinder and no room for them.

To deal with the situation the parents association last March acquired temporary use of an old building close to the kinder. Tables and chairs were borrowed from the primary school. Martha, a retired teacher was persuaded to take control. The pronoei they created is simply called Los Bances.

The room is small and is at capacity with the present fourteen students. The remaining six eligible students are either scattered among overcrowded pronoeis in other villages or are not being schooled.

Martha phoned Promesa Peru last June asking for help but somehow her request got lost and we dropped the ball. She desperately needs teaching aids…tangrams, abacus, puzzles, books, crayons, pencils and paper. We want to supply those things to her along with a whiteboard and storage shelves. It wouldn’t take more than $200 to do that.

$50 will buy a whiteboard or two storage shelves. $5 will buy 5 story books. $10 will provide 5 puzzles. $15 purchases 5 packs of crayons, 5 coloring books and 3 notebooks. Won’t you please help us to help Martha and those kids? If you have a few dollars to spare please visit the Promesa Peru webpage to donate. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

San Jose’s Mayor…a Different Breed

Regular readers will probably remember that at nearly all of the schools we visit the common complaint is that "the mayor will not help us”. Teachers and parent association members often go to a mayor’s office requesting help of some sort for their school but the response is always “…there is no money”. Today we met the exception to that rule.

This is Macario Fiestas Fiestas, the mayor of San Jose. He is the first and only mayor so far to phone Promesa Peru to ask for help for his schools. He is in the second year of a four year term and based on what we saw and the people we talked with he could probably be elected for life.

During his first two years he has:

Established a therapy clinic for handicapped people

Created an artisan’s association to export products to Italy.

Formed a mother’s association to make products for sale in Chiclayo and elsewhere to augment household income

Started training classes for motor repair so fishermen can repair their own boats and motors

Badgered regional authorities into building a new kinder in San Jose that will be completed soon

Macario was born in San Jose as was his father who was an eleven-year mayor until he was killed by terrorists in 1985 during Peru’s communist uprising. Macario was a fisherman prior to being elected mayor.

There are seventeen caserios (villages) in the San Jose District and Macario can talk at length about each of them. He knows the locations, teachers and condition of each pronoei. He and three of his staff members took us to visit some of the poorest this morning.

Pronoei Rayito De Luz (Ray of Light) is located in the village of Bodegones. The school opened last March with Karina as its teacher. The building was donated to the parents association, whose members cleaned it up as best they could. Karina has nine students and tentatively has fifteen registered for next year. She also has an incredible amount of creativity and imagination. Every toy...every teaching aid was hand-made by her.

She created a ‘store’ to teach business and math. The ‘kitchen/bedroom’ is used to teach household skills. Classroom furniture consists of a few plastic chairs. She didn’t know we were coming so wasn’t prepared when we asked her what she needed. We would very much like to provide what has come to be our standard package; a whiteboard, two storage shelves, four tables, sixteen chairs, and a selection of teaching aids. The cost of these items will be about $600.

The mayor impressed us by saying if we can donate those items he will find the money to provide a door and window for the school. We don’t have the $600. We need your help. Please visit the Promesa Peru webpage to support the pronoei Rayito De Luz. Thank you.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Five Days in Pucallpa

Pucallpa is a city located in the Peruvian rainforest on the Ucayali River. It is the 14th largest city in Peru with a population of 210,000. Pucallpa is an Incan Quechua word meaning ‘red earth’. It is generally recognized as having been founded in the early 1800s by missionaries, though people have lived in the area for several thousand years. In the early years rubber was the economic base. Now lumber, oil and agricultural products sustain the economy. Tourism is not a significant contributing factor at present. The city can be reached by air, boat and car, though the last two modes are chancy depending on weather conditions.
Anyone visiting Pucallpa looking for a jungle/rainforest experience will be disappointed. The interior of the city looks like any other large Peruvian city; even the principal park lacks a display of rainforest foliage, or any foliage for that matter. The Ucayali River forms the border of most of the north and east edges of the city and it is here that the visitor will see evidence of the rainforest and its contribution to the city’s economy. At several locations boats are frequently arriving loaded with fruits and vegetables including bananas, pineapple,yuca, aquaje, cocona, cashu and camu camu. Some of the products are sold on the spot to individuals and local businesses or transported to coastal cities. A good place to view this activity is north of the Plaza de Reloj (Park of the Clock – named for a clock tower). The park is a short walk from Pucallpa’s major hotels.

When you’ve had your fill of watching the people working you can rent a peque peque in the same location and take a ride on the river. You won’t see jungle, exotic birds, insects or animals but you will get a good feel for all of the activities that make Pucallpa tick. You’ll see logs up to eight feet in diameter being loaded and unloaded on barges. You’ll see concrete, rice and other items that aren’t available locally being unloaded. The people who own and operate the peque peques are natives and have a wealth of knowledge about anything you’re likely to see. Incidentally, the boats are called peqeu peque because that is the sound their engines make. The standard boat tour takes one hour and costs about $9 for two people. It’s well worth it.

Another location to rent a boat at is Lago Yarinacocha, a popular fun spot on the northwest tip of the city. It sits atop a gently rising cliff above the river, and during the rainy season is often flooded which is why the many open air restaurants and houses are built on stilts. It is a noisy, dusty place. The single road is choked with moto traffic and boat operators aggressively competing for customers. With the roar of the moto engines and music blaring from nearly every restaurant It is a chaotic experience verging on sensory overload. Peruvians love it. It is worth seeing…one time.

Here the boat tour is two hours round-trip, with a stop at the village of San Francisco. The standard cost is $27 for two. There is nothing to see on either river shore but sand and trees. The stop at San Francisco consists of a visit to several artisans and a tiny museum. Years ago the community had a native theme for tourists, with the villagers dressed in costume and portraying life as it was before the Europeans arrived, but that stopped when the government provided water, electricity and a road. In our opinion the boat ride and village visit is a waste of time and money.

Yarinacocha does boast of having several of the most popular restaurants in Pucallpa. Two of them; the Anaconda and Balsa de Oro float on the river beside each other. We had lunch at the Balsa de Oro where Maribel had venison and I had wild pig. The quality of the food and service was good though quantities were small.

Pucallpa has the reputation of having no tourist attractions, and depending on personal preferences that could be true. We spent five days there and never lacked for something to do. Beside the peque peque ride, park of the clock and Lago Yarinacocha there is a nature park with a zoo, a small park (Lupuna Park) featuring an historical 200 year old tree, two shopping malls, both with cinemas, and a tiny museum.  Of them all the museum was the highlight of the trip for me.

The Don Agustin Rivas Vasquez museum is on Tarapaca Street close to the Plaza de Armas and is very easy to miss when walking by. We had to track down a woman to open the museum for us. It is a small second-floor room filled with impressive wood carvings. The spirit and imagination of the man comes through in each sculpture. We spent two hours there examining each piece; each one carved from a single piece of wood, and talking with the woman. Though he has not lived in Pucallpa for many years Agustin Rivas still owns the building; has a bedroom there and returns during Christmas to visit friends and family. There is a detailed internet article about him for anyone interested in learning more.

Other activities are driven by the climate. Many businesses close from 1:00 pm to 3:30 pm because of the heat. The ice cream and juice shops stay open and make a lot of money during those hours. Early afternoon is a good time to be in one of the air conditioned malls, cinema or hotel room. Pucallpa has several 1st class hotels catering mostly to business people. We stayed at the Casa Andina and were very pleased with everything.

All in all it was a good experience. We will probably never return to Pucallpa but are very glad we made the trip.