¡ Live From Lima !

March 8, 2010 | Marika Escaravage, Stagiaire/Intern


I cannot believe I’m more than half way through my internship. The time I’ve spent in Lima so far has been a challenging and valuable learning experience, not to mention loads of fun!

My work:

The hours and the pace of work definitely don’t line up with the laid back stereotype I had of Latin America! My first week, I already was given a report to hand in the following week (in spanish no less). Yesterday I travelled two hours south of Lima, where I presented the social implications of child sexual abuse infront of an audience of 60 people, comprised of representatives of the national police, various government ministries, and civil society organizations. Despite the nerve wracking nature of presenting in my third language, I feel extremely lucky to have been given the chance to push myself further. And while it’s an immense challenge to be working full time in spanish (no one in my office speaks english), I’m glad I’m doing it. My brain is in constant overdrive and online translators have become my closest allies.

What I am working on is also extremely motivating. I’ve assisted in the preparation of a report on the state of child sexual abuse in Lima, to join to a funding proposal for a project that will seek to strengthen locally based responses (legal, psychological, medical) to child sexual abuse in the greater Lima area. The report I wrote is a synthesis of the findings of a survey of over 600 people (youth, parents and teachers) on the topic. As I learn more about them, I am very impressed with the local structures in place to promote and protect children’s rights. It’s definitely a bottom-up approach. They are relatively new though, and their capacities vary from district to district. Accion Por los Ninos basically works to build the capacities of local actors and to act as a bridge between them, to avoid the necessary duplication of efforts…etc. APN has also been a catalyst in the formation of local organizations.

In every meeting or professional gathering I attend, I note how well-regarded APN is in the children’s rights community in Lima and Peru. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so glad to have been entrusted with reviewing the organization’s previous strategic plan and accompanying the organization’s employees in the design of a new one. It’s empowering to think big and to facilitate the creation of the map that will guide this accomplished organization towards it’s goals in the next few years.

Another type of organization working for children’s rights in Peru is the DEMUNA (Defensoria Municipal de Ninos y Adolescentes). A DEMUNA is a local institution staffed by social workers, a psychologists, lawyers, counsellors, and other staff, where they receive complaints about children’s rights violations, mediate cases between parents or other parties who’s dealings affect children and generally promote children’s rights in the community.

A few weeks ago we made arrangements for me to continue my internship in Lima working 2 days a week in the APN office in Lince, and 3 days a week in the DEMUNA of the district of San Juan de Miraflores. I will be helping them in their work of supporting and guiding the COMUDENA of SJM, which is a network of local organizations working together for the promotion of children’s rights. Working directly in the DEMUNA I got  a first hand look at the problems facing children and their families in this poorer district of town. I had already begun to get an idea of these challenges through my office work, reading and through a visit I made to San Juan de L’Urigancho earlier on.

San Juan de l’Urigancho, another world all together:

In January I visited a district of Lima called San Juan de l’Urigancho. It is the largest and most populated district (~1million), home to many people who had fled from terrorism in the moutains (both state sponsored and non) over the years. It is also one of the poorer, more dangerous places in Lima. The dirt floors, thatch roofs, mangy dogs and high risk of TB stand in stark contrast to Miraflores’ beautiful parks, haute cuisine and shiny new condos on the ocean. I was left pondering how fellow citizens can move so far forward, in terms of the luxuries they afford themselves, without stopping to help their neighbors bring themselves up to a point where they too have running water, or will have a roof that doesn’t leak dirty rain onto the dirt floor in the middle of their houses. A friend of my family’s is a nun working in this area of town.

She gave Courtney (another canadian volunteer) and I a tour of her church and explained all the (non-denominational) services they are providing to the community, including, after school programs, literacy training, leadership training, a sewing circle, Alcoholics Anonymous and AlAnon sessions, personal counseling, a school for the handicapped, sponsoring emergency medical treatment… and the list goes on.

Sadly all their good deeds reflect a horrible situation, especially for women. She told us stories of women having to obtain their son’s permission to leave the house. We were told of children born deformed due to lead poisoning (from the air from a nearby port where they transfer minerals) and to the sexually transmitted infections women get from their husbands who are engaging in sexual activities outside the marriage. Then, once a handicapped child is born, some men abandon the family.
This all sounds dark, until you see the hope inherent in this community. Our friend explained that the reason you see metal beams sticking out of almost every roof is because when they build  their houses, people set up these extra beams in the hopes of having enough money to eventually add another story. Recently, the municipality put in some green spaces and she told us how amazed she was that people were actually keeping them clean. You see, prior to their makeover, people were dumping their garbage there, on piles of dirt. A little change can go a long way in changing how people perceive their community and what it can become.

Our friend also shared with us the joy of seeing a women begin to smile, begin to assert herself, begin to stand her ground a little more in her marriage, in things as simple as not doing the man’s laundry for him (not serving a meal however, would be inconceivable). It was inspiring to hear about, and we will surely be back before our time in Peru is over to see these programs in action and help out if we can.

What an eye opener it has been! I love how traveling sparks the “why” in me. Why is that house built that way? Why do they use that expression? Sometimes you’ll never get the answer, but sometimes you do. For example why do many Peruvians have a broad chest and a nose of a certain shape? Most people in Lima have ancestors from higher altitudes. The barrel chests and eagle noses are designed for better oxygen intake at high altitudes.

Peru is a land of contrasts, and while I am constantly confronted by some of it’s ugliest realities, I’m also captivated by it’s beauty and the kindness, ingenuity and energy of it’s people.

I hope this post has brought up enough questions to prompt you to get to know more about the ways of this fascinating country.

Chau for now!


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