Through the support of family and friends, I was given the opportunity to do a range of awesome and challenging work with the non-profit “Friends of Chimbote” and the Peruvian NGO and ACAF (Civil Association for Family Support). Along with this, I experienced the various aspects of day-to-day life in Perú. It is one thing to talk about these topics but in some ways more meaningful to actually see them. Thus, I chose four pictures that I feel emphasize the principal parts of this experience.
1. Project and Humanitarian Work
A large portion of my time was spent organizing, programming, and working on project and volunteer assignments in the areas of health social services, wellbeing social services, and education. These are numerous and range from free daycare to medical visits to teaching english. Shown here is a house remodeling project we worked on for a very low-income family. The father makes miniature dustbrooms during the day and sells them in the evening but does not make near sufficient income for the family to live together. Originally, the “house” consisted of largely deteriorated straw sections. A group of 13 women from St. Paul raised 100% of the funds and together we executed the project in November of 2010.
Probably the most treasured part of my term was all the relationships that were built.
- I met and worked with literally hundreds of volunteers from ages 8 to 92
- I lodged with three different amazing families
- And met, worked side-by-side, and also played dozens of hours of soccer with hundreds of people from the surrounding community.
Shown here are two men I shared many moments with. Victor (in the middle) is a guard at the parish and Jaime (left) is a homeless man with developmental disabilities who has lived in the parish complex for over 15 years.
3. Lessons in Cultural Awareness and the Economics of Poverty
This is genuinely a picture worth 1,000 words. In the forefront is the San Pedro cemetary on the outside of Chimbote where people are buried who cannot afford a public grave. It is pure sand and extends from the white vertical tombs you see in the background to hundreds of yards past the photo point. There are almost no tombstones – most grave markers and hand-crafted wood, sticks, or twisted wire and often times people are buried on top of one another. For those who have some money, the white vertical tombs in the back are stacked six high and are 3′ x 10′ rectanglular cement chambers. Because there is so little public land in some areas of South America, these are very common.
The straw houses to the right of this make up an “invasion” that started in January of 2011. They are called “invasions” because groups of people from the jungle or mountains to the east move on to these plots of land without permission. In many cases, this happens because families can no longer get by in their native areas. The original causes vary, sometimes environmental, but often times because international companies (mostly from the U.S.and Europe) exploit these native areas for oil, coffee, cocoa, minerals, sugar cane, and wood. Generally, the high-ups in government and regions are paid for land and resource rights and either economically or with force oust the families from their land using unsustainable practices for extraction. In this invasion, people literally live in houses of four to eight straw wall sections on top of pure sand with no water, bathroom, roof, and sometimes furniture.
Behind the vertical tombs is an old burned landfill where various people have shacks made of carton and other garbage. Just beyond that is the pan-american highway heading North out of Chimbote. Behind the white fence on the road is the steel company Sider Perú, the second largest industry next to fishing in Chimbote. They own all the land back to the other white fence line and ocean front in the background. Sider sponsors a park (the trees on the left) which is the only public park with open space in Chimbote.
The mountain on the right is the “Cerro de la Juventud” or Youth Mountain. Just outside of the photo border is the Lord of the Life chapel and a 30′ cross at the summit. These are both monuments standing against the mass terrorist and political massacres of the 90’s. The effort to make this possible was enormous and 27,000 Chimbotans lined up in assemby-line fashion from bottom to top handing up pieces of the cross. Hundreds of people walk up this mountain every year during Holy Week in procession.
In the very background of the picture is the “White Island” that outlines the fishing bay of Chimbote. Fishing is the number one industry of Chimbote. There used to be a long beach along the coast in the 50’s and 60’s when Chimbote was the finest vacation destination in Perú. It became catastrophically overfished though and polluted to the point where the beaches have been bulldozed and the travel books tell readers, “Do not get off the bus.” The failing and unsustainable fishing industry is one of the primary reasons for so much poverty in Chimbote.
4. And a Strong Reminder…
… that those in poverty are always the ones that suffer most from my (and our) actions. Hanging in the voolunteer quarters of the mission, this piece depicts a Latinamerican worker crucified on a shovel. Studies show that countries, like Perú, which are within certain degrees of latitude from the equator are the most exploited across the globe because of their natural resources. International consumerism, government corruption (i.e. U.S. and Perú), and unsustainable labor practices leave 2/3 of our world’s population working harder than the other third, and in many cases far more difficult jobs, but earning miniscule percents of their wages.
Underlying the work, relationships, and cultural lessons was a reminder that one of the fundamental causes of poverty and people´s suffering in it does not come from concepts or bodies such as business practices, economics, modernization, or governments.
It comes from me and each individual. Just as my decisions crucified the Christian messiah, so I am the one crucifying them.
Volunteer and Coordinator ’09-’11