A Letter from Peru: “Christmas in Lima”

Our streets are filled with lights at the beginning of December. We don’t have any snow, but we like to enjoy a beautiful view, like that.

Everyone wants to give something special like a present or a gift, but the size, brand, and price is not important. In Peru, many people make their gifts with their own hands.

We celebrate Christmas on December 24th at midnight, so families and friends visit each other during the day and finish the hard work of leaving their presents under the tree. The true art of Peruvian cooking unfolds on this day, as everyone is a chef at heart and they focus on the preparation of the Christmas dinner.

As night falls, dinner is served. Lots of dishes and delicious food are displayed like art on the table, and an opening prayer sets the tone for the evening. Everyone has the opportunity to give thanks for being together, being in good health, having food on the table and, most importantly, to share together. On the other hand, as the fireworks brighten the sky, the bravest children and adults have fun together waiting until midnight, the peak of the celebration. This time fills everyone with joy, because baby Jesus gives us hope that we can achieve all the best and good with great intensity. The children each receive a present, which are normally opened at the same instant so the whole family can see their faces radiate joy and surprise.

Mayra Bazan (SIA Peru, Lima)

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“A Volunteer Story: Victoria Palmer”

Victoria Palmer
Age: 20
Field of work/study: third year anthropology, minor in archaeology
Favourite Spanish word/phrase: “Que chevere!”
How you plan to change the world: By exploring the world, I want to engage in social justice programs to create a greater sense of community and solidarity across a wide span of cultures

It has been over two months since we first landed in Lima, Peru. Twenty-five volunteers, including myself, embarked on a two-week volunteer trip to South America. Never had I experienced a volunteer trip before, and I found myself wondering what it would be like. Will I learn Spanish quickly? Will the local community members speak any English? How will we communicate? How am I going to help them, with such a barrier between us? With these anxieties in the back of my mind, I went with full intention to stay calm and enjoy this exciting adventure with Solidarity in Action.

Within our first couple of days in Lima, we were immediately immersed into the local culture within Pacifico d’Villa, a local shantytown community that sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Each morning, members of the community – young and old – gave us a warm welcome. With my limited Spanish, I was able to say “Hola! and “Como estas?” By doing so I made the mistake of implying I knew more Spanish than I actually did, and was bombarded by more foreign words being thrown at me.

Throughout the course of our volunteer placements, both participants and local community members who were experiencing difficulty overcoming the language barrier began to resort to other forms of communication, such as hand gestures and drawings. This worked extremely well while I was teaching English to my young students, because we were able to find a common ground. For example, a fellow participant and I were teaching a group of young children the names of fruits and vegetables in English, which proved to be difficult without having the actual foods at hand. Then, one of our older students, Paula, handed me a piece of paper and a marker in which she motioned for me to draw what I was attempting to explain. I felt as if she could understand my frustration and had come up with a solution.

As the week progressed, I picked up more Spanish and I realized that communicating across a language barrier was an important process in which we learned from one another. I soon became less and less afraid of the language barrier through the understanding and patience of local community members such as Paula.

– Victoria Palmer, SIA Trip Leader (Peru 2012, Peru 2011)

How word of mouth inspires action

“I have a friend who knows somebody who went to Peru last summer”. Who hasn’t heard this kind of story. But when they continue with ” She knows a lot of people, including some teens who are just itching to do something useful in the world” you know that you are at the beginning of an extraordinary tale of solidarity and education.

A colleague met a group of students shortly after hearing from two sources about the wonderful work done in Pacifico de Villa by Solidarity in Action. They were looking for a way to make a difference in the world and were hoping to model it on a local altruistic group which was volunteer organized and focussed on the wishes and needs of a community in Haiti.

Not wishing to compete with the Haitian group, they set up their own mandate: firstly to help people at home; secondly to help abroad. After conversation, this is what they did. First they talked to their parents about Solidarity in Action, explaining how it was working in a shantytown around Lima to improve the lives of families. Secondly, they invited their families to learn more about this project and other activities of SIA on line and through a face-to-face meeting. Next they thought about the need for fundraising for them to contribute to a project in Peru. They did not forget Haiti either: In about 6 weeks, they sewed 20 quilts to send to Haitian families living under tarps and in tents to provide comfort to children there.

What else did they decide to do? They found ways to give to Peruvian and local women because they knew that increasing the financial independence of women always helps children and families . Through a local employment initiative they found an ecologically sound product, cloth bags for fruits and vegetables bought at the store or farm gate, which they could sell to earn funds toward Peru. Good, they thought, the “act locally” portion of their mission was taken care of because all of the goods they were selling supported a retraining program for women who had been out of the workforce for a significant period of time and who needed retraining and resume building. Then they found a friendly and responsive local coffee roaster who on hearing that they wanted to work with people in Peru said that they had Peruvian coffee from a women’s cooperative. Everything they sold would thus support women’s initiatives here and abroad.

They needed a place to sell their coffee and their vegetable bags. What better place than the Farmers’ Market where they could show people how the cloth mesh bags were a way to avoid throwing away plastic weekly as they shopped for locally grown crops! And given that the market is a place where people come not just for food but to talk, and feed the soul with friendship, what better place to meet people and tell them about the courage and determination of Peruvian women! The local market manager was thrilled to have a project like this that complemented the regular vendors, offering a strategically placed table at a key point near an entrance and where people walked between the market stalls. How generous. So early, three Saturday mornings, the intrepid teens talked to passers-by who were thrilled with the project, curious about Solidarity in Action, familiar with developing world issues and wanted to share thoughts, and in many cases, willing to try the sniff test, where a nose near the aromatic freshly roasted coffee convinced them of the merits of supporting women in Peru as well as teens in Canada who want to help them.

Just as the idea of doing a trip to Peru was a by-product of other conversations, several conversations at the market resulted in people wanting to know about SIA’s trips and programs. And, we hope, as friends drop by to visit any of those who bought the fair trade, organic Peruvian coffee and are offered a cup, they will learn about the benefits of Solidarity in Action.

Bryan Smith

A young girl from Pacifico de Villa holds high aspirations for her future

This is a story of a little girl that I met at the garage sale in Pacifico de Villa. When she arrived at the garage sale, she seemed very happy. She was waiting eagerly to enter and to buy a new pair of shoes, which she really needed. She asked me if we had any shoes, size 37 for a girl. I had to say no. [Not being able to find a pair of shoes] I began to look for toothpaste which I knew would be better for her. I found a child’s size toothpaste, and a pink, child’s size toothbrush. Immediately, the girl thought about her brother and decided that she better buy another toothbrush and toothpaste. She left the garage sale, pleased to have been able to purchase toothbrushes and toothpastes, but disappointed that she was unable to find a pair of size 37 shoes.
As she left I decided I would like to interview her. I asked her if she would mind being interviewed. She told me with great enthusiasm that she would gladly be interviewed.
This is the story of Daniela Erika Palomino Huallpa, a kind and polite ten year old, from Pacifico de Villa. Daniela studies at San Pablo of Chorrillos and is in fifth grade. She lives in Pacifico de Villa in Area 1, Lot 21, in front of the San Pedro church. She shared with me the story of her life.
Daniela’s family does not own a home. She, her brother and their mother live in her aunt’s house. There are many problems in her aunt’s house. There are often arguments over cleaning the house, and the water use (they do not have access to clean water). They are often frustrated about have to always depend on other people.
Her mother maintains the house. She works all day as a bus attendant. She receives just enough to pay for food, and some other things that are needed in the house. She is a single mother as Daniela’s father, abandoned them when Daniela was very young. Her mother is her hero because each day she tries to advance. Her sole focus is the well being of Daniela and her brother. Daniela loves school. Mathematics is her favourite subject. Although she likes school, she is lonely. She prefers to finish her homework, rather than playing outside with her friends. She likes to play once she has finished her homework. As a result, she does not have many friends.
She said that she is not happy because her family does not have a house; she does not have her own space, a place where she can rest in peace. She is also sad because she does not know her father. One of Daniela’s dreams is to meet her dad. To meet him would make her “completely happy”.
Daniela is a busy ten year old girl. In the morning she prepares lunch for her mother and her litter brother and cleans her room. She then heads to school. On the way to school, she takes lunch to her mother, at the bus station. Once she returns from school she completes here homework. She admits that life is challenging, but that being responsible is important because her brother and mother need her help.
She hopes one day to become a lawyer because she believes in social justice, and feels that everyone deserves an equal opportunity. She thinks that everyone has a responsibility to share with those who have little. Her community is a poor community but she thinks about change, especially for the children. She has a strong desire to help people achieve the common good for their community and the world.
Despite her young age, Daniela is very mature. She believes that we must try to live one day at a time, trying to change, despite the challenges that life brings. She will work hard to help her brother become a doctor and she too wants to progress. She is driven by the desire to care for her heroine, her mother, as she has cared for her and her brother. She hopes to care for her and protect her and shelter her and give her all that she needs.

I send a hug to everybody in Canada. I hope that the story of Daniela’s life will not be read as a story of failure or pain. To the contrary, Daniela wants her history to be told with great joy, because she says that she is a happy and fun loving person and this is how she wants her story to be told.

Pacifico de Villa, Friday November 11, 2011

Fatima Marin

Translated by Larry Shuttleworth

Fatima Marina and Daniela Palomino pose for a photo following Daniela's enlightening story.