Loma Linda students, ADRA staff, and communal bank participants in San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru.
An hour through traffic from the “Beverly Hills” of Peru where we had spent the weekend found us in one of the many districts in Lima covered on one side by pueblos jóvenes – “young towns” in the politically-correct local lingo – or hillside-hugging shanty settlements from the foreigner’s perspective that was the only one I had to view it from.
We had spent an earlier part of the day going through multiple security screenings and leaving our cellphones and cameras at the entrance of the US embassy compound, measures necessary in order to meet with USAID representatives on their own turf.
We heard candid accounts of past and current development initiatives conducted by the US government in Peru – providing agricultural alternatives to coca cultivation, sustainable natural resource management in the Andean highlands and Amazon basin, working with the Peruvian government to decentralize healthcare, and improving infrastructure for public service delivery – as well as personal stories of some of the many paths global-minded folks take to find themselves working with such an agency and on such projects. Hard work international experience, a willingness to travel anywhere and learn new languages as needed, humility to start from the bottom up and work on initiatives that might not be a first choice, networking like crazy, and personal life sacrifices were just some of the qualities noted necessary for such pursuits.
“It can be especially hard if you are single,” noted one of the representatives, “to try to meet new people while moving around so often.” She added, “But if you are married it is also hard. Your spouse has to be okay moving wherever you get assigned.”
I pushed these personal and professional insights to the back of my mind as we drove down the last dirt-packed road lined with perpetually-under-construction, several-story dwellings of cement blocks and exposed rebar. Some were painted in lively crayon box hues while others bore the grays and browns of their outer materials.
We stopped at a doorway surrounded by red bricks and seafoam green cement, with dark steel bars protecting the front window and corrugated tin overhanging from the roof. The nearby concrete power pole wore remnants of wheat-pasted black and white posters pitching the cheapest, most reliable cable installations around.
Inside, long colorful curtains separated the inner rooms from the sitting and dining area where a collage of exposed concrete, stainless steel fridge doors, bare wires, homey furniture and photo frames brought us to the inner home life of a female entrepreneur and member of an ADRA Peru bancos comunales program – a micro-finance initiative with over 150 participants in similar communities around Lima. Divided into groups of ten, the women meet monthly and hold each other accountable with duties, finances, and personal health efforts.
We were there with ADRA outreach workers and program coordinators to join in on one such meeting. Most of the women, we learned, were not Lima natives. Different quests had brought them to the capital: love, money, change. In all cases, hope. Several had young children present and others had children at home. One woman, unable to attend, sent a sister to the meeting in her stead.
The women worked as independent florists, lingerie sellers, ice cream and chocolate vendors, fabric retailers, and clothing distributors. The micro-finance program promoted education, health, and faith, and provided motivation, encouragement, and financial incentives to allow each woman to make continual investments in their businesses and personal lives. They each shared stories of trials, triumphs, and dreams.
Luz Mary, a self-described once-shy woman, had participated in the program before moving out of the slums, becoming a community leader, and finding work encouraging and organizing women in new groups. She was the one facilitating the women’s group that evening, now an ADRA employee.
Trials and triumphs, indeed. Energy from hugs, photos, and best wishes lingered in the air as we parted ways and crossed under a pair of sneakers dangling from power lines. We walked to the sounds of Top 40 American pop songs escaping from doorways and windows as nonchalant dogs wearing people clothes watched us from unfinished rooftops.
An hour back through traffic and we were back in another world, yet again.