I´m not shaking the dust off my feet

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Every Thursday, I arrive home around 6:30 pm after a womens’ training session that is located in a marginalized community on the outskirts of Chiclayo. The women in this community have come together to start a small income generating initiative. They are learning how to make Peruvian desserts and pastries to eventually sell in their community and surrounding markets. I and another Centro Esperanza volunteer have started to support this initiative alongside the women in the community. Sofia, who is one of the organizers of the initiative, has allowed us to meet under a tarp in front of her house.  She also lets us use her kitchen. In Peru, we don´t always have the conditions or resources but we make these kinds of community initiatives happen through the solidarity, generosity, and the collective work of many people. 

After a Thursday workshop on how to make chocolate and orange cake, I sat down on the coach in my living room. I smiled to myself thinking about how we all laughed when a fly tried to taste our cake batter. I remember our conversation about the week´s events while our cake was baking. I could still smell the harsh smoke that stings your lungs from garbage burning in the community that afternoon.  I remembered how it felt as the wind blew a light shower of dust on us under Sofia´s tarp, the soft dust touching our skin just like when you are baking and get covered in baking flour. My hair and clothes had a grainy feel that is now very familiar to me.

In Chiclayo, like other desert coastal cities, dust is blown into our rooms every day. Dust is a part of living in Chiclayo. After a Thursday afternoon with the women from Sanborja, I often think about how I will miss the feeling of being covered by dust, when I go back to Canada. I often think about the things that have become a part of life in Peru to me and that I will miss. I will miss the sense of humour that people have amidst so many challenges and struggles they endure. I will miss Peruvian food. I will miss the friendships that I have developed with people. I will miss all the people that I work with. I have a long list of things that I will miss. Strangely enough, I will even miss the dust.  

I will miss being with people who are working for change in Chiclayo. I find myself amidst people and places where there is deep human suffering.  While Peru is one of the world´s growing economies, poverty, corruption, and despair persist in Chiclayo. The streets are often filled with water from a poorly constructed sewer system. Viiolence, crime and desperation are the result of a lack of equal opportunities for all God´s people to access a decent education, health services and job opportunities. Young adults with perfectly good skills and hopes of fulfilling their dreams are urgently looking for paid employment. If they find a job, it is more often than not a job where they are overworked and underpaid. The low quality of public health service puts many lives at risk. I know too many people who have been unable to fully pay for basic health services and treatment when they are sick. The rate of violence against children, youth and women seems to overwhelm so many lives of people that we work in solidarity with. My heart aches for peace. 

Luke 10:1-23 shows how the early followers of Jesus experienced the overwhelming needs of their time.  The seventy two sent out were told by Jesus to shake the dust off their feet if people in a town do not welcome them. Amidst, the despair, suffering and injustice, I often too can feel that the harvest is plentiful and the labourers few, but I know that Chiclayo´s dust on my feet is a symbol of sharing life and mission for justice and peace in Chiclayo. The dust on my feet, my clothes, floors and in my hair is sacred so I am not shaking Chiclayo´s dust off my feet!

    
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
 
 
 
 
  
  
 
 

 
 

What Maria Said

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¨I never realized that my husband did not own me until I attended this workshop¨, Maria shared with other women in her workshop group. Maria was a participant in a workshop on women´s rights that I recently facilitated. She came to the workshop knowing that we were going to talk about women´s rights. She most likely was not aware that her perception of her relationship with her husband would change as a result of the workshop. How do you feel when you realize that your husband is your equal?  What do you do when you realize your husband is not your owner but he stills thinks he is?

I don´t know what Maria did that night when she went home after the workshop. Did she tell her husband what her new awareness? Did she talk about it with her daughter or with a friend? Did she keep her new found human right to herself? Like Maria, we are often challenged to bridge a gap between our new found knowledge of our human rights and the many obstacles that keep us from living them out. Maria´s obstacle is the unequal power relationship she experiences with her husband.  This prevents her from living out her right to a life free of gender discrimination, violence and inequality. What are we doing as community educators to build awareness and skills so that women and men can work through the obstacles to living out their human rights fully and freely? Who will we roll away the stone?

I am pained to say that Maria is one of too many women. She is a voice that goes unheard amidst women who suffer from violence and inequality in Peru. Here are some statistics that represent real life experiences of women in Peru:

  • When a woman is murdered, statistics show that 93.8% of murders are committed by their husbands, partners, or ex partners
  • 65.6% of women are reported to have experienced control or verbal abuse in their life time.
  • Women earn 67% out of men´s average salary in the country.
  • 22% of congress is represented by women, below the 30% gender quota.  United Nations Population Fund http://www.unfpa.org.pe/publicaciones/Publicaciones.htm

Human rights awareness programs designed for women work to change this situation by empowering women and men to challenge the status quo of patriarchy, gender inequality, discrimination and violence. Like Maria, the first step for many women and men is to realize that they have human rights. Human rights awareness programs are a response to a reality that violates women´s rights.

Women in Chiclayo have shared their positive experiences in these programs. They describe a ´first moment’ when they have an insight, a realization or new learning. Women talk about beginning to stand up for themselves. Many describe finding a love and acceptance of themselves. At the end of many stories, they have become leaders in their communities or have discovered a new talent.

Amidst the injustice, women here remind me to hold on to our ideals of gender equality.

Just an ordinary day


Those of you who have asked me ¨So what is an ordinary day like for you in Chiclayo Peru?¨or ¨What do you do at work?¨. Sometimes, I feel like a fish trying to describe water.

I have lived in Chiclayo for almost 3 years now. My work and life here have become normal to me. Of course, my days are lived in an entirely different context than of my home country but I have a routine and become accustomed to life here.

An ordinary day here goes like this…

My alarm goes off at about 7:30am. I rub my eyes and get out of bed. I am not a morning person! I go straight to making my morning coffee and get ready for my day. Outside my window, I hear about 5 mourning doves eating seeds that my neighbor has thrown on to a nearby roof. I hear mototaxis using their horns every 10 seconds. I leave my apartment and wave down some form of public transportation, most likely a shared car ride called a ¨colectivo¨ or taxi. I arrive at 9am in my shared office at Centro Esperanza. I say ¨buenos dias¨ to everyone in the office and have a few conversations about the weather or recent news. Then, I get to work on workshop preparations, current projects/events we are working on or go to scheduled meetings. Every week, I facilitate at least one workshop with youth or other groups.  At about 1 pm, I eat my vegetarian lunch which consists of vegetable soup, salad, rice and tofu. I work until around 5 or 6pm. I may go home to make dinner, hang out with a friend or go to a late meeting.

Now, how ordinary does that sound?

I don´t live in a remote Amazon rural village in the north of Peru or in a rural town in the Andean mountains which might change things about my work and life. I live in an urban city with a highly globalized economy. If I wanted some Trident gum, Canada Dry Ginger Ale or Raisin Bran then I could go to one of many supermarkets in the city. I have internet, running water, and electricity. The reason that I can access all these things is that I live a somewhat ordinary middle class urban Peruvian life.

Another normal part of my day, is in some way being reminded that I am a part of an unjustly privileged group in Chiclayo. Tomorrow, I will wake up and hear the peaceful coo of mourning doves outside my window while I also hear the world´s poor selling their goods or driving their mototaxis. They are already working to try and eke out a living while I pour my cup of coffee.

Learning about the ¨how to´s¨

What happens when you need water, medicine, shelter, an education, or a friend, and these are things not easily available or are taken away from you? I know too many stories about such needs being barely met, or not at all. The majority of these stories are about women. They are realities of people who live in situations of poverty and vulnerability. This has major impacts in their lives. The names of the women in the following stories were changed for reasons of confidentiality.

Carolina, a young mother, had her weekly earnings robbed right of her hands in the market this month. The robber ran off and jumped onto a motorcycle without even blinking. She was in the market about to use some of her salary to buy her groceries for herself and her son. Carolina will have to sell chicken soup at night until 1 a.m. with her mother. This will help her regain some of the money lost so she and her son can eat.

Fiorela says she can´t leave her husband. She didn´t finish her high school degree and she has little hope of finding a job that can provide a decent income to support herself and her five children. Fiorela says that she stays with her husband for financial security. Her husband emotionally and physically abuses her.

Tanya just found out she has HIV. She is also eight months pregnant and she worries if her baby will be born with HIV. Tanya has three other children. She left her husband recently. She is in the process of fully understanding what HIV is right now and the implications for her in the future.

Women in Peru, along with billions of women worldwide, face vulnerability and injustice on many fronts. When needs are continuously unmet or problems go unresolved, it is difficult for real transformation to happen. Under these conditions, how do we begin to make change happen? How do we begin to transform, resolve, heal, move forward or stand in solidarity with people? How do we do this without being paternalistic and ethnocentric? I am learning about the ¨how to´s¨ of working for justice and equality. There are many questions, many answers, and much to do. I feel like I stand before an ocean of questions to embark on and explore.

Jovenes

A few weeks ago, I co-facilitated a workshop with a colleague. We have been trying to promote a more grassroots approach to working with community groups, especially with women´s and youth groups. We have started to ask women and youth about needs and problems that exist within their community. In the workshop, participants identified needs and problems that affect their lives and wellbeing of their community. One problem that stood out in group conversations was the involvement of young people in gangs, crime, and drug and alcohol abuse. Women told us that children are getting sick as a result of people burning their garbage and throwing household waste in ditches. Another issue was of the lack of decent job opportunities.

After a long process of conversation and group work, I asked women and youth to talk in groups about what they liked about their community. They looked at me thoughtfully and began to talk with others. When we returned as a whole group, one 14 year old girl said that they liked having farms, a river stream and green space that surround their community. Another group of adult women said that they liked going to the nearby church to pray and be with God. Then I asked if anyone else had more to add on to other´s comments. There was silence. One woman replied, ¨there is really not much to like, Señorita¨. This comment led me to think about how we gave first priority to talking about problems and unmet needs in the community. We didn´t ask participants to examine their many gifts and talents which make people themselves an integral part of the strength and life within their community.

Traditional approaches to development have focused on problems, unmet needs, and vulnerability. We, myself included, are still decolonizing our way of thinking about how to be allies and work in solidarity with diverse groups from around the world. In my experience, we too often go straight to the problems and the brokenness when trying to make positive change happen. We overlook an opportunity to see the strengths within the people and within community life. Shouldn´t this be the foundation on which we build and transform? One ¨how to¨ lesson so far: Transformation doesn´t come by solely focusing on the issues. Transformation comes as we dare to look beyond the problems and collectively see opportunities for change. We have to look for the beauty, the strengths, the gifts and dreams. They are sometimes the most obvious and precious stones that you can find on the ocean shore. We just need to be open to seeing them.

¡Hasta Pronto Amigos y Amigas! In a bit friends!

It´s Blog Time! With a Grain of Sand…..

With a grain of sand, we will make change.

With a grain of sand, we will rise up from poverty.

With a grain of sand, there will be peace and justice.

With a grain of sand, we can mobilize a whole community.

These are words that I have heard during my time in Chiclayo, Peru.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have heard this expression spoken by people who have struggled all their lives in Peru to make positive change happen. They are people who have been working in their own way for human rights and to end poverty. They make transformative change happen with a small amount of resources. ¨With a grain of sand¨ is an expression and metaphor to say that with something as small as a grain of sand action can be taken and change can happen.

I can´t say that I know exactly where the expression comes from. I will ask a few people and come back with some ideas. What I do know is that this is an expression of hope. Change has been initiated by individuals, small groups or a tiny movements slowly rising up. The expression ¨with a grain of sand¨ reflects the positive and brave attitudes of many people who are significant part of my life and work in Chiclayo.

Those who have heard me talk about my experiences here know that hope, a positive attitude and faith and spirituality are some of the priceless things that can keep us going when the going gets tough and even tougher. We are a part of a global movement of thousands of people fighting for a just and peaceful world. Some of us use our creativity and resources to make change happen and improve people´s lives. Some are stewards of our planet. Some are fighting for changes that seem beyond our reach. Whatever we are doing, we try to make positive change in our communities, global and local.

This blog is about my experiences of change making with only a grain of sand in this ¨City of Friendship¨. Chiclayo is the place that I have called home for the past two years and will call home for another two more years. This city lives up to it´s reputation of being a city of friendship!

I will write about my life and work with United Church of Canada´s global partner Centro EsperanWelcome_Ceremony_Centro_Esperanza_2010za.

It has been quite the journey so far. I have been learning and growing. Now, it is time to start sharing!!

I love hearing what people think! I hope people comment, share, or even constructively criticize. I enjoy a good conversation whether it´s in person or via cyberspace.

Con un granito de arena y esperanza, empezaré este blog 🙂 With a grain of sand and hope, I will start blogging!