So, I have been in Peru over a month now and moved out of my ‘family home’ at Azul Wasi and into Cusco about 4 weeks ago. Things are going well – it feels like I’ve barely stopped since I’ve got here and it seems to have paid off as now I’m starting to see results and progress on many things: vocational training, capacity building, income generation and last but not least better accountability at Azul Wasi.
The problem with making progress is that it throws up lots of questions as well! As is the world of international development I guess – incredibly complex and the fact that you care so much about it makes such decisions all the more harder. For example: vocational training – do children have time for it on top of their school work and allowing them time to enjoy their childhood? What’s the best way to go about it? How do you make it fun yet valuable? And most importantly, is there a real will from project partners to make it succeed? And with income generation: despite liking the idea and committing to income-generation
initiatives, when it comes down to it do projects really want to become self-sustaining when it is much more work and effort than waiting for donations to come in, as fickle as these donations might be…? In these cases, how to best explain the benefits of self-sustainability without feeling like I’m forcing them to do something? These are all tough questions and they have made me re-evaluate the preconceptions that I came here with. I guess that I’ll learn more and more as I go and hopefully will find the answers so that the projects that LAFF works with can provide appropriate solutions and opportunities for the people they work with, with LAFF’s support.
Aside from my work with Azul Wasi I´ve started to visit other projects that LAFF might potentially be able to support – I´ve been impressed with all the projects I´ve seen so far which makes selecting which ones we can help all the more harder. So far I´ve seen:
Casa de las Estrellas (Chaska Wasi) – a home for disabled children that have been abandoned on the streets. Heartbreaking to see and hear how being disabled is such taboo here in Peru and that the children have to go to a special school, not so much because they need specialist help (although they do and there is a startling lack of classroom support here for teachers) but because the parents of the other children think they will ´infect them´.
Casa Acogida Mantay – a home for pregnant and teenage mothers who are there predominantly through sexual abuse, mainly suffered within their own family. In such a machistic society it is incredibly hard for girls to speak out against this type of violence until it is too late. However, even then the laws surrounding rape and abuse are shocking. For example, up until 1991 rape was only considered a crime if the girl was under 7 years of age, otherwise it would normally be considered seduction on the part of the girl. Fortunately the laws have since been updated (not to anywhere near the level that we are lucky enough to have in the UK), but it is still incredibly hard to convict paedophiles and rapists here. The director of the home told me that they had had no success on these matters. However, in the case of girls being with their boyfriends who were one or two years older than them, the fathers quite regularly managed to convict the boyfriend of ´rape´ leaving him in prison and the girl voiceless to speak out. I was incredibly impressed with Casa Mantay; it was a beautiful and uplifting place and provides a nursery for the children to be cared for so that the mums can work and training for the mums in things like artisanal goods (purses, bags etc) of a very high quality.
Aldea Elim – a home for street children which provides home and vocational training for children living on the streets of Peru. When LAFF supported them in providing equipment for a soup kitchen and educational supplies a few years ago the home was split into two sites: one for boys and one for girls. This is still them aim and they are in the process of building a new building to house the boys and provide space for better vocational training, however, when I went they were all crammed into the girls house. The boys were living in one room impressively stacked with bunk beds – 18 beds in total. Hopefully this won´t be the situation for long though and it was very heart-warming to see them all mucking in together and patiently waiting for the new building to be finished (predicted in a month or two) where they know they will have a better and more stable home.
Sacred Valley Project – a home for rural girls who would otherwise be working in the Andean Highlands in the Sacred Valley. Another impressive project – small at the moment (it supports 6 girls currently) but with a sustainable plan for growth: they plan to take in 6 more girls each year until they reach their maximum capacity of 30 girls. They work very closely with the families of the girls and the community leaders to select who should take part in their programme, a process they are refining for the coming academic year. Bianca showed me the new building that they had managed to secure for next year which will give them much more space to grow as well as providing space for the girls to be outside and do exercise, set up a community library and for them to begin income generating activities as well.
Casa Hogar de la Esperanza – another home for teenage mothers, again through domestic violence or through them running away to the streets and getting involved in prostitution to stay alive. These girls also learn skills such as sewing, knitting, weaving and jewellery-making. They go out to sell their products accompanied by their guardian and use a microbanking system which enables them to save money to have some capital behind them once they leave the home.
Living Heart – an organization that helps improve nutrition, health and education levels in the Andean Highlands and provides support to over 400 children and their families. They fund their work through running a (very good!) cafe in Ollantaytambo and sell some of the goods of the families they support there as well. They very much aim to empower the communities and individuals they work with and have gained such fame for their brilliant work that there is actually a waiting list for communities wanting their assistance and support.
So, I´ve visited a few projects so far and have been impressed by them all, so then comes the question – who do we help?! This is obviously a tough question, and one that NGOs face daily, but it has provided an opportunity for LAFF to formalize its selection process so I am in the process of designing a questionnaire that I can give to the projects and help them to fill in once I’ve made an initial visit to see in what way LAFF could best support them and if it falls in line with LAFF’s objectives and vision.
Visiting these projects and working with Azul Wasi has also made me realise that LAFF can actually provide much more support than simply money – working with project directors to get transparent accounting systems into place will enable them to access other funding routes; bringing fresh ideas on where to sell products will enable girls to get a better price for their work, or could contribute to sustainability of the home; linking projects with dedicated, long-term volunteers will bring stability both to children in homes and more value to the projects they work on; participating in brainstorming sessions to bring a fresh perspective in will help generate new ideas and initiatives; and bringing projects together to learn from how each other are working will form a best practice and support network.
So, as I said, progress brings questions and dilemmas, but also opportunities to think outside of the box and try new ideas!