…¿Para qué, entonces, sirve la utopía? Para eso sirve, para caminar.”
The above quote, from one of Latin America’s most admired and remembered literary figures, roughly translates as: “No matter how much I may walk, I will never reach it. What purpose, then, does the utopia serve? For that [very purpose], to walk.”
I have been back in Chiclayo, Peru for nine days after being north of the equator for the past four years. I’ll be here until mid-May: visiting, offering workshops to former and new program participants, helping in the Centro Esperanza office where I can, and exploring the geography and realities of this amazing region. When I stepped out of the airport, things instantly felt familiar. I was so happy to be reunited with some former colleagues from Centro Esperanza! I went to the office to visit after lunch. The office is one I had never been to; it is great, but I wish it had a tree or two as the last one did.
The first evening, I went to the 19th birthday dinner of a former student from Project Chiclayo. I began working with the energetic Ivon in July 2013, when she was just 13. Now, she is just months away from graduating with advanced English from the ICPNA (Peruvian-American Intercultural Institute), where she has been studying on scholarships and working as a volunteer. Ivon lives on the developing edge of the city directly south of Chiclayo (La Victoria), with one sister, two brothers and their humble working-class parents from the nearby mountains. The teacher from Project Chiclayo, Maria (on the right, who has known Ivon since she was a baby), came to enjoy the birthday celebration at Ivon’s family home.
The differences I noticed on Day 1 were honking of vehicle (mototaxi and taxi) horns; dust/fine sand carried on the breeze; and an increased number of people selling food/drinks in the streets and working as street performers, including some Venezuelan refugees. There is also a lot of garbage on street corners; garbage collection, education about how to reduce consumption, and recycling initiatives need more program funding. Centro Esperanza actively educates people about such issues and how to take action. I am helping with the final touches on a play written by “Jóvenes por un Medio Ambiente con Justicia” (“Youth for an Environment with Justice”), who offer workshops in the poorest of communities. The smelly garbage is a total contrast to the sweet aroma of colourful flowers and fruit trees. It is ‘officially’ autumn here, but summer heat and sunshine continues, with highs around 28C, lows around 22C consistently.
The lifestyles and presence of poverty are different from the ‘developed’ city I inhabit in Canada, but there are human rights, housing, and drug crises there, too. There is a lack of respect and dignity granted to the poorest people in that city and here in Chiclayo. Corrupt politicians exist everywhere, and few countries prioritize the protection of the natural environment as much as they should. Earth Day was not widely celebrated here, but some schools have been celebrating it for years. Easter celebrations here were much more religious and far less commercial. Another difference is the rights of girls/women and those people who are gender non-conforming; there is a lot of work to do to ensure the creation/protection of rights that will ensure a high quality of life for all.
National politics and public opinions are insane right now as the twice former president of Peru and leader of a big political party, Alan Garcia committed suicide last Wednesday when he heard that the police were coming to his house to search for evidence of corruption. He fled to Europe after his first term as President, just long enough so he couldn’t be tried for corruption charges back then…
My goals for this month in my beloved Peru are hard to define. They include connecting with new people and catching up with families and students that I used to teach; sharing knowledge and passion for the environment, art, reading and creativity through games and workshops; and enjoying the spontaneous adventures of each moment/day. I dream of a utopia where the people and wildlife of this region fully flourish, where corruption and exploitation of the masses no longer exist, where people can live in harmony with their basic rights respected and met. The Centro Esperanza team continues along the path towards utopia, facing struggles and delays and frustrations that often arise when working with vulnerable populations…but always seeking to empower people to make improvements in their personal, family and communal lives. It feels unfair for me to fly in for a month and have the option of leaving, while the team continues to work against all odds, but I’ll try to “poner mi granito de arena” (‘put my little grain of sand”/do my bit) while here.