The Challenges of bringing education to the poorest children in Lima
We came to Peru to help very poor children receive an education, children too poor, abandoned or abused to be able to attend regular school. Our mission is to locate these children and provide a way to either get them into regular school - with our support - or else provide a basic education for them ourselves, in our own simple schools.
We started our work in the provinces, experience in other places had taught us it is less expensive to operate, and there are fewer barriers and more cooperation in the provinces.
Yet we knew all along that if our system of finding and educating the poorest children proved successful in the provinces, one day we would have to bring it to the poor children of the capital; because Lima is where the highest concentration and greatest number of very poor children not in school live.
We proved our system with children in the provinces, yet still we delayed opening in Lima: in spite of knowing that its barrios are heavy with children who will not receive an education unless we, or some other organization like us ( of which there is none yet*) go there and find them. Our excuses seemed reasonable enough - Lima is too expensive for us, we will bankrupt our little charity trying to operate in Lima; it is the capital of a completely corrupt public and private sector and since we refuse to pay bribes we cannot possibly function there. Lima is headquarters to most of the NGOs working in Peru and to the Government Social bureaucracy with agencies who are supposed to be helping these children but are not: they will not appreciate our interference. Then there is the impersonal big-city atmosphere, where people are more inclined to compete with one another than to form communities. Four years passed before we finally made it to Lima.
What finally forced our hand was the partnership with a generous charity in the Netherlands, Kinderzon, who offered to co-sponsor our work in Lima for the first half year.
We have been in Lima now for six months, and this is what we have accomplished. We have opened, furnished, staffed and filled with volunteers, an international volunteer centre in a safe neighborhood, Miraflores. We have opened four satellite schools in the poorest barrios, furnished them and staffed each with a director and enough teachers, usually one, to work with our volunteers; and we have taken on two very competent social workers: all of this we did in order to register 130 children who are not in school.
Our international volunteers deserve most of the credit for whatever good has been accomplished for the children of Lima; for they have been extremely creative - always finding fun ways to get the children's attention and teach them. They have been constant and tireless in their caring for and about the welfare of the children. Some of them travel four hours each day in order to teach and help the children in one of our schools - all of them travel a minimum of an hour and a half or two each day in order to reach their children. Back at the centre they work of course preparation and problem solving for the children.
And here is what we have failed to accomplish: the parents of our children are not very appreciative of our efforts on behalf of their children; they think nothing of taking their children out of class for a week here and there to work. As in all our schools throughout Peru we teach, feed, medicate, clothe, provide Social and Psychological help (within the limitations of our means) and our international volunteers befriend, animate, inspire and raise the self esteem of these children: but the parents act as if this is the minimum they are entitled to - they ask for money and they often do not attend required meetings. They simply do not cooperate.
We also have not made much progress in getting our Lima project to be self sustaining, like our other projects (though none is completely self sustaining). The reason for this is that we have not obtained the license to operate our language academy in Lima, because there is always one more city official or department representative who must give his signature - and we pretend not to understand when each offers to become a paid consultant in order to get our license approved.
And here is what we have learned: Lima is about twice as difficult and expensive to work in as our projects in the provinces. We must register two children to be certain one will be in attendance, our operating cost is more than twice what it is in the provinces and yet we do not yet have a way of earning money in Lima to offset this cost. This inflated economy makes it more difficult for the poor to survive in Lima than in the provinces - and therefore parents are that much more tempted to take their children out of school to make them work and earn money. The poor people in Lima are more politicized than those we have encountered elsewhere - they are not only ungrateful for what we are doing for their children: they seem to believe we are obligated to take on the expenses of the children's families as well.
In the course of working in Lima we have befriended the Peru representative of Rotary International. He recounted that Rotary sponsors soup kitchens throughout Peru, where poor people can eat a full meal for S/1 (30 US cents). He says they had to close all their facilities in Lima when their customers refused to pay, declaring they have the right to eat for free.
And these are our conclusions: Yes, it is more difficult, more costly and less rewarding to conduct our project in Lima than it is in the provinces. But Lima still has everything which made us come to it in the first place: its barrios are still brimming with very poor children who live in their own family's shanty dwelling albeit in a state of semi abandonment: no one bothering to educate or help them. It is still true that "2 out of every 5 children in Peru not in school, live in Lima". We will therefore stay for as long as we can, and that may be for a very long time.
* While there are a number of fine charities, NGOs and church groups helping street children, we have not yet encountered another organization set up with the mission of educating and helping the very poorest non-street children.