The city of Lima is home to 9.5 million people.
We are going to Institución Educativa Privada Didascalio Nuestra Señora del Encuentro [Unión Lumen Dei]. This is a Catholic School, with students spanning Kindergarten through grade 10, the equivalent of High School in the States. Our guide is Luis. Also in our van is the Priest who heads the school and a young Nun. Neither speak English, but each has a cell phone and receives several calls along the way.
Equally important to Luis is that we understand how important faith is to this country. It is 85% Catholic, a result of the Inquisition. The Virgin is the supreme inter-ceder between God and man.
Poverty surrounds the city. The hill communities line our route.
Most of the structures are, in part, open-air. Holes for windows. Some have partial roofs and some have partial walls. I notice that the upper levels are constructed of thin vine like timbers. An occasional potted plant is the only flora in a sea of dust and dirt. We are actually in a desert.
The school we are visiting is on the edge of a hill community. There are 806 students here. As the gate opens, we are greeted by the school band.
There are some little boys in Mariachi outfits, black pants and jackets with shiny brass buttons. White shirts with red cummerbunds, and tall black felt sombreros with gold trim. The other children are neatly dressed. Little boys in blue-and-white-striped smocks and the little girls in pink and white smocks. All of the children are anxious to see us. Most want to shake our hands.
The courtyard is lined with beautiful children, ages increasing along the way. As we round the corner, the older students, to age 16, have lined the balconies, waving white handkerchiefs. They begin to scream loudly, as if we were rock stars.
We tour several classrooms, beginning with the 2nd grade girls. They are learning their numerals. They entertain us with two songs and gift us with hand made cards. We then visit the young boys, who do the same. Some of the boys are still in their mariachi outfits.
We visit several other classrooms, and are greeted warmly. Each grade has a different uniform, determined by the contributor.
All of the songs we hear are about the Virgin and her baby Son. The children have practiced well, and make no mistakes. We are all amazed at how beautiful these children are, and how well mannered they are.
After our tour, we help distribute lunch to some of the students. Some family members join them. This is the only food available to most of these families. The meal looks appetizing, a hot chicken broth with vegetables and sausage over rice and a side salad. The school has prepared a traditional dish for us: beef, peppers, onions and mushrooms with rice and fries. Teachers come to visit with us after the meal. Our guide, Luis, teaches English here. When asked if they had a wish list, the said they would like more desks and some computers to use in teaching.
The teachers present us with artistic gifts from the children. Some are religious and some are quite creative. My gift is a girl with blond hair.
When it’s time to leave, some of the children line up for hugs. Some want kisses too, at their mothers urging.
Back on the bus… The school is an oasis, surrounded by shanty homes and severe poverty. No running water, no electricity. Most have very few clothes.
These children are some of the most beautiful people I have seen. Their eyes are filled with hope.The teachers we have met share this hope, knowing what a tremendous undertaking is before them.
Our help and that of others world wide is a good start.
We are all talking about our visit. The celebrity reception and the wonderful children. We hope to come up with ways to help the teachers with their wish list.
This morning we are going on a bus tour of Lima. It’s winter here, and many Peruvians are wearing sweaters and jackets. Humidity nears 100%, and we are all perspiring in our short sleeves. We are told that the difference between summer and winter is the visibility of the sun.
On the bus we ask about politics and elections. You must vote here. If you don’t, your passport is revoked, as is your drivers license. You may also pay a fine or be jailed. There is no absentee balloting. Another interesting legal fact: if a man is accused of being abusive to his wife, he goes directly to jail, no trial.
This morning we are up early heading to the airport for a 7:10 flight to Cusco.
The cobblestone streets are heavy with vendors. Most items are inexpensive trinkets. Peruvians are hard workers, and vending is an accepted trade, the only source of income for many families.
In Lima and here in Cusco, as poor as some areas are, I feel completely safe. These people are honest and true to their religion.
Today we meet after breakfast and head out for another school visit. Instituto Educativa Privada Didascalio San José Obrero [Unión Lumen Dei].
It is not far from town, in a poor section. Once again, it is an oasis. There are 400 students here. All in uniform. Again girls and boys are separate. It is rainy and cold. The students greet us under the direction of Sister Thelma. Twelve of the boys perform the “Dance to the Virgin Mary.”
From here, we go to an inside classroom, where younger children perform a shepherd’s dance. The boys wear masks to look like old men. Some have padding for a hunch back, and all have canes and walking sticks. It is a delightful performance.This is followed by a puppet show. The story of the shepherd who has 100 sheep and loses one. He leaves the flock of 99 to find it. The show is too cute. Some older girls complete the program, singing a song about Mary.
From here, we begin our classroom tour. All of the children are well mannered. They explain the subjects they are working on. The younger ones recite, “Good morning Teacher. I am fine, how are you?” One of the younger boys sings a song to us.
We then tour the work shop, where they teach mechanics, electrical trade, welding, etc.
It is lunch time. We are all impressed with the food presentation. It has been the norm here to make an attractive plate. First course is chicken salad, between two layers of dense mashed potatoes, decorated with peppers, olives and egg slices. Enough for a main course. This is followed by Chicken Cordon Bleu [sans bleu], mashed potatoes and vegetables. One of the Sisters has prepared a special coffee and milk drink. There is a the traditional purple juice, heavy with corn syrup. Dessert looks like Jello, but thinner, with some fruit.
The effort these young people exude needs to be taken seriously. Their harsh lifestyle desperately needs improvement, and they are more than willing to work toward that goal. Most have already far surpassed any education levels offered to their parents.
Stay tuned for a post on the second half of the trip from Carol and more stories from other BWB travelers coming soon…