04 Sep 2016
Since I’ve been in Lima, I’ve worked 3 days in one of the shantytowns, a region known as “Pamplona”. This area consists of dirt/mud roads, houses smaller than the average college dorm room, no electricity, running water or sewer system. I’m unaware of anyplace like this in the U.S. The whole region is also on a hillside. Although people in this area are poor, they are not so poor that they do not have their next meal. Their living conditions, bluntly put, are horrendous.
Pigs don’t make the best neighbors. Amidst these shacks are pig farms, which inhabited the region before people started moving there from the highlands, escaping terrorism or looking for work in Lima. As you can imagine, the area has an unforgettable stench due to these pig farms.
A brief history of Peru that will help you better understand the above paragraph: In 1980, the population of Lima was around 5 million. Now the population is around 10 million. This is largely due to a communist terrorist group known as the “Shining Path.” The “Shining Path” was rampant during the 80’s and 90’s, particularly in the highlands of Peru. Because of this, many people tried to escape the terrorism by moving to the city. Another tragic result of this is that in some of the highland cities, it is difficult to find families with dads, as they were the main victims of the terrorist.
The group that I work with in the shantytown is called Bridges. […] Bridges connects with private, but not religiously affiliated high class schools, to provide the students an opportunity to help their less fortunate neighbors. This is a really brilliant set up for many reasons:
- The program is not specifically religious, because the private schools apparently want nothing to do with that. And at the same time, many of these students may have been baptized, but have not really been raised Catholic. Sometimes, the encounter with the poor in addition to reflecting and sharing while riding the bus ride back, on the unity of our humanity in Jesus Christ, allows the students to recognize their hunger for faith.
- While we are in the slums we may be building a house, making a concrete staircase, constructing a cement support wall to keep rocks from falling down the hillside, but these are not why we are there. As the leaders of the program say, “these projects are only excuses to get to know our poor neighbors,” as many of these kids live literally only on the other side of this hill. Yes, hopefully we can improve the community for those living in Pamplona. But we are there to be with these people. To get to know them. To hear their story and share ours. We are there because we are humans, they are humans and we’re on this journey together. We are there to grow in love and share love.
- These kids do not have to come and they do not need service hours. That is pretty cool to me, especially when size of the groups range from 20-50 students.
Saturday was the second time I went with the high school group. There were about 20 of them and the whole time we were working there was an incredible spirit amongst them. We were meeting the neighbors and getting to know the kids. After a few hours of mixing cement and passing buckets up and down the hill, I cut out for a game of soccer with some of the boys I met. By the end, we had a good 4 on 4 game going on their caged-in soccer court and this gringo didn’t embarrass himself too bad. These kids made my day! The boys were incredibly cute and Freddie, a 6 year old, kept holding my hand and calling me Alex…haha. And after he would say Alex about 5 times, I would remember that he was talking to me and would say, My name is Willie! Now what did you want…haha.
I’ve been thinking recently about pragmatism and how often times in the West we get caught up on accomplishing and making sure things always have a useful end. Being in the slums has reminded me that this work and the end of what we are building isn’t what is important. It is being with these people. Experiencing our unity with them. Loving them by getting to know their very person and allowing them to do the same. Going out of ourselves. It really doesn’t have a pragmatic end. It’s just the life of faith experienced in the unity of love.
* * * WILLIAM JANSEN II