First Encounters: Urban Foundation at San Jose Obrero School
November 19, 2017- From seaside to mountainside, the Urban Foundation group made our introductory trek to San Jose Obrero School (SJOS) early on Sunday morning to partake in the festivities of IFEJANT´s Children´s Fair. We were let out of our transport van midway up a steep and dusty road to the sounds of Latin music and the announcement of "Bienvenidos a nuestros visitantes", "Welcome to our visitors!".
With immediate smiles, students greeted us with dancing demonstrations ranging from modern to traditional Peruvian routines. We then toured through the booths set up to promote student-led initiatives. Included were "Good deed vaccines" where we were encouraged to prescribe our commitment to completing a good deed for our families. Baking was sold by the local kids involved in the baking workshop program (the Brownies were delicious) and many paintings were completed by kids and adults alike.
Clinging to the hillside, we toured the community facilities in and around the school site. Our guides were very confident and capable 6th graders, proud to show us around. After a brief overview of their organization, they relayed their plans for expanding the community meeting space. It is exciting to see how passionate and well-spoken these students are, especially when asked about children´s issues and rights. It is truly inspiring. A group of us joined the kids on a walking tour which they led through the neighbourhood hoping to raise awareness about rights for children and women.
Dancing routines, a game of bilingual "Simon Says" and a dance called the "hugging circle" (involving almost everyone at the fair) rounded out our first day at SJOS. I can´t wait to see what more we learn from them and their community in the week to come.
Lee Giddens, Urban Systems Foundation
November 20, 2017- Monday was the first day we were split into our groups. A group of people left for the school at 6am where we split into two groups of four. Four went to the top of the mountain to pick up the kids on the school bus and four stayed at the school to help prepare breakfast. The remaining four in the group were at the hotel sleeping while we were all hard at work.
The bus group went to the top of the mountain to meet the children at the bus stop. There are 2 stops on the route. Urban Systems sponsors the bus and it is the only school bus in the area - the rest of the kids have to take public transportation. We picked up about 55 kids. The kids line up in two lines, one for boys and one for girls, and organize themselves from shortest to tallest. It was really foggy at the top of the mountain!
Urban Systems also sponsors the breakfast program. For breakfast we helped by peeling boiled potatoes (they were really hot!) and chopping mangos. One of the women who works in the kitchen prepared chicken liver and a bone bone broth as well. As the kids came for breakfast we served them their meals and took attendance.
Just before school started the other group showed up. Then we all went to meet with the principal and the student's mayor. The mayor of the students is a girl in 6th grade named Amelia. She said she was planning on going to a technical high school next year to study management.
After that meeting we went to the classroom to meet with the kids. We visited grade 4 and grade 6 classrooms. They welcomed us and had an opportunity to ask us questions.
After that we broke up into three groups to do the home visit, start construction, and do some land use planning for the school area. Then we ate some lunch and went back to work.
The construction and planning group continued on with what they had started earlier, and the home visit group met with the student leadership group, Prominats. We found out the meaning of the name Prominats: Projects, microfinance, for working children and teenagers. We also played hot potato with the students, and attended a meeting with them where they discussed the success of the fair. At about 3pm it was time to go and we all headed out.
Anneli Zalazar, Urban Systems Foundation
November 21, 2017
Driving to school is effectively a one hour long string of near misses and constant horn honking but our driver seems to know why he’s honking so I’ll chalk it up to entertainment value.
Did the school bus trip with kids this morning and learned that kids from other schools have trouble catching a bus. Kids pay less for a bus ride so the bus doesn’t want them taking up space in favour of the higher paying adults. The bus we are supporting has improved attendance significantly because the kids can actually get on the bus.
Waiting for the bus we were surrounded by about eight stray dogs wrestling. There are a lot of strays around here. Several dogs make it into the school every day. They’re diligent about shoeing them out of the kitchen but every where else, not so much.
Met with the parents association. The ice got broken right a way when the head of the PTA said Roberto looked like a movie star and flirted with him relentlessly. These ladies do most of the volunteer work in the kitchen for the nutrition program. Their biggest need was getting a consistent water supply. Water is trucked in and the kitchen just uses the schools water tank. But the school sometimes lets the tank run dry before re-filling, there’s then no water to cook with.
From our companies standards, we probably wouldn’t be allowed to enter the school yard because of all the safety hazards. Very steep stairs with no hand rails and sheer unprotected drops, exposed rebar and other sharp pointy objects, stray dogs, a garbage pile burning and crazy drivers.
Got in four hours of hard physical labour. Nothing like a cement mixer available to us so we have to mix the sand and cement on the ground and the mason adds water to it in his bucket when he’s ready for it. But we got about half the bricks placed today, looking good.
Found my first ever scorpion on one of the bricks I picked up. Cool.
Had lunch with and hung out with some of the student union kids. Extremely well spoken girls (and outspoken boys) mostly aged 10 to 12. Full of smiles, tons of energy and lots of questions. I found these kids very mature for their age. These are the kids who are leading the movement for children’s rights. There are apparently quite a few kids who are abused, need to work and can’t go to school or live in unsafe environments.
Back at the hotel and our western comforts. The hotels tortoise was making a break for freedom and was almost at the front door when we foiled it plans.
For dinner we found a restaurant that served the Peruvian delicacy guinea pig. I was really hungry so the slight smell of burning hair from the kitchen didn’t spoil my appetite. Texture like dry ribs.
Brendon Bashuski, Urban Systems Foundation
Rehabilitation and Diagnosis Center for Youth in Lima
We wrapped up our time with the beautiful children of San Jose Obrero School, hopefully leaving them with some hope in their hearts and dreams in their minds.
We have now pulled up to a very daunting, high walled, windowless and steel doored building known as the “Rehabilitation and Diagnosis Center for Youth in Lima.
All of us with our private thoughts and images of what it will be like to be “incarcerated “ if only for a brief few hours with the very juveniles we have been warned about and repeatedly told to avoid on the streets. The very “dark figures” that force us International Interlopers to leave our jewellery in safer places and to change our backpacks into “frontpacks” to hopefully thwart an illegal exchange of “ours” to “theirs”.
The heavy steel door clanged open and we all got our first glimpse inside. Beyond the chaos of the front desk/admittance area and the ever present guards and metal detectors, there seemed a calm, organized and somewhat welcoming open aired sports type field dotted around the edges with high cactus and greenery obviously maintained by the “Juvenile Interns”.
Once the entrance formalities were finalized we were led up a flight of stairs to a classroom where we would spend the next hour and some learning about the inside of these walls as well as a quick peek into the minds of some of these “young offenders” or “interns” as they are referred to.
We were all seated around a “boardroom” table. The “coordinator”, a lady in her 60s briefed us and answered some of our more obvious questions like...ages?—minimum age was 16, maximum was 18 ( unless your sentence took you past your 18th Birthday you were “allowed” to stay longer to finish your “ internship”).
— Crimes? — mostly robbery and theft, yes there were murderers and violent offenders in the mix.
— Length of sentences? — from a few months to 4-6 yrs. 4 seemed to be common amongst those we chatted with.
— All male interns? — yes.
—Repeat offenders ? — Surprisingly they said it was not common, but mainly because generally once they finish their time there, the next time they are caught they are old enough to play in the “Big Boys Basketball Court”!
The “boys” had shown up in the background as we had our questions answered.
I think we were all surprised (pleasantly). No “Scarfaces, thugs or angry and evil looking souls. This was a bunch of boys from YOUR Neighbourhood...not a bunch of Banditos from the “HOOD”!!
They were all clean cut, fresh faced and orderly dressed in their uniforms of green and yellow gym pants, shirts and jackets. Not a threatening looking glare or menacing face amongst them.
They were all very open and enthused to share their learnings while involved in the “internship”. Their newly taught skills involved woodworking, silversmithing, metal work, textiles and sewing.
They brought for us to look over, some wood crafted cars, airplanes and jewelry boxes. It was then that we learned that we would be allowed to purchase any of their handiwork and that a certain percentage of these monies would go to the intern and they would use it to purchase more supplies to carry on their entrepreneurship.
Once we had a good look at some of the woodwork and the formalities of introduction were out of the way, we were allowed to address the boys with some of our questions to and about them.
The questions allowed were more about their learnings than there misgivings.
The general theme in their answers was that of appreciation for the opportunities afforded them once inside these high walls. The value of “entrepreneurship” was mentioned numerous times. As these really are the basic skills these lads will have to lean on once they are back in their homes or on the streets. They seemed fully aware that their future is in their own hands, whether they choose the legal “entrepreneurship “ or its wayward brother.
There were 2 guest speakers. These were fairly recent graduates of the Center. Two very inspirational young men that hopefully touched the right senses in some of the interns that will help send them down the path of success.
One speaker was a 19 year old that discovered while he was incarcerated that he wanted to be a chef. He shared with us...but mostly directed at the young interns..his difficulties and hardships in achieving his dream of actually becoming a chef. There was no sugar coating or mincing of words. His success was directly connected to his numerous struggles, failures and hurdles he had to endure on his journey to succeed. He worked hard, got paid little. He accepted his lot in life for the moment. He worked harder and longer. All the hurdles thrown in front of him he saw as opportunities rather than obstacles. And most importantly he never lost sight of his dream of becoming a chef! He reiterated it numerous times that he KNEW he was going to become a chef and that it was up to HIM!
He subsequently has trained under some of the best chefs in Peru, worked alongside chefs of Great accomplishments and has taken his yearning of becoming a chef to the reality of becoming a fine chef in his own right and taking a “somewhat soulless intern”and turning it into a “soul full of success “!!
The finest words and best advice I felt he left these young men with were ones he repeated more than once and used them to close his talk with. “You must ALWAYS remember that where you are today is only A MOMENT In TIME “. Powerful and real words for the souls of everyone in the room!
The second speaker spoke to his accomplishments of introducing the building/manufacturing of wall hanging planters to the Center while he was incarcerated. This program has flourished and has become a regular part of the program. He has continued his hard work outside and parlayed that into a job/ career within a software company and is on the path to becoming an IT technician.
Once we were finished this part of the day we were taken on a tour of the Work Shops where we purchased some of the wares produced by the boys in these shops. We toured the somewhat rudimentary but very functional wood-shop. As well, the metal fabrication shop, the silver smithing room and textile area.
Items that were purchased ranged from silver earrings and jewellery boxes to kitchen towels and one of a kind hoodies proudly adorned by two of our distinguished team members Roberto and Brendan.
Then it was time to Vamos...time to say Adios...time to reflect.
We did the reverse process of our entrance. Got all our bags and personal items back and patiently waited for the bang of the big steel door. I couldn’t help but wonder while I was standing there waiting in this “moment of time”...”There But For the Grace of God Go I”. I felt chosen, privileged...and immensely relieved that I KNEW that big Steel Door was going to open within the next 4 minutes not 4 years. I KNEW that I had a wonderful home and a loving family on the other side ( albeit a couple plane rides away). I KNEW by entering the inside of that Center I had most likely helped myself more than I did the interns for the moment.
With that being said ...I KNOW that by THINKING RIGHT I can SAY RIGHT and by saying right I can DO RIGHT and by doing right we can all make this world a little bit better place and can possibly bring a little “SOLACE” to those who may be a little “SOULLESS” at this “MOMENT in TIME “ in their lives.
And yes that Big Steel Door did clang one more time. It swung in and we walked out!
We walked out into the busy streets of Lima. Hustle Bustle, Hucksters and Shucksters. I pray those young men we left behind can have a dream of a better life, one that can lift them above the stark reality of the streets of Lima when that Big Steel Door clangs for them and swings in while they walk out.
Until we meet again: “EMBRACE EVERY SUNRISE CHERISH EVERY SUNSET“
Lynda Cooke, Urban Systems Foundation