Lima has a population of 10 million people. A large percentage of this population comes from an invasion of rural citizens that moved to the city for protection during the 1980’s when the drug cartels were out of control and perpetrating violence against the often innocent locals that had the misfortune to get in their way.
These refugee camps have turned into permanent shanty towns built on whatever unoccupied desert hills the so called invaders could find to settle on. Their homes are built out of whatever materials they are able to scavenge until slowly, as their circumstances improve, they are able to afford more substantial building materials and expand the size of their dwellings.
Not your typical choice for a vacation destination, I none-the-less, during my last stay in Peru, arranged a visit to one of these settlements that is representative of how 80% of Lima’s population lives. I wasn’t at all sure what to expect. It ended up being the highlight of the trip though. Seeing the living conditions of the people first hand can’t help but be a heart tug. Through no fault of their own, the residents are caught in a dismal cycle of poverty that is extremely difficult to find their way out of.
The day before I had taken a classic city tour of Lima and eaten an elegant buffet lunch by the see at the Larcomar mall. On this day at the invasion community of Manchay, I ate a meal prepared by a local mother and served in their home. It was a simple bowl of soup and a plate of rice with a piece of chicken. Adequate but not fancy, in a country that is famous for its culinary delights. The home was no more than a shack thrown together with whatever materials the family can scavenge. It had gaping cracks in the wall between each slat that made up both the inside and outside of the home. Inside colorful scraps of wrapping paper were glued to the walls to provide a partial covering for the gaps and to make for a more cheerful space. The house had no running water. Water is delivered by truck to tanks sitting outside the home. One tankful will last a typical family a mere three to four days before it needs refilled. It costs the equivalent of $12-13 for one fill and the source of the water is often questionable.
For families that are able to find jobs in the city center, the bus commute to work can be 2-3 hours one way, with young children left at home to fend for themselves while parents are away.
The non-government organization, Ruwasunchis, offers social support and training for those willing to make use of it services to the community. They provide books and games for the children, tips on planting gardens, and materials to the women so they can knit and crochet items that are marketed through Ayllu Ruwasunchis.
The people I met there were warm and friendly and generous with their hugs. They are making the best of the small resources they have to make a better life for themselves and their children and are proud of their accomplishments.
One little boy there proudly showed off the small gardens he had planted in front of his home. He then went running into his house and returned with a globe, asking us to show him the route we had taken to get to Lima and then sent us off with a hug.
This is such an important side of Peru for people to see. Most the time all we see is the sprawling settlements by the road as we hurry on to popular tourist sites. A day spent experiencing the harsh reality of life for the majority of Peru’s population makes for an incredibly enlightening trip.