Written by Ari Anderson, Aidan Brown, and Spencer Pozun.
Señor Cordova gave us this prompt for our journals for our first day working in PEBAL: “Where did you see God today?” Like every other Bronco on this trip, we wrote the words down in our notebooks and disregarded it. However, the knowledge and wisdom that the prompt has given us is enough to fill more pages than this blog allows.
We began our first day of work with PEBAL La Immaculata on an exhilarating bus ride. On the bus we met Emilio, the operations manager of PEBAL, Liz, and Sister Sylvia, a nun from Italy who has worked at PEBAL for the last three years. PEBAL was founded in 1978 by the Jesuits. The mission of PEBAL is “to improve personal abilities through education, health and social commitment so that the nearby communities are enduring. PEBAL is summarized in one word: Transformation.” PEBAL offers services for health, classes to learn a trade, and school for the children of the community.
The traffic in Lima is incomparable to anywhere else. Speed laws? Non-existent. Right of way? Nowhere to be seen. Police moderating the streets? A funny afterthought. And, the traffic is constant. Constant as the grey clouds that loom over Lima. It would become something that we came to both enjoy and dread. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying when you see a cab driver turn a two-lane freeway into a three-lane freeway with merging cars on all sides.
After about a twenty-minute bus ride, we arrived at the base of operations for PEBAL. We were greeted by two small kiosks, each selling similar wares of gum, candy and soda. We barely had time to purchase gum before we were ushered back onto the bus. The bus ride over to San Juan de Miraflores was something that will always be with us. As the bus climbed the mountain, our preconceptions of poverty were shattered. The old buildings surround the base of PEBAL seemed bad until we saw the actual neighborhood of San Juan. The brick turned to corrugated steel, and the asphalt of the streets turned to dirt. Our previously gregarious bus went almost silent as we traversed the slippery, muddy streets of San Juan de Miraflores.
We worked on PEBAL’s casitas; safe places for children to go after their school day is over. We broke up into groups and were sent off to do specific jobs. These casitas were all on the side of the mountain, and muddy roads were the only way to get to there. In one casita, we repaired, repainted and reinforced the doors, walls, and furniture. Another group painted the walls, both inside and out, and sanded and painted chairs for the children. The last group swept, cleaned and organized. The work was monotonous but fulfilling, and we left the casitas feeling accomplished at what we had done.
For lunch, we went back to PEBAL La Immaculata to eat. There we were able to play some games in the courtyard and bought snacks from the vendors. Once it was time to get back to work we were assigned the task of sanding down 200 rusted chairs to get them ready to be repainted.
The next day we went back and continued our work. However, during the night it had rained. The entire mountain was covered in a misty cloud. We finished the work from the previous day and were getting ready to leave for lunch and continue our afternoon work back at PEBAL. As one group was leaving their casita for the last time, a man named Fernando approached them. He began conversing with Señor Cordova and we learned about the neighborhood we were in.
The hills that we stood on were previously the land of pig farmers, but at the city of Lima expanding, it became a dumping ground for the garbage of the city. The residents of the neighborhood of San Juan de Miraflores remained in their homes, despite the increasing levels of waste. The pig farmers also remained, and the pigs began to eat the garbage that was discarded there. The residents ate those pigs and got sick. According to Fernando, their skin began to peel, and when they realized that the pork was the source of the sickness, it was too late. The pig farmers are gone now, and heaps of trash take their place on the mountain. San Juan de Miraflores does not have any running water or plumbing, and will probably never have either. Water trucks bring fresh water to the houses where large blue barrels are filled for the weekly water supply. Word cannot describe our feelings, but the opportunity to assist and give hope to this community will always stay with us.
After lunch the second day, we cleaned abandoned shacks that used to be greenhouses off the roof of one of PEBAL‘s buildings. We moved pallets, enamel buckets, and wooden beams. We also worked on the future plans for the complex which will include adding an additional story to the building.
At the end of the day, Ari had the opportunity to talk with Emilio who is also an alum of El Colegio De La Inmaculada where we lived during our stay in Lima. Through “Spanglish”, they discussed many different topics but arrived at this conclusion: Our job is not to be saviors, nor teachers or prophets. Our job is work and live WITH the people of Peru. As much as we do for them, they do for us.
Ari, Aidan and Spencer