Exactly two weeks ago I was in a poor city district to the north of Chiclayo called Villa El Sol with the visiting Chalice team of five (three from Canada, including a native Venezuelan, and two from La Paz, Bolivia). All of the Centro Esperanza (CE) promotoras (educators-social workers) were present and we formed part of a giant oval of about 60 mothers and one father with children in the various Proyecto Chiclayo programs. After a beautiful day with children and youth participants in CE programs the day before (here is a glimpse of it), the Chalice team wanted a sense of what parents of program participants see as the successes, possible improvements and hopes of the program.
The community building where Proyecto Chiclayo programs take place has been improved with a new roof, thanks to a Canadian donor. I had only been to this location once a couple months ago and on this second visit, I was blown away upon my arrival by the welcoming atmosphere created in the space with colourful decorations (made by kids I work with, mothers and the CE team) and Peruvian music. The mothers were waiting for the arrival of the Chalice team. The space was filled with joy, excitement and nervous buzz.
The morning began with four of the five members of the Chalice team adding their hands to the giant banner created at the beginning of the year by children, parents and the CE team. I added my lime green hand prints to the banner during my first week in Chiclayo in July. The banner reads:
Juntos y comprometidos
por una vida digna para las niñas y niños
Together and committed
to a dignified life for girls and boys)
Next it was time to sing and what a marvelous song we sang. Called Artesanas de la vida (Artisans of Life), it speaks of women living as friends, in solidarity with others; of the lessons they learn from their errors; of their right to demand that their rights be respected; of their search for justice, hope and equality.
Two of our lovely promotoras (Alicia and Maria) in the centre enjoying the joyful moment of song 😀
There are not words to describe what followed, when the women were given the chance to share the experiences they have had as part of Proyecto Chiclayo. The gratitude expressed by these women, who have themselves experienced more that I will ever be able to imagine, was incredible. Some only finished the first few years of elementary school and are now completing their studies thanks to NGO support; others have overcome domestic violence by choosing to divorce oppressive husbands. Some have learned to eliminate violence from their parenting techniques thanks to workshops offered by the programs and support from other mothers. Others have learned new skills to earn modest incomes for their families; others have come to realize the importance of education for their children’s futures.
As each women shared her story or those of her children, she placed a flower or butterfly
on the tree in the centre of the oval…
The only father present at the meeting was convinced by his wife to share his thoughts on the program; while his words were brief, we all appreciated his courage to speak in front of everyone, as one of only two males present in the space.
Next it was time for each member of the Chalice team to share their words on what Proyecto Chiclayo means to them. MaryAnne will pass her responsibilities onto Douglas. Her work and friendship over the years have been appreciated by all. Douglas’ touching speech was well received and people are happy to see a Latino male with a vision of equality for all.
MaryAnne sharing words of appreciation, wisdom and a sincere hasta luego (not good bye, but until next time), as I translate for Rachel.
The inspiring morning concluded with an activity of weaving a network constructed by each and every participant, by tying together coloured ribbons and walking together in a circle around the tree of hope we had finished creating, while singing. Positive, hopeful energy…magic…
And who could forget the pictures…
MaryAnne was given the chance to hold a newborn baby
The Chalice visitors with Gladys, the local director of Proyecto Chiclayo
We couldn’t leave yet–it was time for a dance prepared by three of the mothers…
Filled with hugs and kisses of love and friendship, this unforgettable morning continued for the Chalice team and a few CE team members with a surprise invitation to a delicious home-prepared lunch at the home of one of the mothers from Villa El Sol. This gesture of appreciation demonstrates the hearts of the people we work with; although they are poor economically, they go out of their way to demonstrate gratitude in ways they can. The meal gave us time to digest both our thoughts on the amazing experience we had just shared and a tasty arroz con pollo (rice with chicken). We were then accompanied along the unpaved streets of the neighbourhood under a scorching sun, together with several mothers, to the main road that heads back into Chiclayo and sent off with final hugs and kisses. We could have not dreamed of a better visit.