After a two-hour bus trip through chaotic traffic, I arrive at a child development center located in the northwestern part of Lima City.
The center is in a quiet place far from the noisy avenues, although the homes of squatters surround the church mission. The houses are built with precarious materials that show the poverty this community has to face. The mission is on a large property with buildings built long ago.
As I walk through the church’s wide, dusty dirt-floor patio, the center director greets me. With a wide smile and wearing blue jeans and a black hat, she looks ready to film the perfect Western TV series. Her name is Miss Pino and she is a graduate psychologist who has also studied at a Bible institute and has specialized in child advocacy and child evangelism. She has been appointed by her mission authorities as center director for Semillero de Campeones Student Center, which started in June 2008.
In this position, Miss Pino has to deal with many things she never thought she would, such as trying to keep the center open. The rising costs of household items – cooking oil, chicken, milk, etc. – has led to a 20 percent increase in food costs for all student centers in Peru.
For Semillero de Campeones, this has made it difficult to manage a program with 166 young children to feed, from which 40 percent do not have a sponsor yet.
Because of the rise in prices, many student centers have had to stop some activities such as camps, retreats and extracurricular activities. The budgets for each center are simply not enough.
Development centers with less than 160 registered children, such as Semillero de Campeones, have been more affected as they have fewer resources to face the crisis. Therefore, in order to continue serving the vital meals to the children, Semillero de Campeones received a special assistance through our Complementary Interventions Program (CIV).
According to statistics, nearly 750,000 children in Peru have chronic malnutrition, a serious problem that is hidden from the eyes of society which links the short size and the glum temper of the poor indigenous and Creole people to their idiosyncrasies and not to malnutrition.
One out of four children younger than 5 years old is malnourished and does not reach the minimum required size and weight. This causes irreversible damage to their physical, intellectual and emotional development, and this situation continues because of the poverty and illiteracy of mothers in Peru, who don’t know how to combat malnutrition.
Investigations show that the lower the educational level of a woman, the earlier she becomes pregnant, and the more likely she is to raise larger families, heightening the probability of chronic malnutrition of her children.
Miss Pino tells me,
“A good number of families prepare their meals using only chicken innards to add some flavor to their meals. Even the fruit has increased its price, and now some very poor families prepare as a supper for their children a cornstarch pudding and a cup of tea, either yams and tea, or simple bread with tea to have something in their stomach to be able to sleep at night.
“Therefore, if not for Compassion, many of the registered children would not have a chance to eat any decent meal at all.”
Because of this serious situation, Compassion is responding in two ways:
- Educating the mothers who are registered in our Child Survival Program (CSP) to reach the children when they are most vulnerable, as infants.
- Covering the immediate nutritional needs of the children with CIV funds.
Many of the CSP mothers are illiterate and have only basic education. Education will teach them a trade to help them improve their income, teach them about proper child care, and also how to prepare nutritious meals, with help from a nutritionist. This response began in February 2009 and will last one year.
The dining room at Semillero de Campeones bursts with children at lunchtime eager to receive what they would not receive at home. These meals will ensure the children can receive the nutrition so important to their growth, including proteins (chicken and beans), carbs (rice), vitamins (vegetables and fruits).
Miss Pino and I visit the family of a sponsored child for whom child sponsorship has made a difference. A young man who also works at the center comes with us, as the place is not safe at all.
Although there are no gangs in this community, there are many thieves who commit robbery inside the many poor homes. There is also a problem of alcoholism and many broken homes and single mothers.
It is also quite common for men to abandon their family, and so there are many young mothers who have to work to support their home, and many children who have to stay at home all day alone, a danger for their well-being.
As we enter a small squatter house located on a hill, I see a middle-aged woman in bed. She is Nydia, 42, the mother of Sayuri.
I notice that they live in only one room with a roof of matting and plastic. The house walls are bare bricks, and the only furniture is two beds, a chest drawer with a TV set on it, and the TV cardboard box used as a night table by the mother’s bed.
There are many flies around Nydia and on her bed. She moves her head toward me, indicating to come, and at the same moment, she tries to kill a fly with a swatter.
As I enter the room, I sense immediately a strange odor that takes me back 18 months to the day when we, a group of Compassion workers, entered into one of the towns south of Lima City where a strong earthquake killed many people. Most of the bodies were still trapped in the debris and the strong odor of death made it difficult to breathe.
In fact, Nydia, a single mother of five, is dying day by day with uterine cancer. She was diagnosed in May 2008, and the doctors could do nothing but put her on radiotherapy. Now she is taking morphine to alleviate the pain in her swollen legs that have made it impossible to walk.
Nydia has five children: Jhon, 20, Martin, 17, Luis, 15, Rosa, 12, and Sayuri, 4. The two older ones live on their own and seldom see their mother. Luis works whenever he has a chance and brings home the money to cover the most urgent needs, and Rosa, although she is only 12, had to quit school because they couldn’t afford the school expenses. Instead, Rosa looks after her mother and younger sister.
We begin talking to Luis, and after some minutes Nydia tries to join our conversation. I look at the dirty mattress and blanket where a good number of flies keep landing, but choose to ignore it and sit down on the bed by Nydia’s side with a microphone in my hand and a camera in the other.
“My daughter Sayuri is very picky to eat so I am surprised she likes the meals that are served at the center. I thank Compassion for it because our budget at home is quite low to cope with our needs.”
Before she was ill, Nydia supported her family cooking at a restaurant in downtown Lima, and used to come home late completely exhausted. At the time she learned she had terminal cancer, she also learned about the Compassion program that was beginning at an evangelical mission located about 10 blocks from her home. So she registered her daughter, Sayuri.
Now Sayuri is attending the Compassion program and also attends school through a scholarship at the small grade school the mission runs to benefit the community children.
“If not for Compassion, Sayuri would have been at home just as her older sister. But now besides having a meal, she has a place to enjoy gathering with other children and learning many new things, instead of watching the TV all day as before.
“You see, I am dying with cancer and what worries me most is that I don’t know where my two daughters are going to end up. The boys are already grown up, and they can look after themselves.”
As our visit comes to an end, it is time for Nydia to take the prescribed morphine. After saying a prayer, we leave this home and walk toward the mission, having been a witness that without the loving care of Compassion that Sayuri is receiving now, this family would have no hope.
Nydia lost track of her relatives when she was quite young, and now her only family are the mission church members who volunteer at the center. Miss Pino, who is quite aware of the situation, tells me that the center helps this family by giving them spiritual counseling and some food supplies.
By giving them some food supplies, the family is able to eat at least something simple as a supper and to have a breakfast to help them get started for the day in better shape.
The center also pays for the medical fees and the prescribed medication sold at a special cheap price to Nydia at the hospital, after the hospital’s social workers declared her as a destitute person.
Nydia’s neighbors have also found a way to ensure the family receives a free lunch at a soup kitchen run by the government, where meals of rice and beans with tea are sold to the community for U.S.60 cents a dish.
Miss Pino has hope for this family, as she does for the center in general.
“Pastor Fonseca, who already has 15 years of experience working with Compassion at another center in the city, has been appointed to this church since January.
“He is quite acquainted with many foreign missions and foreign businessmen and professionals who are willing to help him in the development of the mission and will begin soon helping our mission work.
“In fact, in April we began a breakfast program on Sunday mornings for all the children who want to come to listen to the Bible stories after a good breakfast. And there is the possibility to extend this benefit for at least three more days during the week, so that all the community children may be able to attend school after having a nutritious breakfast.
“The beneficiaries will be the Compassion-sponsored children, the mission school children as well as all other children who live nearby.
“Besides, there are two foreign agronomy engineers who are Christian who teach at the Agronomy University in Lima City, they have the desire to help the mission install a small farm with a special method of watering. Since the mission has a big space of land, they want to use it to grow some vegetables to be used for preparing the program’s meals.”
Pastor Fonseca also has a long-term project in mind – to build an orphanage and day-care center to help many children that stay home alone all day and are in imminent risk, just like Sayuri and her sister Rosa.
Though this family still daily faces such serious burdens, the Compassion program has been able to help with their basic needs and provide vital emotional and spiritual support.