Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Love, a Shantytown Anecdote

Rosa is a woman in her early thirties with two preschool-age children. She and her husband fled their native town of Ica after the massive earthquake of 2007 and moved into Villa del Sur, an extreme poverty section in San Juan de Miraflores. She has been an enthusiastic supporter of the UNO/OLLAS Service Learning program in Lima. She told me laughing, “I have to support it; where would my children go otherwise?” We have become familiar seeing her walking up and down the dirt yard organizing mothers, supporting teachers and advising children while the UNO students worked.
The community parents had committed themselves to build a new bathroom. The old one is too far away from the classrooms and mothers were afraid that something bad could happen to the children while they were not under supervision of the teachers. Villa del Sur, after all, is a rough neighborhood. Supported by Arturo, they began building the new bathroom on Saturday while our students were painting the module. Sunday they ran out of bricks but felt embarrassed to call Arturo asking for money again. Rosa and the teachers calculated that if each parent would donate one brick they could finish the bathroom. They called the parents and asked them that each of them would bring a brick next day. To their dismay, only a few parents fulfilled the promise and the masons were soon short of bricks again…

So, Rosa picked the mason’s wheel barrow and went around the neighborhood knocking at doors, “I think you own me a brick,” she would say, smiling. At the end of the day, she had collected all the bricks needed to complete the bathroom.

Tomorrow we will celebrate the children’s new module and a bathroom built by their fathers’ hands and, of course, Rosa’s perseverance.

Dr. Celle

Privatization at What Cost

The other day our group visited the Port of Callao. Founded in 1537, this port is the largest in Lima and among the largest along the western American coast. Before continuing I must note the dramatic advancements in the port since my visit last year. This port is broken into two sections, the nationalized port to the north and the privatitized port in the south. In the northern port, a large crane capable moving 25 transfer units an hour was added. In the south much more dramatic changes are underway. In a meeting with a civil engineer of the Port, he explained the plans for the privatized section. Purchased by a Dubai shipping company, the southern port is planned to be expanded upon in ten total phases. The first two phases alone are expected to cost a total of 1.25 billion dollars. Below is an animation of the master plan to the future Dubai Port in Lima.

For those who are unaware, when an industry is opened to private investment many things can change for the better and the worse. It is evident that by allowing outside investors access to a country's national resources and industries a country can see rapid advancements in the industries of discussion. Other benefits are further evident such as the savings from maintaining infrastructure of the said industries. In the United States for example, many of the power companies are being privatized in efforts to move government funds to other industries in dire need. However, the over privatization of any industry can be detrimental to any country, especially one as small Peru. The first problem to be addressed in the case of the port of Callao is that the Navy is located within the port and privatizing around the naval base threatens national security. Dubai has made offers to purchase the entire port of Callao, but at the Peruvian government’s resilience, Dubai is first expanding on the southern side of the port. It was said best when a worker of Callao explained his concerns and exclaimed, “We are selling the jewels of the crown.” Why should and would one have such concern for outside investors that are expanding revenues and technologies in their country? The answer is that everyone should be skeptical of any policy or notion that has short and fast gains, for history proves that they turn out to be superbly problematic.

Oscar Duran: BA History, MA Urban Sociology, OLLAS Service Learning Staff

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Today we visited Gamarra, a forty block gated district where clothing is made. We saw all kinds of names we recognize in the States and commonly wear--Holister, Rip Curl, Abercrombie, DC, and dozens more for about a fifth of the cost in the States. Sweet deal for shopping right? Well, the first thing we did before shopping was visit the places the garmets were made--sweat shops. I felt myself trapped in an ethical dilema: I have to wear clothes, obviously, however much of what I wear is probably made somewhere like this! People work 48 hours a week for S/ 800 a month--less than $300. Yet, they are lucky to have jobs. If we didn't buy the clothing, these people would have no jobs. It is a never ending cycle for which I cannot find a solution! Obviously, a solution would be to pay the workers better and give them benefits, but if they will not do it, then those working on the streets in the informal sector will quickly jump into their places and work for the same conditions, because while the circumstances are poor, they are still better than those on the street. I felt so twisted and torn today and don't know what to think about it. Is there a realistic solution?

Erin Gesell BA: Creative Writing

Second Time Around

Thus far the students have regaled the readers of this blog with their impressions of their first visit to Peru as a part of this year’s Latin American Study Abroad program. Mine is a little different-–I was here last year, and this year I bring the comparative analysis of the differences and similarities between visits to the foreground. It has also been quite notable just how much my own reality at home has changed in such a short period of time as well. These two factors serve as my point of departure.

First, the sensory overload of the trip is not as dominant as the last time around. I remember being clearly angered by the lack of North American functionality to this urban center-–oh, how provincial of me-–but the clogged streets and traffic congestion, the pollution choked air and the seeming endless squalor lying next to environmental refuge, archeological sites and very tony neighborhoods are all still there. This may be a bad thing, that one quickly gets used to this and begins to look for other signs of progress and disorder under their nose-–and it appears that this has happened to me. Second, this group of students is far better prepared-–in terms of history and context, analytical acumen and intellectual curiosity, the group as a whole is much better suited to grind through the busy and sometimes astounding revelations of their time “in country.”

Third, I had a bit of a friendly go around with Dr. Celle last evening regarding my contention that "in the wake of the economic crisis in the U.S., elements of the problems that had plagued Latin America were now becoming evident in the North American experience." Serial boom and bust economic cycles devastating specific market sectors, growing pockets of fabulous wealth a mere stone's throw from deepening and terminal poverty, the impact of economic displacement and human in-migration overwhelming the ability communities of all sizes to deal with its impact, crumbling national infrastructure, the outright effort of a nation’s leadership to subvert the rule of law and the constitutional basis of governance to advance the flimsy foreign policy objectives aimed at taking the attention away from real problems, glaring deficiencies and demagoguery, all while conjuring an external or internal bogey man in its place. It has all felt very “banana republic.”

Dr Celle and I agreed that many of the elements are indeed present and growing, but she argued in return that by terming the process of a “growing Latin American-ization” of the U.S. economy that I perhaps would allow others to conflate the changes with the mere presence and cultural influence of Latin American migration to the north. You know, the increased number of taco trucks, Salvadoran dishwashers, Spanish language radio stations equates with Latin America. That is not the rationale or logic behind the categorization. Rather, I look to the manner in which neoliberal economic modalities may have run their course in the global economy-–simultaneous expanding markets and eliciting “creative destruction” on economies of all types because of the forces that have been unleashed upon the world because of trade liberalization, privatization and massive de-regulation. She suggested that a third world-ization might be better.

Here is an illustration: you take a two year old to the beach and are marveling at its ability to scamper at the shore. All are pleased by its new found confidence at the edge of such a powerful force. No one would think of placing that same child in the breakers. That will come with time, growth, knowledge and experience. Because even if they are small breakers for an adult, there is no way that the two year old would be able to keep its balance and could very likely be badly hurt or drown. Yet, this is what we have been extolling--no demanding--of developing economies for the past generation, and we wonder why they can’t get their act together. If you add the self inflicted sins of greed, avarice, corruption and a lack of political will it is all too easy to see why they are destined to not do so well.

Interestingly, the very same forces that are whipping these economies are nipping at the heels of the American lifestyle. The image of Marx’s “running dogs of capitalism” clearing a path for the carriages of the “captains of industry” through the streets of squalor in 19th century London is so apropos. But there is one distinct departure from that picture, the dogs have gotten loose. What we didn’t know was that they didn’t have names, and we have no way to call them back. To compound the problem, we laid off the dog catchers too.

So as this year’s iteration of the program winds down, the experience is one that has been practically and intellectually challenging for the faculty, staff and students alike. Each has been confronted with a problem set that is in flux and demands the ability to think on one’s feet to be able to make sense of the complexities that a mega-city such as Lima presents. There is much to like about this place--its people, the food, the immigrant history, the beauty. I haven’t liked the hotel’s coffee as much so I am going to get a café Americano at Starbuck’s, the Italian café does not open until 7. It’s only 6:00AM!

Dr. Benjamin Alvarado: BA International Relations, MA International Policy Studies, Ph. D. Political Science

Monday, May 25, 2009

Service in the Community

The lives of the people which are living in the shantytowns are challenging on an everyday basis. After learning about these people's plight throughout the semester it really has come to life during this trip. You really don’t appreciate the differences in our worlds until you step out of ours and see the trash strewn about their streets and their living conditions. Being able to bring a little hope into the people’s lives has been a very rich and rewarding experience. I am reminded of why I took this course and this trip when I see the smiles on the faces of the children.

Today we finished working on the module for them. Seeing the community’s excitement over our arrival and their willingness to assist us gives me great hope for their community as it seems they have a fire lit under them. This addition to their community would be a modest addition in our communities but is a large step up for their neighborhood. By giving these people the resources to educate their children we are giving them the opportunity to take the initiative and create a better future for their children.

Justin Morales: BA Political Science

My Service Learning Experience

Each place in the planet has something interesting to show, but Peru is without any doubt a privileged country because of its great natural, cultural and human richness. Anyone that loves nature will definitely be gratified by the diversity of its environments and sights. Peru will blow your imagination for its acute contrast between its forests and deserts by the coast; its impetuous snowed mountains, the Andes; its jungle in the Amazon region; and you would be surprised by its variety of flora and fauna, which is unique in the world, that characterize these regions. If you love history, Peru is definitely the right place for you to visit. Peru is a magnificent testimony of a great ancestral civilization of six antique millenniums. This country is full of incomparable cultural profiles, and you will find access to the best examples--in paintings, sculpture and architecture--of all the fusion of the American and Hispanic cultures.
Now that you know a little bit about Peru, I want to share this video about our Service-Learning Project in Peru. I hope you can enjoy seeing these lovely children as I visited them one morning during their regular day. I am posting some pictures of the classroom conditions before we provided this module last year in 2008; and I will also share some pictures of the first phase of the module that we have installed this year. The power of education is without any question invaluable. So often we take for granted what we have…I hope that as you watch this video and view these pictures you can reflect on how you can make a difference in the lives of others. First, we must start with ourselves. Second, our own local community; and finally, we can help others. Do not underestimate the power of your own education. The University of Nebraska at Omaha is a resource available to all of us to make these differences in ourselves and the others around us. Enjoy the video and the pictures!


Structure 1 Construction (May 2008)

Arturo Miranda, Spanish Instructor-Department of Foreign Languages & Graduate Assistant,
Cox Communications Fellow- OLLAS Service Learning Staff

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Continued Service

On the way home from our second day of service work we gave some of the local teachers a ride on our bus and dropped them off half way home. I discovered that they were going to participate in a demonstration for teachers in Peru, but more specifically, a demonstration of teachers in the shanty town. It turns out that the teachers have not been paid for three months. What seemed so odd to me was that most schools in the shanty towns were built by, paid for and run by community members with minimal, if any financial help from the government. It seems to me that when the economy gets a bit rough, the poor are the first to be pushed aside; education funds being the first to be withheld. Out of sight, out of mind seems to be the attitude of the Peruvian government toward the poor. All the studying and reading in the world could not have brought this into perspective like witnessing it first hand in the slums of Lima.

Jason Melton: BA Political Science & Speech Communication