As World Vision wraps up in Ventanilla, community
members continue on the path to success
I. Crackling Yuca
It’s an uncharacteristically cold July morning in Lima, Peru. Through a space in the ceiling, light shines into the kitchen where 18-year-old Eliana is making breakfast. She’s frying yuca that she dipped in a simple egg batter. The carb-rich root crackles in the oil. “I don’t have this always,” Eliana says. “Sometimes it’s scrambled eggs or bread and cheese. Sometimes, I fry cheese.” It won’t be fried, but it’s on the menu: Eliana’s mother, Epifania, comes into the kitchen holding a small block of goat cheese. She bought it at an open-air market, so while her daughter attends to the yuca, Epifania rinses the block beneath the tap.
Eight minutes pass as Eliana prepares the main dish. In that time, Epifania has finished with the cheese and has sliced papaya. She asks about the status of the yuca. “Is it ready? Have you finished, my little girl?” Eliana shakes her head no. Outside the small kitchen, near the dining room table, a cat roams. The family has two, neither of which they’ve named; they’ve only numbered them.
I’m at Eliana’s family’s home today to hang out. When I met her the day before, she said she’s busy. She attends secretary school and her youth group, and has a part-time job as a nanny and a housecleaner. But the young lady agreed to squeeze my questions into her schedule.
Later, I ask Eliana’s mother about her daughter’s name—where she and her husband found it. “We spent nine months looking,” she says. “I saw ‘Eliana’ in a book of names. It’s a soft name. We had gone through a lot until we reached Eliana.” When I look up the meaning, I read that it derives from Hebrew and literally translates as "My God has answered me."
But now, the only right answer is breakfast. Eliana takes two plates of fried yuca to the dining room. On the wall are two calendars, a clock, a poster of Jesus and a framed photo of Mary. Eliana and Epifania sit down, and the daughter says a prayer before they eat: “Thank you for what we have and we pray that we will be supported.”
And they have been, by Canadians. Their whole community, Ventanilla, has benefited from the support of child sponsorship since 1998, the year that Eliana registered in the program. My visit comes three months before all of World Vision’s activities here are due to wrap up. At that point, Eliana will no longer be sponsored. I’ve come to meet some of the people World Vision is leaving in charge—the ones who live in the community; the ones who care deeply about continuing its success and growth.
Eliana’s mom, Epifania, a former World Vision volunteer, at the dining table.
Eliana starts a fire as Epifania watches on.
Eliana and Epifania finish breakfast. Voices from outside on the street and the sound of passing motorcycles gently enter the room, a reminder that there’s much to get done today. After cleaning up from breakfast, Eliana grabs her chocolate-making tools and her coat, and heads off to the loud market, where she’ll buy ingredients to make chocolate later this morning.
II. A Community in Charge
When I visit World Vision’s office in Ventanilla, a block building at the peak of a high hill, most of the rooms are now unoccupied. Ventanilla’s manager, Ronald Llerena, greets me with a smile befitting someone whose community has a list of accomplishments that fits better in a sidebar (see below). I’ve never been to a community that is so close to becoming independent. I wonder about the unknowable—the future.
Ronald is confident, because community partners have welcomed and taken up the responsibilities of running the programs that were possible thanks to sponsorship. They’re the leaders now, and actually have been for a while. For example, one association has been keeping Ventanilla’s “toy libraries”* running without interruption for a year now. What’s more, every program World Vision started was designed for sustainability. Community members are equipped to adapt to unexpected events down the road.
And what’s happened to the sponsored children? Slowly over the last three years, as Ventanilla’s need for financial assistance decreased so did the number of children being sponsored here. Canadians who were sponsoring in Ventanilla were given the opportunity to continue sponsoring children in other communities. It’s a key step in the sponsorship journey and how World Vision continues to reach children, families and communities that are still in need.
* A toy library is an after-school hangout run by children, for children. They also happen to be Ronald’s favourite community accomplishment. “The first toy libraries in Peru were created in Ventanilla,” he says. “The good results inspired all World Vision Peru communities to adapt them to their context.” Ventanilla has 15 of them. At the libraries, kids stay out of trouble, pick up valuable life lessons and have fun doing so. On the day we visited one toy library, most of the fun came in the form of a group sing-along. Eliana had gone to a toy library when she was younger, but stopped going after she joined another World Vision-supported youth group, called Jóvenes Innovando el Cambio. As Ventanilla moved toward the end of its development phase, that group of 20 youths registered itself as an official organization in the municipality.
Eliana goes to the market.
Eliana places an order for chocolate-making ingredients.
III. Chocolate Dreams
After purchasing the ingredients needed, Eliana joins me in the World Vision office. She’s decided that the best place to make the chocolate is the kitchen here. Her youth group, Jóvenes Innovando el Cambio (JIC), or “Young Changemakers,” has used the space before, and since the World Vision office plans to buy today’s batch of chocolate, making it here will cut down on shipping costs (I assume).
Helping Eliana is another former sponsored child, 20-year-old Benji, who’s also in the JIC. One of the group’s activities has been making and selling chocolates. In fact, Eliana first joined the JIC because of her interest in chocolate. Many historians believe that cocoa originated in Peru, which help explains the pride Eliana and many others in the country have in making something delicious from the bean.
Eliana inspects a chocolate mould.
Eliana prepares to make chocolate.
Eliana fills the chocolate mould.
Eliana covers the filling with chocolate.
As Eliana and Benji work, they know that time counts: Eliana needs to be finished by noon so she can head to school. Though she’s learning to become a secretary, she would prefer to be a chef. After she graduated from high school in 2012, she enrolled in a culinary school, but she had to drop out because of an illness. She recovered, but wasn’t able to return to that school.
I ask Eliana if there is a secret to making chocolate and she answers that it requires dedication. She’s considering starting her own chocolate business; Benji might join her in the venture. But for now, she’s JIC’s head chocolatier. Other members sell the chocolate for a Peruvian sol each (about CAD$0.38), which earns half-a-sol profit and goes toward funding JIC’s activities that focus on advocacy campaigns within both the community and nationally. (Over the last decade, Peru has been one of Latin America's strongest economic performers, but the country’s wealth is not shared by all, in sols or in other societal benefits.)
The two finish making the chocolate in good time, and a completely unscientific taste test I conduct hours later reveals that Eliana and Benji really should start their chocolate-making business.
Eliana hangs laundry up on her home’s roof.
IV. Red Pasta
As I said, Eliana warned me she was busy, so when I visit her house before dinner on my last night in the community, she’s not home, but at her part-time nanny job. Eliana’s salary is 300 sols per month (half the minimum salary and about CAD$116). She works Monday to Saturday, four hours per day. Though she doesn’t mind the work, she hopes that in six months she can start her chocolate business. She is putting half her salary away toward that goal; the other half she gives to her parents for room and board.
I’m not expecting Eliana until much later, which is okay since I came to talk to her mom. Epifania is a 50-year-old housecleaner and former World Vision volunteer. She’s preparing dinner, but takes a break to chat. On the menu is Eliana’s favourite: red pasta (ingredients: pasta, tomato sauce, chili and yellow cheese).
Epifania tells me that she and her husband, Carlos, have been married for 27 years. “We have our ups and downs, but we are together.” Eliana is the couple’s second child. Their first, Graciella, was sponsored for five years, then left for Argentina. Recently she returned to live at home, bringing with her her three-year-old son. “He makes the whole family happy,” Epifania says of her grandson.
And how was Eliana growing up? “I cannot complain about Eliana. She’s very responsible,” Epifania says. “When I was working, I could leave her on her own.” Eliana’s grades were always good, too, but Epifania says she was shy. “It made me very happy to see her get involved in the [World Vision-supported] workshops.”
Eliana told me earlier that in these workshops, she learned about child rights, how to make healthy choices and the qualities of a good leader. She also shook off the shy label through sponsorship. “I am not as timid. I feel more confident when I speak.” As well, her friends in the youth group kept her in school, convincing her to not drop out to work as a waitress.
I turn to the topic of Epifania volunteering for World Vision. “I was motivated because I wanted to help the children,” she says. “When you see your child happy, you are happy.”
How did World Vision help her family over the years? Epifania says that when she first came to Lima, she was 12 and lived in an area that was all sand and had no sewage system. That was still how it was when World Vision started working in Ventanilla. She remembers how she and Carlos received cement, bricks, sewage pipes and a toilet to build a bathroom at their home. They also received hygiene education. “This is a nice memory,” she says. “I will always be thankful to World Vision. The washroom is the thing we first renovated. We replaced hay walls with brick walls in our washroom. Once we had the washroom, we could extend our renovations. We have made our house over eight years.”
Eliana’s family sits to enjoy a red pasta dinner.
And what of the sponsors? “I would really like to thank them for many things. They were always sending letters.” Not just to her daughters, but also to other children—Epifania knows, because as a volunteer, she delivered letters from sponsors to the children. “It was beautiful to see how excited a child was when she got a letter from her sponsor.”
Our conversation comes to a close when Eliana returns home. The rest of her family is already at the table. Eliana takes her seat. Red pasta on everyone’s plate. I’m not rushed, but I feel ready to go, to let them catch up on a day’s worth of life. And when I leave, I leave convinced they’re ready too.
A version of this article appears in the Summer 2015 issue of Childview.