Peru’s Moving Past

Once, Quechua people were invisible. Then they were victims. Those who survived were marginalized.

From 1980 to 2000, families in the Andean highlands were easy prey for Shining Path terrorists and the military. Both claimed to fight for them even while they killed them: peasant or terrorist — what’s the difference?

Good has emerged from the horror. With World Vision standing with them, Quechua have become citizens. They’ve found the courage to speak truth. Today, they are part of Peru’s future.

Tales of Terror
The history of highland community Carhuahurán rests with Feliciano Ramirez Rimachi, 50.

Tales of Terror

Feliciano Ramirez Rimachi bears witness with his hands — gnarled, beaten hands, each missing a finger, gripping a worn Bible.

They tell of the day in 1988 that he pulled up a Shining Path flag — red, the signature color of the Maoist group — from the earth of Carhuahurán, his highland Andean village in Huanta province. The terrorists, anticipating this, had planted explosives around it.

“I heard a sound like a match striking,” he says. “I tried to throw the bomb away, but it exploded.”

The act made Feliciano a war hero. Then he became a mayor. But his abiding purpose is maintaining his community’s memory.

He tells their story — a story of resilience. He has told it over and over, to visitors, journalists, and researchers. It’s important to tell it right.

“We were living around death every day, afraid of terrorists and soldiers,” Feliciano says. To ward off the mountain cold he shoves his hands deep into the pockets of a jacket that was once trimmed with leather, now worn off.

He starts when the Shining Path first came in 1978. “They were a group of students from the University of Huamanga,” he says. “They didn’t come to kill. They came to make people know the Shining Path doctrines.”

The brutal tactics of masked soldiers are shown in this museum retablo, a traditional Andean art form.

The brutal tactics of masked soldiers are shown in this museum retablo, a traditional Andean art form.

The students annoyed people at a festival, and authorities whipped them. Two years later, on Christmas Day, the rebels — now enforcing their ideology with guns — killed seven people. “The seven people were the ones who had whipped the students,” he said.

There were more killings that year, and by 1980, villagers were terrified. “We slept in the mountains. There was nobody in Carhuahurán during the night,” Feliciano says. “We hid in caves.” Villagers formed rondas campesinas, patrols to watch out for terrorists.

Similar events played out all over rural Ayacucho, one of Peru’s poorest regions. Shining Path leaders, who came from this area, claimed to represent the disenfranchised indigenous people. But theirs was a zero-sum game: Join them or die.

The military moved in, but instead of protecting villagers, they brought more bloodshed. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, armed forces committed widespread human rights violations under the banner of crushing terrorism.

Faces of the courageous members of ANFASEF, a women-led association, remind visitors to the Museum of Memory to never forget what happened to their loved ones.

Faces of the courageous members of ANFASEF, a women-led association, remind visitors to the Museum of Memory to never forget what happened to their loved ones.

In Carhuahurán, where they set up a post, “Soldiers became like the boss,” says Feliciano. “We couldn’t work the land. We had to support the military base with wood and food.

“We had to help look for terrorists, and the soldiers made us go ahead of them,” he says. “We were closer to death than anybody.”

Feliciano, an evangelical Christian, took comfort in knowing God was with him. The words of Genesis 28:15 — “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go” — became his favorite Scripture.

And yet Feliciano, like many in Carhuahurán, didn’t go. They stayed, surviving both the terrorists’ attacks and the military occupation.

His story is about their strength. His hands testify to the cost.

About 78 miles away — and many hours of driving on mountain roads — in the regional capital, Ayacucho city, another group focuses on remembering.

The National Association of the Families of the Kidnapped, Detained, and Missing of Peru (ANFASEF) started as a group of women who just wouldn’t stay quiet. Their husbands and loved ones had been arrested, murdered, or — that terrible word — disappeared. They marched and demanded answers, despite the danger in doing so in the 1980s.

The group created a Museum of Memory that uses photographs, traditional art, scene recreations, interactive exhibits, and artifacts to convey atrocities committed by all perpetrators.

The result is a visual history of the Shining Path era, elaborated by the thorough narration of an ANFASEF member. You hear about the slaughter of more than 100 people in Putis, gunned down after soldiers ordered them to dig a trench, supposedly for fish. You learn about the execution of six men whom soldiers dragged out of a church service in Callqui and shot while the rest of the congregation were forced to keep singing. You see a recreated cell in the Huanta soccer stadium, used by the military to torture suspected terrorists.

Empty clothes, donated by relatives, represent missing men, women, and children.

A woman’s written testimony explains the significance of a little metal pot, given to her by a soldier after he was done feeding his dog with it. “If this little pot had life, it would tell everything,” she writes.

An exhibit called “Two Faces of Death” features a twin display of traditional dioramas detailing the horrors. On one side, set in a red design, those committed by terrorists: beheading, stoning, killing village authorities. On the other side, in green, are crimes by soldiers: tossing people from helicopters, burning bodies in ovens, killing innocent family members.

Death had two faces during the Shining Path era: terrorists (red) and the military (green) — with Quechua villagers caught in between.

Death had two faces during the Shining Path era: terrorists (red) and the military (green) — with Quechua villagers caught in between.

The ANFASEF women speak for the missing and the victims who, all these years later, are exhumed from shallow graves, their remains returned to family members.

Of the nearly 70,000 people killed from 1980 to 2000, three-fourths were indigenous or Quechua-speaking people.

Para que no se repita,” the museum tour concludes. So this never happens again. That, after all, is the point of remembering.

The survivors tell their stories. It’s important to tell them right.

Women Out Front
Gladys Condor, 47, runs a thriving business at the Huanta Sunday market.

Women Out Front

In a gathering of community leaders in Huanta, the provincial capital, one thing stands out. They’re nearly all women.

Some wear traditional Quechua garb such as pleated skirts and fedora hats over their braided hair. A few have babies strapped to their backs with colorful manta cloth. The women smile shyly and laugh behind their hands.

But when it’s time for introductions, they stand straight and proud as they say their names and titles.

Once, Quechua women stayed in the background. An unexpected consequence of their lives being turned upside down during the Shining Path violence is a new, out-front role in society.

It was by necessity. Families who had fled their rural villages had to start over in this unfamiliar city. There was so much to do.

Gladys Condor, 47, says she didn’t see herself as a leader “even in my dreams” when she first arrived in Huanta as a young mother. “I was shy. I didn’t participate in anything. I didn’t give my opinion or complain."

But in 1998 she was elected president of the Mother’s Club, an organization for women in 17 urban neighborhoods.

Gladys found a champion in Maritza Flores, World Vision’s project coordinator. A dynamo and devout Christian, Maritza mentored women as they stretched beyond their comfort zone.

Maritza also emphasized that in God’s way, women and men work together to improve their children’s lives. Workshops with scriptural grounding led couples to change their dynamics.

It worked for Gladys and her husband, Emiliano Perez, 51. “In Peru, we have a problem with machismo,” Emiliano says. “I was like that. In the workshop, I learned to be a good husband. I encouraged my wife to be a leader.”

With only a fifth-grade education, Gladys went on to serve as vice president for her neighborhood, Hospital Baja, and was twice elected president of the parents’ organization.

Thanks to role models like Gladys, young women now naturally lean into leadership.

Karen Yuliana Diaz Curo, 13, and Luana Ramos Diaz, 15, preside over a roomful of squirrelly kids, each taking a turn leading a PowerPoint presentation. The girls are officers in the Children’s Parliament, a World Vision program to involve young people in community decisions.

Luana Ramos Diaz, 15, radiates self-assurance — the byproduct of her involvement with World Vision’s Children’s Parliament.

Luana Ramos Diaz, 15, radiates self-assurance — the byproduct of her involvement with World Vision’s Children’s Parliament.

They live just a few doors down from each other in Gladys’ neighborhood. They go to the same high school, San Francisco de Asís. Both are from families displaced by the violence.

The teens are determined to take advantage of all the opportunities before them — opportunities their parents, especially their mothers, didn’t have.

Career is a new consideration. Luana, secretary of the Children’s Parliament and a top math student, shows her ability for sophisticated visual thinking in her school notebooks, full of impressive hand-drawn typography and intricate diagrams.

“I learn better using conceptual maps,” she explains. “You just put in the key ideas.” She has set her sights on being a graphic designer in Lima, Peru’s capital.

Recently Luana visited Lima, one of two teens representing the Ayacucho region in a meeting with government ministers about children’s issues.

This is another unprecedented opportunity for Quechua youth — to speak to the listening ears of the national government.

Karen Yuliana Diaz Curo, 13, strides through her neighborhood with the same confidence that got her elected president of the Children’s Parliament.

Karen Yuliana Diaz Curo, 13, strides through her neighborhood with the same confidence that got her elected president of the Children’s Parliament.

Asked what she would say to President Ollanta Humala if she had the chance, Luana’s quick answer suggests she has already thought about it.

“Peru has an education budget of 4 or 5 percent of the GDP, and I would ask him to raise that percentage,” she says. “And also I would like the politicians who want to get in government not just to promise to do things for children, but to fulfill their promises.”

Karen, who was elected president of the Children’s Parliament last year, ran her campaign on plans to help Huanta’s children avoid typical teen pitfalls: drinking, drugs, sex. The parliament organizes activities and skits to show kids there are better alternatives.

The teen with a quick smile and swinging ponytail says she didn’t expect to win the election against a popular boy. Fun fact: All Children’s Parliament presidents in the group’s 13-year history have been girls.

Her younger brother, Miker, 10, hopes to change that. “I’m going to be the future president of the Children’s Parliament.”

Karen one-ups: “I’m going to be the future president of Peru.”

She’s determined, but another young woman in Huanta may have a clearer shot at the goal. Denisse Pariona Lunasco, 23, has already made it to the mayor’s office as an adviser — the youngest ever elected.

Striding through the Huanta municipal building in a pinstripe blazer, fashionable jeans, and high-heeled boots, Denisse is every inch the confident, modern woman. But it might have been different. “Probably I wouldn’t be here if World Vision hadn’t come [to Huanta],” she says. “I’d be without an education, married, with lots of children.”

Former sponsored child Denisse Pariona Lunasco, 24, and her mother, Aurora Lunasco, represent the past and present of Quechua women in Huanta.

Former sponsored child Denisse Pariona Lunasco, 24, and her mother, Aurora Lunasco, represent the past and present of Quechua women in Huanta.

At home, next to her mother, Aurora Lunasco — clad in the Quechua style — it’s even clearer how far she’s come.

Denisse learned about leadership and perfected her poise as president of the Children’s Parliament 10 years ago. Claiming she used to be shy, she says, “After a meeting, I’d think, I should have said this, I have the answer.” After high school she earned a technical degree and is now working on an accounting degree with a goal to pursue a master’s in finance and auditing.

In the municipal building, she eyes the photos of past mayors and says, “Of course I want to be mayor. I would like to be the first woman.”

This is the fruit of World Vision’s work in Huanta, designed to develop people’s abilities beyond even what they expected of themselves. Between Gladys, who couldn’t even dream of becoming a leader, and young women on their way to top jobs, change is evident in just one generation.

Generational Generosity
Among Saturday activities for 13-year-old Angel Gustavo Luza Lapa: weeding the alfalfa garden.

Generational Generosity

The Lapa household is a feast for the senses.

For the taste buds, there’s fresh honey right off the comb, served on crackers; avocados and oranges picked from the trees; and sliced tuna, or cactus fruit, tasting like watermelon.

For the eyes, there’s a splendid view of the valley on the outskirts of Huanta, the provincial capital, ringed by mountains and blue sky. Chestnut-brown guinea pigs scuttle around in their pen. A yellow Chevy compact is tucked under a carport, near a few colorful moto-taxis the family owns. Inside one of the structures, there’s a cabinet full of medicines, syringes, and medical supplies, enough for the whole neighborhood.

Angel’s family lives in a neighborhood below the towering statue of Jesus on a hillside above Huanta.

Angel’s family lives in a neighborhood below the towering statue of Jesus on a hillside above Huanta.

The scene doesn’t delight the ears, however, for good reason. A sign on a bedroom door in the courtyard reads, “Silencio bebe dormiendo” — appealing for silence during the baby’s nap.

On a Saturday morning, family members are busy, but quiet. Angel Gustavo Luza Lapa, 13, doesn’t wake his cousin as he helps his grandfather, Erineo Lapa, 55, extract honey from the hives. Erineo, encased in beekeepers’ protective clothing, brings out a honeycomb, which Angel places in the extractor, a large metal cylinder with a crank that spins the honey loose.

“You have to do it slowly at first,” Angel explains. “And you do it when it’s hot outside. When it is hot, the honey comes out more easily." 

Pitching in is in the Lapa genes. Three generations live here and work hard, with a lot to show for it.

The family is from Huanta, unlike most of their neighbors in Cedropapa, a neighborhood where many displaced families settled in 1994. But Erineo, his daughter, Nelly, and Angel have all taken up the concerns of the displaced as their own.

Angel and Erineo harvest avocados from their grove. Generations working together have improved life for displaced families in Huanta and empowered young people to take up the mantle of responsibility.

Angel and Erineo harvest avocados from their grove. Generations working together have improved life for displaced families in Huanta and empowered young people to take up the mantle of responsibility.

Erineo started working with World Vision from the beginning, 1996, along with the community organization, AFADIPH. Erineo served as a community promoter, learning to lobby the local government for services.

“First thing I promoted was to ask for a road,” he says. “When I got it, I thought, I have a little grandson, I will ask for a school. We got it.

“Then I said, ‘Okay, we should have electricity.’ After six years we got it, and I even traveled to Lima to talk to the minister of energy and asked him to give it to all the [neighborhoods] of Huanta,” he continues.

“Now with electricity, water, a primary school, I am thinking, I want a secondary school here,” Erineo says. “That’s my vision now. My main aim is education for all boys and girls.”

This is the president of Cedropapa speaking. And it might as well be Dr. Erineo — for all intents and purposes, he’s the local doctor. The medicine cabinet is the continuation of his service as health promoter. He is trained to help families with low-cost procedures that aren’t worth the trip to the city hospital, such as treating wounds and administering stitches and shots. Periodically he rereads the thick training handbooks to keep up his skills.

Erineo Lapa, Angel’s grandfather, keeps a well-stocked medicine cabinet that serves neighborhood families with everything from aspirin to penicillin shots.

Erineo Lapa, Angel’s grandfather, keeps a well-stocked medicine cabinet that serves neighborhood families with everything from aspirin to penicillin shots.

Daughter Nelly, 34, is just as busy. In addition to raising her sons, Angel and Marc Anthony, she’s the president of the Mother’s Club, a community-wide organization. Among other activities, the group cooks and delivers meals for disadvantaged families twice a week.

Nelly is also active with Vaso de Leche, or Glass of Milk, a social assistance program. She helps distribute government-provided milk and oats to malnourished children.

In the past two decades, she has seen a lot of change in Cedropapa. "When I was a child, this was just a field — no electricity, water, no road,” she says. “Now we have all of that. In 10 years, this will be a town.”

Nelly also sees changes in her son Angel. “He is very encouraged now, willing to do many things — big things.”

In keeping with the Lapa leadership trend, Angel is vice president of the Children’s Parliament, a World Vision program equipping young people to become active participants in their community.

The clean-cut, well-dressed teen with a winning smile is confident in the spotlight and comfortable in his own skin.

Of course he is. There were never any harrowing tales around the dinner table of escaping the Shining Path. He never experienced discrimination as the displaced children had, barred from many Huanta schools. His house is superior to those of most of his Children’s Parliament peers.

And yet, the impact of Peru’s troubled past — particularly the influx of desperate rural families — has changed the Lapas. They’ve become public servants par excellence.

Angel sounds committed to see it through, even after World Vision phases out of Huanta after 19 years.

“When the leaders disappear, we will take their places. We will do many things,” he says. “World Vision is closing, but we will continue as AFADIPH. We will do even better things. We will change our communities.”

Long Road
Though the road reaches Carhuahurán today, it’s not a easy ride.

Long Road

The trip from Huanta, the provincial capital, to the town of Carhuahurán — a distance of about 40 miles — is neither swift nor smooth.

Traveling on the Pakchanqa Qano highway cut into the Andes Mountains, vehicles must slow to a crawl around hairpin turns — or stop so that drivers can remove rocks in the road. What would take less than an hour on a flat interstate takes three times longer.

But it is scenic, affording views of the jagged mountain range stretching to the horizon. Cotton-ball clouds shroud their peaks against an ever-changing sky.

Also, the entire trip can now be done by car. That wasn’t the case when I first visited in 1997. The road ended in a village called Purus, about 10 miles away, and we walked a few hours to Carhuahurán.

Animal traffic still outnumbers cars on the mountain byway.

Animal traffic still outnumbers cars on the mountain byway.

Hiking at 13,000-foot altitudes: a one-time adventure for me — just another workday for my World Vision colleagues based in the region. For a few years, this was the only way to reach rural communities with child sponsorship and other programs.

The support was a lifeline to families who remained in Carhuahurán during the violent Shining Path era in the 1980s and 1990s. They could stay because of a military post, but it was a tense arrangement. Soldiers dominated and intimidated people, as I saw for myself in 1997.

A soldier turned up at the compound where colleagues and I were spending the night. He regarded us sternly and said nothing; the point was to register his presence. At 4 a.m., a blaring megaphone and gunshots just outside — military exercises — jolted us awake.

By 1999, the military had gone and the road had come, transforming what I remember to be little more than a collection of adobe-and thatch houses clinging to the hillside.

Now the flat, unpaved byway forms the town core, with houses and other structures crowding around it and electrical wires criss-crossing above.

Residents are on the power grid in more ways than one.

Before closing a sponsorship project here in 2012, World Vision helped local leaders put in place an enduring source of support in the creation of a new highland district, Uchuraccay.

Formalized just last year, this guarantees government funding for Carhuahurán, says Victor Belleza, World Vision’s ministry quality advisor. “The state is going to assign a budget for them every year — for the rest of their lives.”

Victor adds that World Vision will stay engaged: “We want to help so that we can maintain the priority investment in boys and girls.”

Child sponsorship provided this investment for 16 years. Among those who benefitted were Marcos Rafaelos Ccente’s family, whom I met in 1997, and who still live in Carhuahurán.

Marcos met us by the roadside and led us down a steep path to his compound. His wife and daughters were decked out in their Quechua finest: multicolored skirts, flowers tucked into their fedora hats, and quilted shawls held together with decorative pins.

Navigating steep paths between the hillside homes is easy for Silvia Rafaelo Curo, 26, who grew up here.

Navigating steep paths between the hillside homes is easy for Silvia Rafaelo Curo, 26, who grew up here.

When I produced photos from 1997, they gathered around, chattering excitedly as anyone does when they see “blast from the past” photos of themselves. Laughter transcended language as we shared in their delight.

Daughters Sylvia and Ortencia are grown-up mama versions of the girls in the photos.

Silvia, once the smiley girl who showed off her sponsors’ gifts, is 26 and has four children. Ortencia, the cute toddler in a knitted blue cap on the cover of World Vision’s 1997 magazine, is 22 and the mother of a 1-year-old son.

Childcare, church, cooking, and livestock tending fill their days — which is to say they live just like their mother, Juana, 48.

Ortencia Rafaelo Curo’s life looks much like her mother’s, with the addition of electricity and running water.

Ortencia Rafaelo Curo’s life looks much like her mother’s, with the addition of electricity and running water.

If these young women are the measure of change in Carhuahurán, clearly it is not swift. But World Vision helped make development relatively smooth.

As sponsored children, Silvia and Ortencia benefited from community improvements including healthcare, latrines, and farming training. They had their dad to thank for some of this; he was a health promoter and a agricultural promoter, trained to administer medicine for people and animals, and he encouraged families to register their children for sponsorship.

The sisters received cards and correspondence from their American sponsors. “I replied to every letter,” Silvia says.

Silvia and Ortencia went to school, although neither finished high school. But they say that the best change World Vision brought to Carhuahurán is the emphasis on education, and they hope it will pay off for their children. “I would like them to study whatever they want and be somebody,” Silvia says. “To have a career — a teacher or engineer.”

This already seems possible for her 8-year-old daughter, Rosaura, who arrived home from school looking like a girl from Lima in her pink sweater and pants. She toted a pink and purple backpack with a World Vision logo — a hand-me-down from Silvia, who received it as a sponsored child.

Rosaura is the same age Silvia was when I first met her in 1997. How different will Rosaura’s life look like in 17 years?

The world now comes to Carhuahurán — driving in on the road and beaming in on television since the town got electricity in 2007. And as part of the newly minted district Uchuraccay, the formerly slow pace of change in this community is about to accelerate.

Vehicles are still infrequent enough on this thoroughfare that a child or a chicken can easily cross the road.

Vehicles are still infrequent enough on this thoroughfare that a child or a chicken can easily cross the road.

Read about Carhuahurán’s former mayor, Feliciano Ramirez Rimachi in Tales of Terror.

Art of Peace
Artwork surrounds Joel Quispe Diaz, 22, in his college apartment.

Art of Peace

The stoop-shouldered man emerges from a red canvas, urged along by the paintbrush of Joel Quispe Diaz, 22. Past middle age, his expression inscrutable below the brim of his cap, the man seems burdened — not just by the load over his shoulder and the bag hanging at his hip.

Joel adds white to the scruff along the man’s jaw. He’s still concerned with details, definition. The space to the right of the man is empty, waiting for an object or a person to appear on the canvas to fill in the story.

But the artist is in no hurry, working by the muted afternoon light from the single window in the small, second-story room.

“I can express my feelings through my pictures,” says Joel, a student at the Fine Arts School of Ayacucho, a city in the south-central Andes. “It is like making a poem with colors.”

A stack of sketches — pen and ink, charcoal, and pencil — show the range of Joel’s artistic talent and skill.

A stack of sketches — pen and ink, charcoal, and pencil — show the range of Joel’s artistic talent and skill.

The dominant red of his work-in-progress suggests anger or injustice. These and other unpleasant subjects came gratis with his grim childhood.

The violence that claimed his grandparents in the 1980s, while the Shining Path terrorized the countryside, also chased his parents to Huanta, the provincial capital. Nothing was easy for displaced families there. Work was scarce and menial. Children were not welcome in some city schools.

Worse, Joel had to grow up without a father, who abandoned the family when the boy was 3. There was no choice; Joel had to juggle school and work. He lugged packages and goods on a trolley bigger then he was at the open-air Huanta market and sold food on the street.

During what he calls his “year of suffering,” he was sent to the jungle province to work with his father’s brothers in the fields — harsh labor by day; physical and psychological abuse from his relatives at night.

Back in Huanta, things turned around for Joel. World Vision’s programs had started to take effect, empowering displaced families. A group of working children began to meet, and Joel joined, learning about his rights. In 2002 this group became the Children’s Parliament, a leadership-shaping force for Huanta youth.

His mother registered him for sponsorship when he was 7, and an American man became his sponsor. In reply to his sponsor’s letters, Joel drew landscapes.

On a questionnaire for sponsored children, there was a question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Joel smiles at the memory. “I said ‘artist.’”

Another heartbreak almost derailed this dream. When Joel was 16, his mother died.

Luckily, he wasn’t alone. His aunt, Rosario Diaz, took him in.

And World Vision staff member Romulo Aguilar Baca, facilitator for youth programs, came to the rescue with moral support. “He encouraged me to go on despite my mother’s death, to go to my last year of high school,” Joel says.

Joel says of Romulo: “If anything happens, he is beside you.”

It was Romulo who bought Joel his first set of oil paints when he made it to art school.

Joel transforms the pains of his life into his art. One painting describes the Shining Path era through imagery — a Quechua mother’s face, a cross, fire, a body — set against a blood-red background.

A young boy works carrying packages at Huanta’s Sunday market — the same job Joel performed as a child.

A young boy works carrying packages at Huanta’s Sunday market — the same job Joel performed as a child.

Another piece shows a frowning, barefoot girl cradled by a set of abstract, fanciful shapes. It’s part of his thesis project to raise awareness about working children.

“Helping children, that’s my priority,” Joel says. “Because when I see these working children, I see myself reflected in them.”

Unfortunately, young children can still be seen lugging heavy loads in the Huanta market. “There’s a lot to do,” he says.

But at the fine arts school, Joel luxuriates in learning, exploring technical aspects of art and studying the masters. He loves Monet and Picasso; he’s fascinated by the rivalry between the Renaissance greats Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

In the 6-foot-by-10-foot room where he lives near the campus, art supplies, sketches, and completed works nearly crowd out the narrow cot. Here he brings to life the people he has known, pouring out their experiences in paint.

Art is like seeing in reverse. The artist takes something from within himself and makes it visible to others.

The perspective of his slight, soulful young man — who speaks for thousands of silently suffering children — is one his society needs to see.

“Many people say that art is useless, but art has been with man from the beginning,” Joel says. “With a picture, you can make people become aware of many things."

Heaven Clinic
Jhon Quispe Gozme, 24, pores over his Bible.

Heaven Clinic

We prefer it when stories wrap up neatly, along an expected arc.

For example: Through crisis, and with a little help from outsiders, people realize they had the power within themselves to overcome adversity — the basic plot of classic movies such as “The Wizard of Oz” and “Star Wars.”

This happened in Huanta. I saw it unfold between my visits in 1997 and 2014.

I didn’t think that my former sponsored child, Jhon Quispe Gozme, fit that established narrative. Not until I met him the second time.

Before our first meeting in 1997, I learned his family history, which was textbook typical of what happened to Quechua people during the Shining Path days.

His parents, Silverio Quispe Mao and Maria Augustina Condori, grew up in Uchuuymarca village. In 1983, the Shining Path started coming around and herding everyone together for Maoist lectures. Those who resisted were punished; their houses went up in flames.

Afterward, the military would suspect villagers of colluding with the terrorists. In one overreaction, soldiers lined up 16 people and shot them.

Silverio and Maria fled to Huanta with their two sons, just ahead of further violence — their home was burned down after they left. In Huanta, they had more children (eventually 12 total).

Former sponsored child Jhon held onto the letters and photo I sent.

Former sponsored child Jhon held onto the letters and photo I sent.

When Jhon was just a month old, a motorcycle knocked over Maria, who was carrying him on her back, and crushed the infant’s skull and arm.

This struck me as one last Shining Path crime against the Quispe family. It wouldn’t have happened had Jhon been born in Uchuuymarca, a place where you were more likely to be hit by a meteor than a motorized vehicle.

It’s hard to overcome disability in the developing world, where there are few accommodations for the physically challenged. Children with limitations may miss out on school, likely will never land a job. Sometimes parents ensure this bleak fate through neglect.

But when I met Jhon in his home in Accoscca neighborhood, he surprised me. The 7-year-old flashed a big smile missing a few teeth, offered his good arm for a handshake, and bid me good day in high-pitched Spanish.

The many uses of the courtyard of Maria and Jhon’s Huanta house: kitchen sink, chicken coop, herb garden, laundry room.

The many uses of the courtyard of Maria and Jhon’s Huanta house: kitchen sink, chicken coop, herb garden, laundry room.

His love of singing had earned him the title “El Cantor de Accoscca.”

He sang for me, softly at first, standing under a waving clothesline. Encouraged by his audience’s smiles, his voice lifted in volume and pitch. Soon he rocked side to side, shuffling his feet, dancing to his own music.

Later his parents said that he’d graduated from crawling to walking only six months earlier. And now he was dancing.

There was little to pity about Jhon, who radiated an inner light that transcended the poverty and dislocation around him. He went to school, had friends, and played with his siblings. His family cherished him.

I decided to sponsor Jhon after that visit. I hoped to help him with corrective surgeries. Plus, World Vision’s presence in the community was so promising, even just a year along. This story could turn out all right, I thought.

Mainly I just wanted to stay connected to this little boy.

Seventeen years later — our sponsorship several years over — Jhon and I met again, in the same house, along with his mother and a parade of younger siblings.

Jhon is a beloved big brother to siblings William, 12, and Renan, 16.

Jhon is a beloved big brother to siblings William, 12, and Renan, 16.

Jhon’s father, Silverio, was home but not visible. Reluctantly, Maria confided that he was sleeping off a night of drinking. Not a rare occurrence, I gathered from Maria’s quiet weeping.

That, and a few other details, suggested there was no “overcoming adversity” happening here. Though sponsorship had provided medical care for Jhon, a second accident caused additional problems: blindness in one eye and epileptic seizures. Jhon, now 24, never went to high school, and he likely won’t ever hold a job.

But again I felt drawn to a certain quality about him. That inner light, a sense of purity.

Jhon may lack advanced education, but he is curious — a big reader. He has an uncanny memory for dates, and he keeps track of all his family members’ birthdays.

His siblings are still his best friends, with one younger brother pledging to get a job so that he can take care of Jhon.

This young man of faith taught me that the power to overcome isn’t our own.

This young man of faith taught me that the power to overcome isn’t our own.

When I asked Jhon if he goes to church, he said yes. “I go to church on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday.” It reminded me of that old saying: He was in church whenever they opened the doors.

The name of his church is Evangelical Pentecostal Heaven Clinic.

Heaven Clinic: where your anticipation of eternity with Jesus fixes everything.

Doesn’t it, though?

We believe there’s no disability in paradise. No skin color. No urban vs. rural, rich vs. poor. With God we are perfect.

El Cantor de Accoscca sang for me again, a song about “my best friend Jesus” — “You will come back again, that’s why I won’t cry anymore. You saved me, so I sing.” He read aloud from his Bible, his favorite story of obedient Noah in Genesis, holding the pages inches from his face.

Jhon sees full well with only one eye that the power to overcome isn’t our own. We might manage all right in this world by ourselves, but it’s temporary. Only with God is there the hope of heaven — the source of peace.

The story of a physically imperfect boy turns out to have the best ending of all in Huanta.

Comeback Through Chaos
An angel presides over Huanta’s cemetery.

Comeback Through Chaos

Violence, economic crisis, despotism, population displacement — what happened in Peru in the 1980s isn’t unique. It’s happening now around the globe, in the fragile places where World Vision works.

Danger comes with the territory, but for World Vision, serving in Peru had a high cost. In May 1991, two executives, Norm Tattersall and Jose Chuquín, were killed in a machine-gun attack on a Lima street. Shortly after, four Peruvian staff went missing and were never found. Organization leaders feared further loss of life and closed the Peru office. Following the capture of Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán, which turned the tide of the violence, World Vision restarted programs in 1994.

Today, Peru provides proof that a country can bounce back after chaos. It’s one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America. The government has pledged to eradicate extreme poverty by 2021. Most importantly, it’s a safe place for children to grow up.

Humanitarian organizations like World Vision played a significant role in the recovery.

National Director Caleb Meza has guided World Vision in Peru through those eventful times since the office reopened. Among his first hires were Victor Belleza, who started development programs in the highland Ayacucho region, and sponsorship coordinator Aurea Rojas. All three senior leaders, among several others who started in 1994, still work for World Vision in Peru.

They explain how World Vision and child sponsorship helped bring communities back from the brink in post-Shining Path Peru.

Restarting the ministry

CALEB: I never thought [World Vision] would reopen and work again in Peru. The terrorist group was very strong by that time, and everything led us to think that they would take the country.

When the World Vision office closed, we found out that some of the workers were connected with the terrorist group. So [upon reopening] I was very clear that I had to find the right people. But we had a legal obligation with the former staff to hire the same people when World Vision reopened the office. We put an announcement in the newspaper for one week so that former employees could read it and apply to work again. It was a very difficult week for me. No former staff responded to the announcement. So I had the freedom to choose the people of my entire trust.

I worked on an organic proposal for this new stage of World Vision in Peru. I understood that we had to have a different approach than the one we had in the past. We had to respond to the national context. We had to have a Christian understanding of the situation. We had to have an economic and political understanding of the situation.

Difficulty and danger

VICTOR: One of the problems we faced at the beginning was that the armed conflict forced [people] to organize for self-defense. You could say that this was the only objective they had. So the nature of their organization had to be modified. What we found out was that when we addressed various other issues, they were also interested in them. We couldn’t fail to recognize that these people needed to rebuild their lives and their communities and that they had aspirations for their development, for them as well as their children.

What an armed conflict leaves as a consequence is mistrust, suspicion, and doubt. We had to work with all those things and with the people so that they were able to restore their trust. We have to keep in mind that they had been victims, not only from terrorists but from the state itself. It wasn’t about just arriving with humanitarian help — what we had to do was to reestablish reconciliation with this group of people who had been pretty battered.

CALEB: We started the work with the displaced population under the umbrella of humanitarian aid. It wasn’t strategically correct to do this work under the human rights umbrella — human rights were claimed by the terrorists, the radical parts of political society.

Churchgoers were killed in 1984, at the height of the violence. World Vision, too, suffered tragedies — in 1991, two executives were gunned down and four staff disappeared.

Churchgoers were killed in 1984, at the height of the violence. World Vision, too, suffered tragedies — in 1991, two executives were gunned down and four staff disappeared.

The places where we chose to work were very dangerous, so dangerous that no other NGOs wanted to go there. We had to walk for five or six hours to get to those places. We didn’t have cell phones. We didn’t have four-wheel-drive trucks. We didn’t have comfort. But we had a lot of passion.

Sharing faith

CALEB: Many of our staff spoke about the gospel through their lives. When the first community went back to their original place, Victor and a young woman named Norma went with them. They were the only two young city people walking together with peasant people going back to their homes. The path was 3,000 or 4,000 meters [between 9,000 and 13,000 feet] above sea level, under the open sky. The first thing they did after a lot of suffering to get there was to sing an evangelical song, read the Bible, and pray. That as an action of evangelism was more powerful than anything for the Quechua.

Working with displaced families in Huanta

VICTOR: The group that didn’t want to go back to their [villages] was those who suffered a very strong violence impact. So when we decided to work with this population, we had to do it according to their decisions rather than impose solutions. The notion was to help them rebuild their community.

Children from displaced families were only able to study in one school in Huanta. The doors of the other schools were closed to them. There was a lot of exclusion. We had to support the creation of more educational institutions. The community did a lot of the hard work, and we helped them. Now the children are able to study in any educational institution.

A mural in Huanta promises truth and reconciliation. It’s positioned near the city soccer stadium, where the military detained and tortured suspected terrorists.

A mural in Huanta promises truth and reconciliation. It’s positioned near the city soccer stadium, where the military detained and tortured suspected terrorists.

CALEB: When we organized the community, they started to claim their rights before the government. One of the places where we can see that the government paid more attention to provide services of electricity, water, sanitation, and education is Huanta. We promoted education among the sponsored children, who now are able to go to university.

Starting child sponsorship in 1996

CALEB: When the community understood that we were there not to steal their children but to support their development, we could start the sponsorship work.

AUREA: We began to open new projects in the more conflicted parts of Ayacucho, the hardest places. I remember that sponsorship facilitators had so many problems when they [delivered] the bags with the sponsor letters. Sometimes [military] wanted to search or to take their things. The facilitators said, “Take my bag, but not the letters.” The most important thing was the letters from the sponsors.

Long-term impact

CALEB: Through sponsorship, we could increase the self-esteem of children. Children understood that they had dignity, not just in the eyes of Peruvian people, but also foreign families. Children felt they were not only citizens of Peru, but citizens of the world.

AUREA: One principal thing is that children become active promoters of their lives. There are many things they can do to change their environment. World Vision is going to be with them, but they are the protagonists of the change.

VICTOR: What we have been able to build in Ayacucho is hope in the future — hope in change. A lot of people used to think they were designated to live in poverty, in discrimination, and that was going to be the reality for their children or the children of their children. What they are looking at now is different. A change of life is possible to break that curse, generation through generation.

This is what sponsorship can create. It goes far beyond education or health. It’s about the person. It is about the children. You are with them to build their lives and their future. All this has been possible because of voluntary donations filled with hope that sponsors have made, believing that their donation can help transform the world.

End Here, Begin There
Second-graders in Chancay, a community outside Lima, enjoy books in a “toy library.”

End Here, Begin There

Twenty years on, World Vision’s work in post-conflict Peru has borne fruit: lowering extreme poverty levels, improving infrastructure, and equipping community members to advocate for themselves with the government. By design, this work concludes with a transfer of responsibility from World Vision to local leaders.

World Vision’s project in Huanta, the provincial capital, closes in September 2015 after 19 years of child sponsorship-funded community development. A vibrant, ultra-organized association called AFADIPH (Association of Displaced Families in the Province of Huanta), which has been World Vision’s partner since 1996, stands ready to take over.

“We may go on by ourselves because World Vision has taught us when we were babies, and now we are grownups,” says AFADIPH member Erineo Lapa, speaking metaphorically. “We are trained and can lead by ourselves.”

Though it’s still an uphill climb, AFADIPH can build on many positives. As a result of World Vision and sponsorship, the extreme poverty level in Huanta dropped by more than 70 percent. Chronic malnutrition in children under age 5 dipped by 44 percent, while school attendance shot up — especially access to high school, skyrocketing 600 percent.

Like many sponsored children in Huanta, Joe Ramos Diaz, 20, went on to college. “My aim is to form new leaders,” he says.

Like many sponsored children in Huanta, Joe Ramos Diaz, 20, went on to college. “My aim is to form new leaders,” he says.

One of many success stories is Joe Ramos Diaz, 20, a student at San Cristoóbal of Huamanga National University in Ayacucho. When his parents arrived in Huanta after fleeing Shining Path terrorists, only 8 percent of youth completed high school — and college was a distant dream. Thanks to seven years of support from his U.S. sponsor and vastly improved academic opportunities, Joe now pursues a career in agronomy. He hopes to use his skills to help farmers in the rural villages like those his parents fled.

A truism about the developing world is that while there’s marked improvement in one place, there’s dire need in another. In Peru, new sponsorship projects have begun even while Huanta’s wraps up.

About 350 miles northwest, along Peru’s coastline, is Chancay, a district of about 50,000 people where World Vision started El Pacifico sponsorship project in 2011. Although tourists go there to visit a faux castle attraction, many of the residents are poor, living off the informal economy or the fishing industry. Children’s health is generally poor, with three-quarters of kids under age 5 malnourished.

Chancay’s context is different than that of Huanta at the start. For one thing, the people aren’t traumatized by violence, as displaced families in Huanta were. Given its proximity to Peru’s capital, Lima, Chancay is much more urbanized than the dusty highland city Huanta was in the 1990s.

And yet the approach plays out the same: Focus on children’s needs; involve community members; and work for change that lasts.

In this early stage of El Pacifico, 50 volunteers — many of them mothers — are mobilizing to around the issues that most bedevil their children.

Faustina Jaimez, 37, can’t wait to show off what she’s learned in nutrition classes. All morning she has been bustling between her kitchen and covered patio, laying out a spread of pasta salad, spinach potato cakes, ceviche, and cupcakes with chocolate frosting.

The secret ingredient in all of it, even the cupcakes: chicken’s blood. It’s a way to slide iron into meals for her family, including three children, the youngest of which is 9. “The kids can’t tell the taste,” Faustina grins.

About half of Chancay children are anemic. World Vision teaches mothers to boost nutrition using available, often overlooked ingredients. In another neighborhood, it’s anchovies, full of iron and fatty acids, which families traditionally discard rather than eat.

Nutrition workshops helped moms in Huanta as well. Agronomy student Joe Ramos’ mother, Rosario Diaz, became so proficient that she taught other mothers for years — in this way, World Vision’s training becomes sustainable over decades.

Beyond feeding children’s bellies, El Pacifico also feeds children’s minds. Schools are available here (unlike in Huanta in the 1990s), but they are often poorly equipped with the kind of engaging educational materials U.S. students take for granted.

Second graders at Virgin de Candelaria school crowd into a colorful classroom — orange tables, blue walls, shelves painted primary colors. Books and board games are stacked everywhere in this “toy library,” but the books seem most in demand, as the 7-year-olds huddle over picture books.

“They love to read,” says teacher Elizabeth Guerra. “Few kids have books at home. They love this — they want to come every day. They’ve improved in their reading.”

Sponsored child Rosario Trujillo, 7, reads aloud from a book about a Peruvian hairless dog named Chimoc. After she’s done, she fills out a form asking for the book title, plot, how it made her feel, and the book’s message — in this case, caring for the environment.

She’s one of many sponsored children in her class, yet all students benefit from the library.

Jenny and Milagros were elected student government leaders at their high school in Chancay. World Vision is helping expand this “School City Hall” program to other schools in the area.

Jenny and Milagros were elected student government leaders at their high school in Chancay. World Vision is helping expand this “School City Hall” program to other schools in the area.

These bright-eyed kids, missing baby teeth showing in their smiles, don’t have the long view; they just know their school day is a lot more fun. World Vision is just getting started in their community, and U.S. sponsors’ support will last through 2026.

One of these children may well be a future Joe Ramos, striding across a university campus with a professional career in sight.

Then and Now

Then and Now

Following a story over time is a privilege not all journalists enjoy. Thanks to World Vision’s long-term presence in a community — 15 to 20 years — organization writers and photographers can revisit people and places, observing changes and progress.

Since 1997, World Vision magazine teams visited Huanta, Peru, at seven-year intervals. This coverage, in addition to locally generated photography, captures the beginning, middle, and end of World Vision’s sponsorship-funded community development projects in the province.

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