paran_blind
Paran is a small community that rests at the foothills of the Andes in Lima, Peru. It is an isolated little area surrounded by mountains and home to only 300 people, and one in eight of those people are blind.

The unusual rate of blindness in Paran was discovered about two years ago when a mining company sent a team of doctors to the area as an outreach effort. Most of the Paranos had never visited a doctor before then, and therefore had no one to report the condition to although they understood it was abnormal.

The blind and their families were hoping for treatment or glasses to cure the affliction but they were given an even more complicated prognosis. Doctors found that the condition was caused by a genetic mutation in the X chromosome. This means that women can carry it, but men are more likely to express symptoms.

The condition works by knocking out cells in the retina like pixels in a screen. Victims experience blurriness in their vision that gradually worsens until all sight is lost. Onset takes place between the ages of 10 and 40 and the ability to see at night is lost early on.

While the discovery of the disease, named retinitis pigmentosa, was a breakthrough for the people of Paran whose ancestors have dealt with the condition for over a hundred years, many feel that they were given life-changing information and then abandoned.

The discovery of the disease two years ago brought a lot of attention to the area by doctors and journalists alike. When the doctors left and Paran became yesterday’s news, the people were left without a cure and a bad reputation. What was once known as a village with sweet peaches became the town of the blind.

Even to this day the people of Paran carry a stigma and are treated as outcasts by the surrounding areas. They are unwanted out of fear of contaminating other populations and told to move far away if they choose to leave their community. The women of Paran are avoided as spouses out of fear they may pass the disease onto their children.

However, despite what may seem like bleak circumstances, the Paranos persist with amazing vigor. With no government assistance or facilities fit to accommodate blindness, the men in the area prepare for a life of darkness before total blindness sets in. People like Lorenzo, an elderly man with nobody to care for him, make the two-hour trek up and down the rocky hills they live on to the village center every day on their own.

Another man named Agapito Mateo and his two brothers are all blind. Agapito is a pastor and a farmer who never stopped tending to his peaches after losing his sight. He thanks God for his ability to continue working but insists that those less fortunate need government assistance. Meanwhile, people like Agapito work to uphold the reputation that Paran may be home to a good number of blind men, but they also grow really sweet peaches.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Oscar Durand, PRI, YouTube

President Ollanta Humala announced a change in the drug policy. Placing on hold the forcible eradication of coca plants in the Vrae area, a valley noted for its cocaine production from the coca plant, Humala has pushed forward the policy of crop substitutions.

The announcement follows the dismissal of the president’s drug czar, Carmen Masias. The decision signals a reversal in Peru’s approach to the drug production in the Vrae region. Earlier this year, Masias had announced a joint effort of militarized eradication that would be half-funded by the United States.

The previous policy was heavily opposed by the farmers in the region, resulting in protests and threats of resistance. Critics of the policy stated that such efforts would only serve to benefit Shining Path rebels by turning the coca plant growers against the authorities.

The coca plant functions as the region’s only cash crop and many livelihoods are dependent upon the plant. In 2013, the government eradicated 23,947 hectares (One hectare is approximately equal to 10,000 square meters,) a quantity that made little difference once farmers quickly replanted new coca plants.

The valley contains approximately 12,000 families dependent on the coca plant and 300 labs that produce semi-refined cocaine, as well as comprising 54 percent of Peru’s total coca crop production.

Humala has committed $214 million to building roads to help the region ship alternative crops to markets. In addition, the government hopes to reduce the chemicals required to manufacture cocaine.

Although the Vrae region will no longer see forcible eradication, the policy will continue in other parts of Peru. The government aims to eradicate 23,000 hectares in 2014, a decrease from the original goal of 30,000 hectares.

In 2012, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration named Peru the largest cocaine producer, surpassing other cocaine producing countries such as Colombia and Bolivia.

As a component of the U.S. drug war, Peru received $100 million from the U.S. government to combat drug production — half of the U.S. aid that is provided to Peru.

The changing policy of Peru may indicate a growing sentiment in Latin America toward the ravages of the drug war.

Uruguay has become the first Latin American country to legalize marijuana and Bolivia utilizes a voluntary reduction program. Guatemala and Colombia also have been backing changes to the drug policy despite few actual changes to policy.

Critics of the drug war condemn the innocent loss of life that has resulted from the war. Colombia has lost over 15,000 lives, many innocent victims, over the course of its 20-year drug war.

In addition, many believe the influx of funds that are used to combat cartels and drug production could be better used to reduce poverty. For many of the farmers that grow the coca plant, its production is the only crop that provides enough funds to survive.

– William Ying

Sources: Associated Press, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal 1,
Photo: The Economist

Education in Nicaragua
A brief description of Peruvian society is important to understanding the current state of education in Peru. Discussed below are key facts about Peruvian society.

  • The general population is around 30 million
  • 22 percent of the population lives in rural areas
  • 25.8 percent of the population lives in poverty at $2 a day (PPP)
  • According to the GINI Index, Peru ranks 25th for highest income inequality in the world
  • 85 percent of the population has improved drinking water sources
  • The unemployment rate is 9.5 percent
  • 34 percent of children ages 5 to 17 work in the labor force
  • The literacy rate is 90 percent
  • The main exports are minerals like gold and copper
  • 2.7 percent of the GDP is spent on health care

It is apparent that Peru has developed in some areas better than others. To see more comprehensive information on Peru, as well as country comparisons, go to the CIA World Factbook.

 

A Closer Look: Education in Peru

 

The system of education in Peru is somewhat similar to that of the United States. It has basic education (ages 3 to 5 years old), primary (ages 6 to 11 years old) and secondary (ages 12 to 16 years old), all of which are free. However school is only mandatory from ages 6 to 16 years old. There is higher education, but it is not mandatory or free, however, they do have scholarship programs.

Education in Peru has been expanding. The numbers were not all together low to begin with, but since 2005, enrollment has increased to 72 percent for ages 3 to 5 years old; the 6 to 11-year-old age group is at 97 percent and the 12 to 16-year-old age group is at 91 percent enrollment. However, these numbers do not tell the whole story. As stated earlier, 34 percent of children ages 5 to 17 are in the labor force. How can so many be working and going to school at the same time? It would seem that children may be enrolled at school, but do not actually go. Enrollment rates do not equal attendance rates.

Data taken from the National Institute of Statistics shows that since 1994, spending on education has quadrupled. However, Peru only spends 2.8 percent of the gross domestic product on education, which is one of the lowest in the world. It is hopeful to see the increase in spending over such a short period of time, but it is clear the Peruvian government can spend more on education.

There are problems with educating the indigenous population, as bilingual education is often not funded. Almost 46 percent of indigenous students are not provided education in their native language. Problems also arise when trying to educate the rural population. It is often hard for rural students, especially girls, to get to a school, as they come from isolated areas.

One of the biggest reasons Peru might spend more on education is the quality. In 2009, the Program of International Student Assessment ranked Peru near the bottom of the 65 countries studied for reading comprehension and science, while being second to last in math. Spending money is not enough by itself though. Money can be spent in productive ways. For example, in 2012, the government spent $225 million on 850,000 laptops and gave them to schools all over the country. The American Development Bank found that this laptop program did not increase the students’ levels in math or reading.

For children 7 years of age, only 13 percent reached required math levels and only 30 percent reached required reading levels. The laptops did not increase motivation or time spent reading and completing homework assignments.

Since 2003, the number of students at private universities has doubled and in public universities it has increased by 12 percent. This substantial increase in private education shows that the more privileged students are gaining access to higher education. As public university is not free, it is harder for those without money to access it. This makes sense considering Peru has one of the highest income inequalities in the world.

On the surface, it seems as though education in Peru has improved over the last decade. Literacy and enrollment rates are up as well as educational spending. However, when you look deeper, the quality and equal access to education is another story entirely. Increasing spending on education is a must, but investment in education needs to be done properly by way of researching effective policies, government organization, institutional change and societal support.

– Eleni Marino

Sources: UNESCO, CIA, Iberoamerican Universities Universia, INEI, Peru This Week, World Bank 1, World Bank 2, IPS News, The Economist, ICEF, UNICEF
Photo: Friends of Chimbote

The Borgen Project begrudgingly gave up a great International Affairs intern, Karen Lee, in January. After her internship, Karen moved to Peru to work at a nonprofit. She was a wonderful addition to our Seattle team and her enthusiasm is missed here everyday. Karen stays in touch, however, and she sent us these photos to show that The Borgen Project is still on her mind even as she travels the globe. It’s great to see The Borgen Project in Peru!

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Whitney Garrett

Children of Peru Foundation
In 2006, Edouard and Zaralina Ruelle created The Children of Peru Foundation. The two had explored Peru—witnessing the marvelous ruins of ancient civilizations of the ancient peoples. They stood speechless in the magical places of Macchu Picchu and Chanchan, and discovered the beauty in Titicaca Lake and the dense forest areas.While traveling and exploring, it was hard for the couple not to notice and sympathize for many children walking the streets living in poverty. The children were working, not attending school and suffering with disease. Edouard and Zaralina later found out these children lived in dysfunctional families where sexual abuse was common, were victims of child labor and did not have adequate access to healthcare.The couple created the not-for-profit organization in the United States, and began raising money to help finance NGOs in Peru who were dedicated to helping impoverished children in Peru. The Foundation has a six-person board of directors who meet regularly to develop policies and check on progress.

The organization’s mission statement is as follows: “The Children of Peru Foundation is dedicated to building a better future for poor children in Peru. We raise funds to make grants to a select group of non-governmental organizations working in Peru to provide better healthcare and education for poor children.”

One such organization funded by Children of Peru Foundation is a French organization called Samusocial Peru. This organization has been working in Huaycan, an impoverished neighborhood near Lima, since 2005. They utilize two medical mobile units and do rotations in Huycan, looking for children who need medical services. Their services include educating parents on hygiene practices, and help dysfunctional families aiming in large part to end child abuse. Also noteworthy, the Foundation worked with this organization to develop a program to fight tuberculosis, as well as rebuild the high school in Huycan.

Another organization Children of Peru Foundation funds is called Medical Missions for Children (MMFC). MMFC is U.S founded, and seeks to provide free surgery and dental services to poor children worldwide. They organize an annual mission to Cuzco, Peru to provide free surgeries, including cleft lips and palates, as well as microtia, to impoverished children.

The Children of Peru Foundation clearly impacts the lives of Peruvian children struggling with family issues, poor health care and lack of education, through financial assistance.

– Laura Reinacher

Sources: UNICEF, Children of Peru

Soap_Box
A mother’s typical question to a child, “did you wash your hands?” may have seemed like a pesky reminder when growing up, but research shows that hand-washing is one of the most important and live-saving habits that can be instilled in a society. Hand-washing with soap has been shown to reduce the incidence of diarrhea by almost one half and of acute respiratory infections by roughly one third.

Since hand-washing is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce deaths of children under five from diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia – possibly by up to 70% -, the global health soap brand Lifebuoy is teaming up with USAID to create a neonatal program designed to raise awareness of the link between newborn survival and hand washing with soap.

The program targets new mothers and birth attendants through antenatal clinics and health workers. The campaign also uses innovative videos to appeal to the mother’s maternal instinct by communicating the message “hand-washing helps your child survive.” Persuasive advocates such as the Indian actress Kajol also support the cause and help generate awareness of the importance of hand-washing, especially after having used the toilet or before preparing food.

Another initiative which aims to modify everyday behavior is the Global Scaling Up Hand-washing Project, supported by the World Bank in countries such as Peru, Senegal, Tanzania, and Vietnam. These interventions found that while will and motivation to change habits might be present, hand-washing is also dependent on the ease of access to both water and soap. In this way, the program has aimed to make changes in the way soap and water are accessed in households.

The initiative has also found that in countries such as Senegal, men can also play a critical part in the behavior-changing process. Since they are seen as the role-models or leaders of their households, future interventions will also incorporate campaigns that include or are aimed at men.

– Nayomi Chibana
Feature Writer 

Sources: USAID, World Bank
Photo: Old Picture of the Day

Conga_Gold_Mine_Peru
It’s been almost two years since “the guardians of the lake” started fighting against the Conga Gold Mining Project in the Cajamarca region of Northern Peru. The reason they are fighting is simple: water. Perol, the great lake of Cajamarca, is the source of all agriculture in these mountainous regions, as it flows into all the river springs and lakes further down in the mountains, supplying water to crops and animals.

“They want to make of Perol a huge crater, but we won’t let anyone come close,” warns Maritza Bolanos, an inhabitant of the village of Sorocucho, near the lake. In Peru, the resistance from those who live there is known as “the guardians of the lake.” Approximately 40 villagers are always on the site to ensure that no engine comes close to the lake. According to Maria Teresa, another farmer, they relieve each other every three days, to ensure that the lake is never left without surveillance.

“Everything would dry up,” German Sangay, the mayor of Combayo, said to the Huffington Post, if Conga is not halted. For instance, the plan projects to extract 200 tons of gold situated under the lake, and would thus involve destroying four mountain lakes within a periphery of 11.5 square miles (3,000 hectares). Although leaders of the project assure that they will rebuild four reservoirs to replace the lakes, the mayor and inhabitants of surrounding villages are not convinced.

Nearly 4,000 farmers rely on the 30 different springs into which the lake divides to grow corn and potatoes and raise cattle and sheep, according to the Huffington Post. Fearing for the survival of their activities, resistance to the project has been acute, with five people killed in recent months when the police fired on the protesters, leading the Peruvian authorities to declare a state of emergency.

The project, blocked by the lake guardians since 2011, seems unlikely to come to fruition in the near future. The results of a recent Ipsos-Apyo survey are clear: 78 percent of Cajamarca residents are against the project, while only 15 percent approve of it. With an error of five percentage points, the poll results are a sure sign that protest and occupation of the site is unlikely to stop.

– Lauren Yeh
Sources: Le Monde, Newmont, Huffington Post 
Photo: Demotix

Jim Yong Kim
CARABAYLLO, Peru — This week, the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, returned to the small village of Carabayllo in Peru, where he has been working for many years to reduce Tuberculosis. Kim co-founded the health NGO, Socios en Salud (SES), in 1994, and has since served an estimated population of 700,000 inhabitants of small shantytowns around the capital, Lima. A sister organization of Partners in Health (PIH), the history of SES provides a poignant lesson on fighting poverty.

When SES was founded, its main focus was primary healthcare, but this changed when a Boston priest working in Carabayllo died of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). President Kim launched an investigation, which soon found many others in the region suffering from drug-resistant TB. From there on, the organization came up against many challenges.

The government initially refused to treat the TB patients, and when they did agree, the costs were huge. After securing funding from a Boston philanthropist, 75 people suffering from MDR-TB were treated. In such a poor community, this was almost unprecedented. Only in Haiti had a small group of people been successfully treated in a similar setting. But, after four months of treatment, 90% of the patients in Carabayllo no longer had infectious TB, and it was this success that led the World Bank to support MDR-TB treatment in the developing world.

President Kim visited the small village in Peru, and made acute observations about the needs of the community, acknowledging that the fight against MDR-TB was not only a medical problem, but a social justice problem, too. Jamie Bayona, co-founded of SES, said of President Kim “his approach was fixing the problem from the root, not just from what was bothering them on the surface. Socios treated people, and also offered counseling, job training, and food packets.”

This represented a learning curve for both President Kim and the World Bank. Kim said in an interview that the World Bank is not just about financing and macro-economic policy, but also about working in communities like Carabayllo to address issues of poverty, and find lasting solutions. In addition to treating people with MDR-TB, SES took the decision to go one step further – to provide food, shelter and emotional support. “Doing all those things was a litmus test, a test for society. If [societies] could do that, my goodness, what else could you do for people and for the world?” Kim concluded.

– Chloe Isacke

Source: World Bank