WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Distance no barrier to solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Peru


Mary-Ann Greaney
6 November 2012

altMary-Ann Greaney, Archdiocesan Pastoral Support Unit worker and Justice, Peace and Development coordinator, visited Peru after the Rio+20 earth summit in June. As a Presentation Associate, Mary-Ann has a long-standing connection with the Presentation Sisters who live in Peru and organises the sale of the handicrafts the Peruvian women make.

The children with Mary-Ann in the photo, left, are proudly wearing tikis from Aotearoa New Zealand.

In 1994, two Presentation Sisters demonstrated their solidarity with the most marginalised in Peru by moving onto the old city rubbish dump in the country’s capital, Lima, as neighbours.

They made a preferential option for the poor in the same way Jesus did, identifying many abuses of basic human rights including lack of adequate shelter, food and water, healthcare, education and employment.

altThe families among whom the Sisters live know only life on the dump where they have carved out a living for themselves.

Through their contact with the Sisters, they are starting to realise that the sorts of enterprises by which they could earn money are possible only in community with others.

They are learning to appreciate and slowly work towards this goal.

One example is the Peruvian crafts they produce. In Lima the market is flooded with such products which are sold very cheaply.

In collaboration with the Sisters, some of the women making the crafts have developed an international market where there is no middle man and where they can earn a fair price that recognises the dignity of the maker.

New Zealand has been one of their biggest markets and, for a time, NZ was the only source of a return on the crafts which are sold all over NZ.

There are many Catholic teaching documents which call for this kind of solidarity as an example of the reign of God. The Presentation Sisters have built up a presence in the lives of the people of Peru, sharing their way of life and exchanging knowledge and experience to the advantage of both parties.

In the past 30 years families have been forced from their homes in the mountains by the Shining Path guerrillas. who then grow cocaine on the land. The root cause of the problem is years of corrupt government, police and army who have exploited the vulnerable for their own gain.

There is a huge disparity between rich and poor.

When the Sisters first went to Lima, many of the women walked across the city to work as domestic servants.

Both Sisters are trained in holistic therapies and through their influence they have built a Nano Nagle community centre. They have trained a growing number of their neighbours as fully qualified holistic healers.

Now, instead of walking to their domestic work on the other side of the city, they are treating many of the rich women whose houses they used to clean. So the centre is helping to bridge the gap between rich and poor.

As well as being affordable, the treatments do not require medicines which are highly priced and out of reach of the poorest.

There is another centre about five minutes walk away for children. This was built from money a young Irish woman sent after visiting the Nano Nagle Centre. It is called the Heart of Nano.

altThe children of Peru may live in a developing country but, as the images on this page show, they are loved and cared for.

The children may not have the same level of material wealth that most New Zealand children enjoy, but their parents still want the best for them. This shows that poverty cannot be blamed for the high level of violence children experience in this country.

A Children’s Commissioner report has revealed that a quarter of all New Zealand children (270,000) live below the poverty line. Perhaps New Zealand needs to look at the values society places on human dignity at every stage of life.

altPreparing roasted peppers for sale in the market. These women sat in the same position all day long. People in Peru must earn money to survive. There is no government welfare scheme. This is just one example of the enterprises that exist all over the country and the market teems with industry.

altThis taxi driver has probably hired the taxi for the day to make some money for his family.

altA football field where budding Peruvian footballers hone their talents in the dust.

altThis tarsealed playground in a school on the opposite side of the city is in an equally poor area. The children would live in the shanty town on the hill (below) whereas the football field, above, is on a disused rubbish dump.

altA typical shanty town where reinforced corrugated cardboard homes (it never rains in Lima) are being replaced by more permanent brick structures. Water is so far available only to the homes on the lower slopes. The women in the houses higher up must still carry water for their families’ needs.

altThis family home also houses an enterprise selling a range of goods, much like a New Zealand corner dairy.

altA cityscape showing the dry dirt on which the shanty town is built but, despite the lack of rainfall, a green belt is visible in the distance. This is where sewage is disposed of. The town is on the edge of the Pan-American highway that runs from Argentina at the bottom of South America through the Central and North American up to Alaska. Titles to properties are always at risk from highway expansion. Since 1994, the Presentation Sisters have had to move four times without compensation..