Living the Peruvian dream
Gosen City, Lima, Peru
By Mariana Bazo
Life in the settlements on the outskirts of Lima can be very hard, but years of economic growth in Peru have helped benefit even some of its poorest residents. In one shantytown called Gosen City, a cluster of houses that grew up haphazardly around a garbage dump, this change is really starting to show.
Peru has experienced a decade-long boom, and although growth slowed somewhat last year, changes and development continue. The government has pledged to dramatically cut poverty rates, and while it still has a long way to go, around 490,000 Peruvians were raised out of poverty last year, according to official statistics.
I decided to go to Gosen City, which stands high on a hill above the capital, precisely because on previous visits I found it to be a place of extreme destitution. This time, however, I interviewed a group of people who in some ways have seen their lives improve in recent years.
Neighborhood leader Honorata Huaman makes a living selling cakes, but rather than wanting to get rich she does it to help schoolchildren in the area. I asked her why and she explained that as a child she had nothing, but then good people helped her to improve her situation and now she wants to do the same for others.
She has had a hard life. When she was just 9 years old and living in the highland town of Ayacucho, her mother sold her for a sack of rice and another of barley and she was brought to Lima. Later, she had to free herself from an abusive husband, with whom she has four children, and she also had cancer.
But she overcame the illness and now at 60 she is a small businesswoman selling cakes and soya milk. For the first time in her life she currently has a little extra money and she uses it to donate 60 rations of food to preschoolers every day.
Honorata is not the only one who has begun to escape extreme poverty in Gosen City. Little by little others have opened small family businesses, and have gone from just surviving to living a better life.
Lucia Liaza, 50, is one of them. She told me, “Now I can give myself a little luxury that I couldn’t before. We used to work just to eat, earning one sol [$0.36] a day, but now I take home up to 80 soles [$28.50].”
People here invent jobs for themselves: selling candy at night, washing laundry, carrying crates to the market, peeling potatoes, seeking a better life for themselves and their children.
One day I ran into Victoria Ochante, the 67-year-old woman I had photographed in 2012 when she worked as a garbage recycler. Now she has a new house and her daughter finally got a job in Lima. She doesn’t collect garbage anymore, and spends her time taking care of her grandchildren. She told me she’s happier now.
Fabiola Tuesta, 54, is Gosen’s sole hairdresser. She told me it was impossible to open a salon there before since nobody had money to spend on luxuries. Now, however, older women have their hair cut, girls have theirs styled and pay for hair removal. Business is improving; a cut nowadays costs five soles ($1.79).
Teodora Martinez, another resident, wakes up at 3 a.m. to bring fresh vegetables to her shop. The neighbors buy from her every day now, and they purchase more than they did before.
Dorila Gallardo is retired after more than 20 years washing clothes in Lima during the day, and selling sweets and cigarettes at night. She has finally managed to build a real house next to her old one, which would become so humid inside that they had to dry out the floor mats in the sun. As she showed me her new home with pride, she said: “This winter we won’t get sick!”
Maria del Pilar Condorcule, 40, has cleaned up a garbage dump that was in front of her house and with the help of neighbors she has brought in stones to make a small nursery. She grows everything from beets to radishes, potatoes, and lettuce and she says the plants are beautiful.
During one of my visits to Gosen City, I also attended a meeting in the marketplace. Women closed their shops to take part, and discussed the remodeling of the market with a plan that an engineer had brought them. Soon they will have better shops, ground cover, and a parking lot.
It’s clear that the goal of many of Gosen’s women is to work hard at anything, and take home food to their children. I asked Teodora why so many of them in the market live and work alone.
She answered, “Life is hard here, many men couldn’t take it and they left. But we women give our children a future, in whatever way we can. We help each other.”