Photographers' Blog

Living the Peruvian dream

June 12, 2014

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.

Carpenter Antonio Abad poses in his workshop in Gosen City, a slum that began years ago as an informal settlement in the Villa Maria del Triunfo municipality  on the outskirts of Lima,  March 18, 2014. Abad arrived in Gosen City in 1995, when it was just a settlement, and began helping neighbors build their homes and now has a factory that makes windows, doors, and furniture. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

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.

Honorata Huaman poses with cakes and soy juice she sells in Gosen City, a slum that began years ago as an informal settlement in the Villa Maria del Triunfo municipality  on the outskirts of Lima,  April 10, 2014. Huaman makes a living selling cakes, and uses most of her profits to help needy schoolchildren in the neighborhood. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

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].”

Lucia Liaza, 50, poses in her market stall where she sells food and spices in Gosen City, a slum that began years ago as an informal settlement in the Villa Maria del Triunfo municipality on the outskirts of Lima,  April 10, 2014. Liaza came from the violence-torn city of Ayacucho 20 years ago, but says that just recently has she been able to afford a few luxuries that she couldn't before. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

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.

Victoria Ochante, 67, poses in front of her new home in Gosen City, a slum that began years ago as an informal settlement in the Villa Maria del Triunfo municipality on the outskirts of Lima,  April 10, 2014. Until two years ago Ochante was a garbage picker, combing Lima's trash for items to sell to recyclers. Now with her savings and her daughters' help she retired from that and spends her time taking care of her grandchildren. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

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).

Fabiola Tuesta, 54, poses in her beauty salon in Gosen City, a slum that began years ago as an informal settlement in the Villa Maria del Triunfo municipality on the outskirts of Lima,  April 10, 2014. Tuesta said that not long ago nobody in Gosen had money to spend on luxuries like hair styling. Now she charges the equivalent of $1.79 for a cut and is the only hairdresser in the neighborhood. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

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.

Teodora Martinez poses in her green grocery shop in Gosen City, a slum that began years ago as an informal settlement in the Villa Maria del Triunfo municipality  on the outskirts of Lima,  March 21, 2014. Martinez is one of the original founders of the market after emigrating here from the highland city of Huancayo. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

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!”

Dorila Gallardo poses in front of her new home in Gosen City, a slum that began years ago as an informal settlement in the Villa Maria del Triunfo municipality on the outskirts of Lima,  April 10, 2014. Gallardo recently managed to build her home after more than 20 years washing laundry in the day and selling sweets and cigarettes at night. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

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.

Maria del Pilar Condorcule poses in her organic garden in Gosen City, a slum that began years ago as an informal settlement in the Villa Maria del Triunfo municipality  on the outskirts of Lima,  March 19, 2014. Condorcule reclaimed the land for her garden from a garbage dump and is now planting vegetables with her neighbors. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

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.”

Comments
One comment so far | RSS Comments RSS

This article is wrong. It is basically impossible to make s/1 per day. Minimum wage is S/20 per day. I see beggars on the street make that much in 5 minutes at each intersection. This author has no grasp of the reality of Lima. Which is, a big struggle for the poor. And really horrible to live in without social capital.

Posted by kitleen | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/