By Icaro Rebolledo| KF18 | Peru
Meet my new friend Piero and our new castle! We randomly met whilst I was running by the beach and he was just hanging out; yet we immediately identified a fundamental issue uniting us on that Saturday morning… WE WERE ON A MISSION TO HAVE FUN! After a failed attempt to find a football, I asked…“Do you know how to build sand castles!?”; his eyes brightened and I interpreted that as a clear sign that he was an expert at it! So, excited he replied…“No! But you must know!?!?”. Well…I really could not remember me having ever lead a group of people or lead myself to build a sand castle!… but the pressure was on and I needed to perform! So, together we created what you can see (above) is a pretty solid sand structure with direct access to the beach!
Who would have thought this experience was going to, not only boost my self-esteem as I discovered a new talent, but also freshen my perception of my adventures in Peru so far.
For the past two weeks, I have been visiting people from mainly rural areas in Northern Peru, who have taken a loan with Kiva through the microfinance institution I am working at (this is called Borrower Verification process and some fellows are lucky enough to use their charm to get free apricots and vodka! See Ward’s Apricots, Vodka, and Videotape: My introduction to Armenian hospitality). This ‘micro-entrepreneurs’ work in areas ranging from agriculture to construction or services (mainly restaurants or moto-taxis).Whenever I have had the chance to explore how they had come up with the idea, will and guts to set up their business, in every occasion the answer was along the lines of… “I thought about it and then I did it”. How about that! A society that forces people to become entrepreneurs! Like me being ‘forced’ to discover my sand castle building skills to not disappoint a 5 year old. These people have no other option but to believe they must have some talent (whether inherited or freshly discovered and developed) and find the means to give their vision of the future a shape that helps them earn a living. To survive you need to create!
Historically our survival instinct as human beings has proven to be the engine of progress, ideas and inventions allowing people to live longer and ideally better. Yet, nowadays it may also be preventing us from tackling key issues such as climate change, with the assumption (and arrogance) that we’ll figure out a way to survive when the problem becomes worse! Hence, for me it was refreshing to observe how characteristics such as creativity and entrepreneurship, which many in the developed world often strives to attain through reforms in education, express themselves so naturally and postively in places where we often assume education is precisely what is lacking most!
This is not to say that access to a more thorough education is not needed in many of these places or that the people I have met need no support! Indeed, poor education and poor civic culture is often highlighted as one of the top problems Peru faces. Material conditions can also be a problem; as I played with Piero by the beach in front our extravagant castle, I remember suggesting that probably his actual house was very nice as well to which he replied “No, it is not very nice because it is made out of sticks, mud and some cement”. So, there is certainly a lot of potential for reforms and changes to improve the living condition of these people.
However, the visits have help me understand ‘extreme poverty’ in a context which is not defined by wealth or even happiness, but more by a state of peace (or lack of it as result of insecurity, hunger, poor health, lack of basic material resources, unemployment, etc). From this perspective, not one of the clients I have met appears to be particularly less ‘at peace’ than any person I know in Colombia, the US or Europe. In this sense, my experience so far has been extremely satisfying because it reassures me that the pursuit of peace, love and hope as something we can all attain and support! This whether it is through friends and family (See a Recipe for Peace and Love), through being proactive in achieving and helping other achieve their dreams (see kiva.org) or just by building sand castles which with hard work and imagination may become real in the future.
Icaro Rebolledo is a Kiva Fellow, working in Peru this summer with Kiva partner Edpyme Alternativa, a microfinance institution in Northen Peru. Find out how you can become a Kiva Fellow or just more information on kiva and microfinance in general on kiva.org.