Student Profile: Grad Student Interns with Children in Lima, Peru
Imagine children who are younger than college students, but their clothes are torn, their stomachs are empty, their wallets are thin, some are addicted to sniffing glue, some are sexually exploited, and their home is the street. Now imagine a place that will accept these children with open arms and help build an individual life project for each child. This place is called Generacion– where Dana Leon visited in Peru.
Leon is a 27 year old grad student at USF whose passion is children and social justice. She is a strong individual with a kind heart who had the opportunity to do an internship with Generacion and research their work for her thesis paper. Generacion is an organization in Peru centered in Lima that gives children a home and an opportunity to learn skills in order to live out their life goals.
Leon spent two months with this organization learning about it and participating in the outreach work. The first month she spent with the director of the organization, Lucy Borja, to learn what Generacion does. She also spent this time doing some translating for a group of guest visiting from England. After she learned the concrete information from Borja, Leon spent her time with Karla Vera, the psychologist of Generacion, working on the outreach aspect.
Her days would start around 10:00 a.m. in the streets of Lima, going to different districts to visit the children. In these districts Vera would approach children she knows to ask how things are going, in a way checking up on them to see if they are okay and if they need anything. These children are both girls and boys ranging from the ages of five years old to nineteen years old, with a few exceptions. They went from district to district, talking to kids and maybe meeting new ones. It is basically like keeping tabs on the children they know: the ones living in the streets, and the new children that arrive. Leon explained that these children are here because their home is not safe. They are abused by family members or others within the household and want freedom. These first couple of weeks were surreal for Leon as she was taking it in, she says, “I had no idea what to expect when I went to Peru. It’s something that we may hear but don’t pay much attention too, so you’re not going to know what to expect and that’s exactly what happened.” As time went on, she witnessed more and more of how these children live on the streets.
While Leon was working in Lima with Vera, they came across a girl about 19 years old. She was being sexually exploited. Her job was prostituting on the streets. Leon and Vera tried to tell her about an offer at a restaurant as a waitress, but as soon as they mentioned how much it paid, she declined the offer. She said she can make five times that amount in one night on the streets. There are more girls in Lima who are experiencing lifestyles like this and more kids working along side them in the streets, trying to make a living. Leon saw children who have to beg for food, prostitute themselves, sell candy to make a living, or go to bed with their stomachs empty and rumbling with hunger. These were the moments when Leon said: “Stop crying and stop pitying yourself because here’s an eight year old who has worked and made a living selling candy and in a way is independent. It’s incredible what these kids can teach you because they have to grow up so fast,” she said. She explained that it was important to put herself aside, because, “it’s not all about you, we sort of live in a society where its me, me, me and I come first. When really, lets look at the people around us, how are the people around us living?” That’s what Generacion tries to do, is put themselves aside and help these children. The children also do this for one another living on the streets. They’re like a family out there and always have each others’ back no matter what.
Leon spent a month on the streets learning what Generacion does and working on reaching out to the children, but the second month she spent the majority of her time helping at one of the homes Generacion created. Her days would start at about 1:00 p.m. and she would go to Casa(house) San Bartolo where a group known as the “surfing tribe” lives and operates together as a family. The youngest is Moises who is about five years old and the eldest is Lupe, who is 19 years old. It was a slow start for the kids to get used to Leon, but as time went on she started to build relationships with these kids. She explains: “First I was kind of watching and seeing what the dynamic of the house was and also getting to know the kids so that they could trust me and let me in. It’s one thing to let me into the house and another to sort of let me into their family, because that’s what they are, they’re a family.” They gradually started asking for help from her over time and invited her to be a part of the family.
She would get the kids ready to do their homework, help them with homework, make sure their hands are washed for dinner, mediate and resolve conflicts, and sometimes help in the kitchen. She would also tutor the head of the house, Lupe, to help her get better at english. Spending this month with the kids moved Leon in an unexpected way.
Leon explains how this trip was a very humbling experience for her because she met these children and heard their stories. She says, “regardless of everything that they’ve lived through on the streets, or at home with abusive parents, or abusive family members, or living on the streets with torn clothes and not having food to eat, and all kinds of things, life wasn’t over for them.” She said that the kids never seemed to pity themselves, mainly because, “[they] are so resilient, especially this group of kids, they are not easily pushed down. They get back up and one of the things that I saw was this hope. This hope that life doesn’t have to be this way.”
Leon is now continuing her research and internship with Generacion by trying to find funding for Generacion with fundraisers and grant writing which involves much time, work, and translating. Not only is she continuing her internship, but Leon is also writing her thesis paper on Generacion and the work they do. She wants to show the world that this is a successful model that should be brought to other cities in the world because Generacion does not just throw these kids in a home. They give them a life project, they give them love, they give them affection, they give them respect, and they give them hope.
If you’re interested in helping the street children of Peru, Leon suggests going to Peru to meet them. She says that Generacion will accept any visitors. Another option is to go on the Immersion trips offered by the University Ministry. If none of these work, see what social injustice is happening in San Francisco.
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