Children attending the reading clubs in Peru. - Photo: Fr Ed O'Connell
Warmi Huasi (Women’s House) is a small non-government organisation (NGO) founded in 2003 by Columban missionaries in Lima, Peru. Its story continues …
In 2011 Warmi Huasi began working with mothers to organise workshops on self-esteem, basic first aid, healthy diets for their children, and ways of improving the protection of their children. But we soon found that the mothers had little time for such orientations mostly because they lacked the time or were too tired. They had little energy for anything other than survival. That is when the Warmi Huasi team (by then a social worker, a health worker, and a psychologist) decided that the best way forward was to trust the children themselves - let them be the protagonists! By getting through to the children and adolescents, we found the best way to get through to the parents.
We set up homework clubs in a chapel, a soup kitchen and two community halls to bring the young people together in safe places after school where they could also be helped with their homework. These township organisations took on (and still do) the responsibility for hosting the clubs and providing “support mothers” - women who take turns to accompany the young people. Warmi Huasi also hired teachers to work in the homework clubs three afternoons a week.
A total of 100 children and adolescents attend the homework clubs. Over the years, hundreds have passed through these clubs, all passing their end-of-year exams. During the summer break, we run classes for those children who failed the academic year. We get them through the re-sit exam so they can move up a year, about eighty children each year. Many often then join a homework club.
During those years, we gradually built the Warmi Huasi Centre in San Benito, the settlement which began in the nineties in the foothills on the northern side of Lima. We opened a reading club that attracted over seventy children and adolescents every Saturday. They would queue up even before starting time, so keen were they to get in to read. Hundreds of children and adolescents have been members of the club, which provides a safe place to be and the chance to read and dream of a better future. Some have read over one hundred books, and younger children are helped in their reading as well.
The success of our reading club prompted the local state primary and secondary school to ask us to help set up a library and reading club in their school of over 1,150 students. First, we built the library through donations from benefactors. Then the parish of Our Lady of the Missions donated the books. We also prepared the teachers to run the reading club within the school. Now all the students in the school, both primary and secondary, have one hour of reading each week, under supervision.
Children attending the reading clubs in Peru. - Photo: Fr Ed O'Connell
Because of an identified need, we also set up a play centre. The township leaders gave us the land, and we built a simple plywood hut where we placed toys and games, many of which came as donations from the parish where I worked. Volunteers from the township accompany the youngsters. On average, fifty toddlers and young children have used the play centre in the afternoons during the week for over ten years.
We noticed that some of the youngsters in the homework and reading clubs had speech difficulties, and some had posture problems. These children would have had to travel a long distance for therapy, and often the cost would have been beyond the reach of their parents. So in 2014, we set up a therapy club with four therapists. The local municipality of Carabayllo provided two therapists, Warmi Huasi one, and a quota from the parents covered the costs of the fourth therapist. The club has proved a great success. The demand is such that it runs three afternoons a week and Saturday mornings. Average attendance in a week can be as high as a hundred youngsters.
From 2013 onwards, we invited the young people from the homework and reading clubs to come together to further their personal and civic formation. The themes were self-esteem, children’s rights, and organisation skills such as public speaking, running meetings, electing leaders, and running monthly play days and cinema days for all the children of San Benito. About sixty young people took part. They analysed the risks in the township for children and worked on a plan of action to reduce those risks. In this task, they were helped by our Warmi Huasi team.
In 2016, these children formed themselves into a children’s committee called “Children of San Benito in Action” (ONNSBA) to work with the local council and the adults in the township. Their goal was to make public places for children safe places to play and move in without fearing being molested, especially for the girls. At the end of 2016, we had the inauguration of the San Benito “Maze Park”, a derelict area that had become a danger to children. With the help of the community’s young people and adults and the municipality’s cooperation, the area was restored and fenced in for safety. Soon afterwards, another group of hard-working young people we helped to get organised remodelled a second park. Most of these young people are well able to speak in public, and many of the leaders are girls.
By then, we realised the importance of getting the children’s committees formally recognised by the Municipality of Carabayllo. It took the best part of 2017 to have them legalised by a notary. Then we helped them apply for funding from the municipality in a program called “participatory community budgets” to improve city parks, many of which were very basic or had fallen into disuse, and for other projects to improve the environment. We passed the word to other children’s groups in the townships along the length of Lomas de Carabayllo so they could apply too. Altogether, we helped in the formation of five children’s committees.
In 2018, over 170 young people participated in the budget program, and three of the committees were successful through the quality of their presentations and their capacity to speak publicly about their projects. This meant their parks would receive funding, and the municipality would also provide security so that the children could play safely. Moreover, we were promised improvements would be made to the Maze play area in San Benito.
In summary, from 2011 to 2019, the Warmi Huasi project went from strength to strength, having completed three three-year cycles. Every three years, we review progress with the children and their communities and then modify or enlarge the project according to the needs expressed at that time. We are currently in the fourth cycle of the project. We started when all the children were primary school age or younger, but now we have adolescents. Indeed, some of the young people who accompany the work of Warmi Huasi as volunteers are 18 and over. At the same time, we continue working with young people in the homework and reading clubs and in the committees…
TO BE CONTINUED...
Columban Fr Ed O’Connell lives and works in Peru.
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