Pedro Pablo's Story
There are so many stories that come from Los Martincitos, a senior center in Villa Salvador in Lima, Peru. Below, our Country President, Enrique Bossio, tells one of them:
"At 26 and having never set foot in the Senior Citizen Program “Los Martincitos” in Villa El Salvador, Pedro Pablo is an unlikely participant of the program, but the staff and our CCS volunteers pay regular visits to his home as part of the center’s activities. And now more than ever.
Los Martincitos provides services and activities for poor and abandoned seniors, mostly former peasants who moved to Lima to escape poverty and violence in Peru’s countryside, aiming to bring their children closer to opportunities for work and study. Many of these seniors are victims of their own success, as their children’s integration to life in Lima has meant that they leave their Andean parents to their own devices. Ran by the Catholic Church, Los Martincitos provides activities and services for the seniors, and our volunteers have joined these efforts since 1999.
But although Pedro Pablo’s situation also reflects the profound inequalities that affect millions of Peruvians, his story is quite different than that of the seniors.
At 17 and fresh out of high school, his future looked bright when he landed a job in a furniture factory in Villa El Salvador. The oldest male sibling out of six children, he was the big hope for his family. But shortly after he had started working there, a heavy piece of equipment fell on him breaking his back and rendering him paralyzed from the waist down.
His employment situation was not formal so he was not covered by any health insurance, and although the owner of the factory initially provided some assistance, he insisted that the family signed a document stating that they had received sufficient support and that the company was not liable. Shortly after signing this document, the support stopped. Since the family also was (and still is) very poor, the money was used for many other things they needed, and things stayed the same for Pedro Pablo for several years.
Enter Tony Palomino, our part-time Programming Assistant and over-time Coordinator of at “Los Martincitos.” Tony heard about Pedro Pablo’s case and started including him in the program’s home visits. Initially, we wanted to fight to hold the owner of the factory responsible for the accident and to have him provide proper compensation and support for Pedro Pablo and his family. But the main problem with that approach (in addition to the written settlement agreement signed by the family) was that the family, and even Pedro Pablo himself, were not in the fighting mode. Physically and emotionally, they could not be brought to stand a legal battle in a context where injustice is structural and poor people always lose.
We realized that we needed to concentrate on improving Pedro Pablo’s physical and emotional health. We managed to score some donations (an used but operational laptop computer for him to use; a wheelchair so he can leave his bed once in a while; a large and sturdy bed with a good mattress where he spends most of his time). But the outlook of the whole family was still grim – the conditions in which the whole family live are quite tough: dirt floors, crowded spaces; the area where his parents squattered is quite steep so from the outside one can only gain access to the house by stepping on three large boulders that go up, each one having the height of a chair. Virtually, even with a wheelchair, Pedro Pablo was trapped in his house.
Recently, we have become more intentional in our contributions to Pedro Pablo's situation. Tony scheduled regular visits to his house as part of the program’s activities, and we have brought our volunteers along, so they also have made several contributions: reading materials, some physical rehabilitation resources and simple equipment, ointment for his back – but the most important part is the regular visits to keep his spirit up.
This concerted effort has also been met with a new surge of enthusiasm from Pedro Pablo and his family. Enthusiasm is contagious, and we have actually gotten a couple of donations in cash to do a few improvements in Pedro Pablo’s home, which will render him more mobile and autonomous: laying a cement slab in his room so he can move around once he climbs on his wheelchair; building a little balcony and a ramp right outside his room so he can gain access to the street – these two projects are almost done; we will also build a little shower station in a corner so he can be more independent with his hygiene, which has been an issue.
We are also replacing the last used computer we gave him (which finally died down recently) with a Kindle Fire, which is actually more manageable. But the most recent and important development has been the assignment of a bilingual volunteer (Madel Leal, an MA candidate in Social Work from University of Michigan) who arrived in Lima in early May and will spend three full months working with Los Martincitos. Back at home, Madel used to volunteer in a tutoring program for homeless people. Seeing this feature in her resume inspired us to create a fresh project for Pedro Pablo.
One of Madel’s responsibilities at Los Martincitos is to work with Pedro Pablo, during the weekly home visits, to figure out his interests and potentials, and then identify learning opportunities that could be accessible from his home through a tablet or computer. Once we are on track, we will try to provide support for him to find opportunities to work from home.
We realize this is a long shot – for everyone involved. The context is daunting, there are many things that can go wrong. However, nothing beats a fail but than a try. We know there are plenty of things Pedro Pablo is missing, and that he has definitely missed already in the last few years, by watching life goes by while he sits in his bed. So we will do our best to bring him out, in real or virtual terms; to broaden his horizons and motivate him to take charge; and to offer him support so he can feel that his new life goals are attainable.
Los Martincitos and Villa El Salvador are filled with stories that will inspire you, stories that you all can be part of. Life here is not still; people who have been subjected to violence, poverty and inequality do not resign themselves to their fate. And even though the official Peru has resisted to acknowledge their existence and provide the services they need, poor people in Peru have proved to be the most dynamic sectors of our society and have developed smart ways to address their own needs with resources within their reach, as well as lots of love and compassion.
Tony showed such qualities when he decided to include Pedro Pablo in the activities meant for older Andean immigrants, because he realized humanity has no boundaries. Our volunteers have also broken such barriers as they decided to join in the efforts to help Pedro Pablo and many others. Definitely a job worth doing."