The legacy of Maria Elena Moyano’s activism and political contribution lives on almost 20 years after her death in the soup kitchens of Villa El Salvador.

In the 1980s, Moyano was instrumental in the resistance against the Shining Path, a Communist movement which gripped the country in fear and mistrust for two decades.

It was her role as president of the ‘Federación Popular de Mujeres de Villa El Salvador’, rallying the local community against the terrorism of the Shining Path, which brought her fame and notoriety.

The Women´s Federation was a group that provided a support network for the family and community initiatives in and around the district, which included supporting the community kitchens of Villa El Salvador.

Six of us have been working in ‘Comedor Jose y Maria’ which is partially named after the iconic human rights campaigner and eventual deputy mayor of the ‘City of the Saviour’.

The small kitchen is a concrete hive of activity, run by Marta and Berta, two elderly women full of energy and enthusiasm reminiscent of career-women half their age. It is perhaps knowing that the local community thrives on the result of their hours of toil that gives them such a youthful zest.

Although their selflessness seems refreshing in a time driven by capitalism, the soup kitchen is not a new phenomenon by any means. The idea of preparing meals to support the local community at little to no cost has been prominent in Latin American culture for many years and at least 40 years here in the Andes.

In Peru, it wasn’t just a case of being too impoverished to eat either, the community kitchens would prop up locals who suffered a poor harvest or rain-affected crops too.

The sentiment of supporting each other come rain or shine has been passed down through the generations. From when it first started in the lofty heights of the mountains, to being a key component of the Women’s Federation more than 20 years ago, to now where we see the country still riddled with problems but ultimately its people filled with optimism for a better future.

Maria Elena tried to instil purpose and hope in the people of Villa then and Marta and Berta are doing exactly that now.

Never underestimate the power of coriander soap.

By ICS Progressio volunteer Jourdan Rhule. Photo by Lana Jade Johnson.