Vitalie Duporge reports from Peru at the end of week 2, where an exceptional town celebrates 40 years of life.

Villa El Salvador, a ‘pueblo joven’ (new village) is situated on sand flats next to the Pacific Ocean. It's a good example of a new and rapidly developing area in Peru. Villa, one of the poorer urban districts in the Peruvian capital Lima, was recently awarded the UN Peace Messenger prize for the efforts it has made in powering its own development.

Officially declared a city in 1970, it has taken 40 years of hard work by Villa’s inhabitants, many of whom came as political refugees from both the rainforest and mountainous regions, to create a town which provides water, electricity and sewage systems in what is essentially a desert.

The efforts of the community are vital to Villa’s development as it is the voluntary work of the locals which drives its progress. But Villa has also welcomed many international volunteers over the years.

This July, 14 young people from the UK including myself, arrived in Villa to volunteer for 10 weeks as representatives of Progressio on the ICS Empower programme. Split into two teams, we have been helping out in both the local schools and within the environmental organization ECOREC.

We couldn’t have come at a better time. It was with great excitement that we attended a festival held at a local school this Sunday which celebrated the 40 year anniversary of the birth of Villa El Salvador. The festival was the first of its kind and it was here that we discovered a key element to Villa’s success – the strong emphasis it places on sustainable development.

It was an inspiring sight to see large banners hung up around the school gates with messages promoting the importance of looking after the environment and of recycling for a better future. Trees boasted signs underscoring the necessity of looking after the natural world. One Peruvian student was even seen sporting a costume made of newspapers!

Aside from marking an anniversary, the Miscelanea festival was also a celebration to Peruvian culture – both its food and other traditions. Stalls were spread across the playing field offering traditional foods from the coast, everything from anticuchos (grilled cow heart on a skewer) to ceviche (raw fish mixed with herbs, lemon and kernels.)

Luckily, the government had paid the electricity bill that week (unlike the first week when we visited) so in the evening time we were also able to see the traditional dances performed by each different year group in the school. The day became a blend of good smells and the soothing sounds of windpipes and hand drums, as a crowd of about 400 gathered at Fe y Alegria 17 (Faith and Happiness), a primary and secondary school, to watch their children dance and sing, but also to come together as a city and show off their achievements.

Although our team helped string up decorations, which were decked out in the colors of the Peruvian flag, it was largely the work of the staff members, parents, and neighbors that made the event possible. The festival became a monument to what the future of Villa El Salvador could be – a community both organized, educated and hardworking, but also a community which preserves its traditional heritage despite the process of modernization.

After attending the day it was hard to believe that only 40 years ago this district was nothing more than dust and squat-housing, and its population poor and dislocated. Fe and Alegria is a vibrant school, and the festival they staged really showed how resourceful and creative the people of Villa could be with such a limited supply of money or tools.

Two weeks into our program and we can all see that Villa is in need of a lot more work, but we can also see that the people living here are driving for development with creativity and a positive attitude. Villa has definitely come a long way in such a short space of time and we are all enthusiastic to help move it even further forward. I think the future looks good.