Read some extracts from pamelainperu - an Empower volunteer's blog...

11 July: The most interesting part of the day for me was a presentation from Dr Jorge Martinez, a former development worker who now works in the Institute of Health, Sexuality and Human Development at the Peruvian University Cayetano Heredia. He spoke about the HIV/AIDS situation in Peru. HIV and AIDS is one of the main themes of the work of Progressio but it is not one that the groups here will be working on. Nevertheless it was interesting to hear the differences in the policies in Peru compared to many countries in Africa, especially in regard to vertical transmission (transmission from mother to baby). Pregnant mothers in Peru legally have to be tested for HIV and if positive can be given medication that prevents the virus to be passed onto the infant if administered in time. Consequently, vertical transmission accounts for about 2% of cases of HIV in the state. However, there is some controversy over the legality of forcing expectant mothers to undergo testing and it will be interesting to observe the progress of those arguing against it as a breach of human rights.

13 July: I was slightly wary of accepting a placement with a faith-based organization but the role of faith in international development has always intrigued me. It is all too easy to sit at home in the UK with luxurious surroundings and assume that we have so much more than those in developing states. However, it is often the case that material luxury is only surface level and many of us are left wanting for something deeper and that is often found in communities where poverty is abundant. Faith is subjective but it is my opinion that the “something deeper” is faith. Not necessarily faith in a god but a faith in humanity that allows us to hope and work for better lives. Acknowledging the difference between absolute poverty and relative poverty is fundamental in battling ignorance and improving our lives.

17 July: Today has been my best day so far in Peru. For the first time we were able to break off into smaller groups to spend some time which meant we could get to know each other under less strained circumstances. Five of us decided to walk to Miraflores from Barranco to see the annual parade for Peru Day.

We left Barranco just after 11am where the locals were preparing for their part of the parade that would later join the larger on in Miraflores. There was everything from marching bands to dance troupes to circus performers. Everyone was out lining the street and it was really nice to feel welcomed into the festivities.

We got a good spot at the barriers to watch the parade but got a little concerned when we saw the locals bringing chairs with them. This was obviously going to last longer than anticipated! Armed with cameras and Peruvian flags the four hour parade began.

There was everything you could imagine and more. As well as similar acts to those in the Barranco parade, there were huge floats the size of arctic lorries and beyond. These included dinosaurs, sea creatures, a pirate ship and a three-carriage train covered in lights which reminded me of a certain television advert by a well-known soft drink manufacturer. We were singing, dancing and waving flags along with the locals much to their amusement.

One of the group is blonde which means she attracts a lot of attention in this part of the world. Today was no different. We ended up on Peruvian television, twice, talking about the parade, and all of the clowns headed straight for her. While this was amusing to start with, the poor girl was traumatized by the end!

18 July: We were joined today by Charlie Smith, a British human rights activist in Peru who spoke to us about the Peruvian war on terror which lasted from 1980 to 2000. Charlie [a former Progressio development worker] worked on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Peru which was established to investigate human rights abuses committed by the guerrilla movement ‘Shining Path’ and the Peruvian military. In 2003, a five thousand page report was published which called for criminal justice against those involved in committing the abuses.

19 July: This is our last day in Barranco. Tomorrow we will be moving to Villa el Salvador where we will remain for the next eight weeks. Most of us are eager to leave and start our placements whilst others have concerns about what they’ll actually be doing and the living arrangements.

As this is the pilot programme, many of the details have yet to be sorted out. It’s just as well I’m the kind of person who likes surprises...

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Photo: Pamela (left) with parade participants and two other Empower volunteers. See this photo and more on Pamela's blog