The Many Sides of Peru

This summer marks the third College of Education faculty-led study abroad trip to Peru. Dr. Melissa Gibson and 11 of our students are studying and learning in Lima while also traveling the country. Their blogs are originally posted on Marquette Meets Peru, and we’re excited to share them with you!

By Mary Kate Jezuit

It is hard to believe that we have already been in Peru for a week. This week has been very eye-opening and has made me excited to continue with the program. I have realized what I want to get out of my time in Peru and how I want to approach our experiences here. I have learned a lot about Peruvian culture, but also about the inequalities and various faces of Lima, and Peru in general.

The theme of this first week for me has been acclimation, but also centering myself through reflection. Visits, tours and lectures were overwhelming in the moment, as I found myself trying to take in every last detail. It is more important, however, to think back on the things that stand out and stay with me hours after I leave. Those are the things that are inspiring curiosity within me and that I can elaborate and reflect more on. Through seminars, long bus rides, my own journaling and these blog posts I hope to be able to process what I have experienced and think of questions I have and connections to things I am familiar with in the United States. Through reflection, I have come to realize that my goal for this program is to be present and take full advantage of everything I can learn and experience here, but to also use down time to think more deeply about what I have seen and what it can mean in the systematic context of education and on a personal level.

City_of_Lima,_PeruFrom our introductory lecture at UARM on the first day, I got a sense of why Peru was an ideal location for our studies of education. I was surprised to hear how the geographical diversity of Peru contributed to the education system and the socio-economic classes of Peru. Education and other resources are far more accessible and well-resourced in Lima, for the most part. In the Jungle and the Highlands, communities are usually poverty-ridden and high-quality education is scarce, so only the very best students continue to a college education, in Lima. The development of pueblos jovenes, however, has changed the dynamic of education and social class in Peru. Many people moved from the Highlands and the Jungle to these pueblos jovenes, located in the hills of Lima, for better opportunities for employment, claiming land and starting again with almost nothing. Overtime, these pueblos jovenes become more developed, but it is still hard to access education, or the residents cannot afford it.

Visiting one of the newest pueblos jovenes, Pamplona Alta, made me realize how difficult it can be for their residents to access water and the rest of Lima. This was probably the most powerful experience I have had in Lima thus far. It was a long journey, but it showed the stark contrast between the wealthy areas and the pueblos jovenes, separated by the Wall of Shame. I was surprised at how quickly the scenery changed from extravagant homes on the ocean to small homes with metal roofs. In the United States, I feel like it is more common for there to be a greater separation between classes. The Wall of Shame sends a very obvious message that there are certain people who the wealthier side of the wall does not only not want to associate with, but also to not be able to have the resources or potential for economic mobility. This is a blatant display of power that reminded me of what we read in Nyberg’s “A Concept of Power.”

Nyberg discusses how power exists anytime there is a relationship between two individuals as well as the four forms it takes. This example of the Wall of Shame reminded me of the fiction form of power, where the party with more power is able to create the narrative of the people they have power over. The people with more power were obviously the ones who built the wall, which begs the question of where their power came from and who consented to this power. This is obviously a loaded question, with no clear answer, but the general answer is usually along the lines of power being associated with economic wealth. In this situation, the people of the pueblos jovenes may seem next to powerless; however, they are able to exercise power through creative means. The residents of Pamplona Alta installed fog catchers to repurpose the water from the fog for their own use. They also are able to begin to exercise their own power by opening up stores and installing dry toilets for themselves, which symbolize upward mobility and progress. Though these neighborhoods may be poor monetarily, they are rich in so many other things, which was quite striking to me. From walking around for a few minutes and meeting some of the residents, it was obvious that they were family-oriented, driven and positive people. The community shared a close bond and there were signs of innovation and progress everywhere. A teacher of mine would always discourage us from using language like “poor/bad” to describe low-income neighborhoods because it diminishes the assets that these communities already have. I kept being reminded of this when visiting both Pamplona Alta and El Augustino and through our discussions of looking at what strengths a community has as opposed to all the things that need to be fixed. Seeing these assets first-hand gave context for this idea and I could not agree with it more.

All that I have experienced this week, brings up a topic we discussed quite frequently: Why are we here? It is true that we are neither tourists nor simply volunteers. We are here to learn. Volunteering has a connotation of serving somewhere for a certain amount of time and then leaving and returning to your normal life. Learning means that we are taking what we see and do in schools and communities in Peru back to the United States and using it to inform our studies at Marquette and professional lives. We are studying both the pedagogy we encounter in Peru and how it comes into play in the context of vast socio-economic inequalities. This idea is central to the way I will approach future experiences and will ensure that I am truly learning.

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