Keith Ybanez - Andahuaylas, Peru
The mountain range of the Andes in Peru is a breathtakingly beautiful place; however, amongst the beauty, life for many Peruvians is difficult. The omnipresent specter of poverty and violence continues to undermine health, education, and development. My work with Paz y Esperanza ("PyE") in Andahuaylas gave me an opportunity to see first-hand the common problem of access to justice which too many Peruvians face.
PyE aims to halt the intergenerational reproduction of violence that is crippling the nation of Peru. It operates with an effectively simple methodology: working from the community, for the community. Waking up at 4am once or twice each week to make two-to-four hour car rides (each way!) to various villages nestled deep in the Andes was the norm during my time in Andahuaylas. Even as a law student, that was still incredibly early for me! Our visits would entail doing consults with victims of abuse, meeting with community leaders, and conducting workshops seeking to educate and empower individuals, especially women, to defend their rights and their homes.
As I observed and then engaged with our projects in these villages, the importance of PyE's work there became clear to me. Because they are directly involved and concerned, community members have become active participants and stakeholders in their future, rather than passive beneficiaries. It was exciting to see so many women beginning to feel respected and empowered to lead and make a difference in their communities and inside their homes. Many of them know what violence feels like; how much every bruise hurts. They are the ones who can most effectively connect with other victims, they are the agents of change.
I've heard the doubts from other locals, wondering what these campesinas (indigenous country/mountain women who mainly only speak Quechua) could hope to achieve. It's definitely not an easy task, but they will succeed because they aren't motivated by money or material gain but something much deeper and profound. For almost all, becoming community leaders and speaking out about violence and abuse has been a restorative experience. They find solace in the chance to help others and let them know they deserve a life free from violence. Most importantly, they hope to sow seeds of change with the belief that one day their children can reap what they have sown.
This summer was my third visit to Peru, and each time I've seen it in a different way. Since I returned home to Chicago, I've thought about the differences about my home and the homes of the people I met during my time in Andahuaylas. Not in the sense of comparing furniture or design, but rather what the word "home" really means. One of the definitions that the Dictionary widget on my computer gives and which I really like is: "a place where something flourishes." This definition reflects how I've always felt about my home. My hope is that the communities nestled within the natural splendor of the Andes, beautiful places where inside the stillness you can hear yourself breathing, your heart beating, and the mountains swallow you up; become places where women and children can flourish, where they can find refuge and feel safe at home.