In 1971, the coastal desert crept up to the southern outskirts of Lima, Peru.
The old colonial city faced, along with most other Latin American metropolises, a veritable invasion of the poor from their destitute rural hinterlands.
That year, municipal authorities in Lima had to deal with an organized land invasion of thousands of these internal refugees of land slated for an upscale residential development.
In a non-violent effort to resolve the crisis, government officials gave the squatters a barren strip of sand about 20 kilometres south of Lima.
Villa El Salvador was born.
A decade and a half later, when I first visited this community, it had grown to a quarter of a million citizens.
Guided by an organization called CUAVES, the Self-managing Urban Community of Villa El Salvador, they had literally ‘greened’ the desert by planting pasture lands for a community-managed dairy herd and tens of thousands of shade and fruit trees.
The cows provided the milk for their ‘vaso de leche’ or glass of milk program designed to guarantee all their children a hunger-free youth.
Self-help projects addressed most of the community’s basic needs
Today, the largely indigenous and mestizo community has grown to about 350,000. It has not escaped poverty, but through co-operative labour the neighbourhoods are supplied with electricity, water and sewage.
International sponsors, like our Development and Peace, support efforts of key local groups like the Popular Federation of Women of the Villa El Salvador (Fepomuves).
Activities such as community kitchens, local health clinics, popular libraries and host of other projects have allowed the desperately low-income families of Villa El Salvador not only to survive, but to thrive with dignity.
Somehow that same spirit has to spread across our global community.
“Mobilizing to save civilization means restructuring the economy, restoring the economy’s natural support systems, eradicating poverty and stabilizing population,” said Lester R. Brown of the Earth Policy Institute in an Information Clearing House news item last week,
Brown catalogues the costs of righting what is wrong on the planet from eradicating adult illiteracy and providing basic health care planet wide to reforesting the earth and restoring depleted fisheries.
He calculates the cost at $161 billion a year. The current annual world military expenditure is $975 billion.
“The challenge is not to provide a high-tech military response to terrorism, but to build a global society that is environmentally sustainable and equitable — one that restores hope for everyone.”
It was elbow room only in the basement at Maryhouse last Wednesday night.
Volunteers quickly unpacked bag after bag of groceries gathered from around Whitehorse in the annual “In the spirit of caring” ecumenical spring food drive.
Signs on the walls surrounding the sorting tables guided workers to the proper stack of milk crates in the flurry of sorting.
Rapidly filled crates were hauled off to proper storage rooms.
Over at the Salvation Army, the organized mêlée was probably repeated.
For those who didn’t have the chance to help restock the shelves of our two emergency food programs and still wish to help, I am sure they both the Maryhouse and the Salvation Army would be happy to accept your cash or kind donations.
Yukoners of every social strata pitched in on this effort.
Church members who often have difficulty being in the same room with one another because of doctrinal or ideological differences, worked together.
Young and old joined in common cause.
All recognized a problem: people in our community for a wide variety of reasons go hungry. The response? Feed them.
Are we entitled to hope? Can we collectively find ways out of the host of problems afflicting us from down on the street level here in the Yukon on up to the heights of planet-wide issues?
From ‘vaso de leche’ centres of Villa El Salvador, Peru, to the basement of Maryhouse global and local neighbours are showing us that we do have reasons for optimism.