From Cerrito de la Virgen, Shanty Town in Peru, to New York!

Blog by Juany Murphy, Director of International Relations

March is the hottest part of the year and today 8th March in Huanchaco the sun scorches the earth with such ferocity that you cannot walk barefoot.  It is also International the Women’s Day and we can celebrate this day and reflect on the work that we do and the state of women and girls.

It is also the month that we go back to school, and many children who work collecting fares on buses or in the market to help feed their families will be enrolling. Their ambition is to go to school in second hand uniforms, often without breakfast.

We have been working with the communities to provide education for women and girls, feeling many times discouraged by the lack of support. Fortunately, Otra Cosa Network forms a partnership with Litworld International to set up their educational programme. We started in 2013 with our local club in Cerrito de la Virgen, a disadvantaged community on the fringe of Huanchaco, where OCN has been working. After much waiting, Carmen Diaz our teacher with our first volunteer, Maika, started to support a literacy club. We decided to embrace the changes within our organisation, beginning a new era in OCN with the LitClub to empower girls through improved literacy.

Education is the best investment for female empowerment. However, the women and girls are victims of the highest rates of gender based violence, affecting 39% of Peruvian women (INEI, 2010). There are 5 million children who do not understand what they read.

The girls at Cerrito de la Virgen, face many challenges to remain in secondary school, carrying a disproportionate amount of household responsibility and face societal gender discrimination, perpetuated by gender scripts in Peruvian society.

Writing, reading and leading for change have become a part of the vision for OCN to motivate kids to set new goals and become role models. The aim is to empower and take care in protecting the life of girls, asking girls’ stories. Litworld’s mission is “Strengthening kids and communities through the power of their own stories. Together, authoring a bold new world of equity and opportunity”. The curriculum of the literacy programme was shaped by the values; curiosity, confidence, courage, belonging, kindness, friendship and hope.

The girls at the beginning of the programme were shy and lacked confidence; they now have evolved, believing in themselves. These strengths were identified as most important for child development and to raise their self-esteem. Furthermore, they are now keen to voice their opinions all the time and engage in discussion about fiction stories.

We have come a long way with our LitClubs in such a short time. The girls touch us with their eagerness to learn. Having access to this through LitWorld creates a meaningful experience, not only for the girls, but also to their families, teacher and the community of Cerrito in general.

We decided to transform the places where LitClubs operate and now this is possible. A LitClub is more than reading and writing. It is a place of hope where people receive knowledge and evolve as better human beings.

Encouraging girls to learn to read, leads them to study and enriches their lives. Now that girls are able to read and understand, their lives have been transformed. They have many more ambitions and the support of LitWorld is helping them to achieve their goals.

Now all the community talks about it and within four years, our children have become the first to develop reading and comprehension skills. So at this point we are now replicating the model in other communities.

In recent years, reading and writing skills have now progressed, putting a seed in the soul of the girls and impacting on the lives of the children, transforming them into literacy advocates that will forever change the literacy crisis in Huanchaco, Peru; a crisis that we are facing today.

Last August our Litclub entered a competition and we came with a proposal for change: Cerrito’s Action Plan: Water for Change “Agua del cambio”. We were selected to attend the Global HerStory Summit in New York. This Summit is part of UN Women and held during the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW),the HerStory Campaign. This project was the work of our teacher, manager and volunteers. So our dream, and that of the girls, couldn’t be better to celebrate today at the Women’s International Day. So now we are preparing for this trip with Jenny, the LitClub Coordinator, Carmen Diaz, and the girls: Ruth and Irene, are making our dream come true.

The story that began with a few girls who will now be present in New York at the summit, as ambassadors of their community and of their country, is really magical.

Our dream now is to empower all the girls in all our clubs and to achieve the great transformation of the community and why not Peru.

The girls are now the voices to achieve change and have managed to put their voices across and I am thinking about the hottest month in Peru and February which celebrates Carnival, however in Cerrito we couldn’t throw the water because we simply do not have it.

In the recent month since our proposal for “El Agua del Cambio” has been discussed beyond the community, Cerrito de la Virgen is still struggling to meet its water needs.

At a personal level, I know when I was a child, water came from a dripping pipe at ground height – there wasn’t enough pressure for a tap. So we needed to wait patiently by the pipe for water containers to fill. Or we only had water for a few hours a day, until we built our pump and reservoir to solve the problem. This was the source of water for cooking, washing and everything. Forty years later, it is the same story for these girls in this community.

The water pipe in Cerrito is for the whole community as water pipes have not been laid. So they do not rely on water, which is often expensive and dirty and delivered by water trucks.

This prompts some to question whether these problems and access to water sends the right message. Now more than ever, water is a valuable resource without which there is no food, no sanitation, ultimately no life. I reflect that these young girls now going to New York to attend the women’s summit to let their voices be heard will deserve to feel the cool water on their skin, to splash each other and from time to time, to play with this natural resource. I just hope our politicians really listen to the voices and plead for water. And that Cerrito de la Virgin does not have to wait too long for our right to have access to water.

Juany Murphy

Director of International Relations

litclub members discuss water issues with mayor and congressman


litclub girls met congress representative in Lima

2 Responses

  1. Louise Heppleston

    I love your dream of empowering girls. They are the future of the country. Your LitClubs will make such a difference, thank you for the work you are already doing.

  2. Carmen Mortara

    I had the opportunity to visit the Lit group in Cerrito de la Vigen in Huanchaco and I am extremely pleased with all the achievements!
    I congratulate Otra Cosa and specially its director Juani Murphy for all the passionate work done to improve our Peruvian education in very difficult circumstances and many barriers such as burocracy and machismo.

    I am delighted that Carmen, Ruth and Irene will be participating in the Global Her Story Summit in NY soon and their voices on the need for water will be heard.

    Keep on doing a great job for the benefit of the Peruvian girls.

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