Are you at all confused by the current state of the presidency in Perú? You are not alone. It is a bit maddening - to say the least.
The question on everyone's mind - is Pedro Castillo the new president of Perú? The answer . . . an emphatic . . . 'maybe.'
The race for the presidency in Perú has taken a complex - and heated - turn to the courts, where Castillo is embroiled in a messy legal battle with Keko Fujimori over invalid vote counts and corruption.
As of today, there is no declared winner - although there was a winner for a few hours a week or so back. That decision, taken by the Peruvian elections commission (Jurado Nacional de Elecciones (JNE)) was later reversed, when one of the appointed representatives nullified their decision to certify the election.
Add to the ever increasing mix of strange and sensational - a shadow figure named Vladimir Cerrón. Cerrón, a Cuban trained Peruvian neurosurgeon who many believe has direct ties to leadership in the Shinning Path terrorist group of the late 90's - has been banned from holding elected office due to corruption charges. He is, none-the-less, holding a fair amount of influence over the election and seems to be lurking in the background all the time. It is well believed that Cerrón is the main architect and influencer of the progressive, Marxist platform of Castillo and the Perú Libre political party.
So - while the courts battle to determine who is the rightful and legal President of Perú, the country is facing massive challenges brought on by decades of unequal wealth distribution and corruption. The pandemic was the proverbial straw that swayed the llamas back. Now, Perú - like much of Latin America is facing a steep climb out of a deep hole that has impacted nearly every aspect of society and economic stability.
What's next? No one knows for certain. However, if we have learned anything from the past 14+ months of the pandemic - we need to prepare for every thing. For us as an NGO working to bring health equity to marginalized children and women living in extreme circumstances and experiences - this means creating the type of contingency plans that include accepting more children into the Casa Girasoles homes, expanding our work with young adults transitioning from jail with little to no resources or support, continuing our efforts to advance the health and well-being of families living with a child living with a disability, and expanding our web-based training of health professionals in neonatal resuscitation.
Whatever happens next - it doesn't really matter in the bigger scheme of our work. We are not going anywhere. We are in this with the people of Perú for the long haul.
It's official. Perú has a new president.
By all accounts, Pedro Castillo could not be a more radical change from the administrations of the past 20 years. Castillo is a self-branded socialist with a very left-leaning agenda and a ground-swell of popular (albeit very narrowly) majority support. He will take office on Peruvian independence day (28th of July).
As if a global pandemic, 10% contraction in GDP and a sweeping wave of polarization is not enough - Castillo will take office without a ruling coalition in congress He will be thrust into an almost instant battle for the legitimacy of his presidency - with political and legal pressure coming from a number of different directions . . . including within his own party and from congress seeking his impeachment.
The next couple of months are going to be challenging. Conflicts and protests are popping up on streets all over the country - with the current count at over 190. With so much entrenchment and polarization, it will be really hard to bring people together. It will be really hard to find a place of healing.
Billed as the "lesser of two evils" - the election was a standoff between two ideologies from the very outset. The Lima-Province friction is not new. As long as the City of Kings has assumed the role of the seat of power and the economic capital of the country - tension has existed between the city and the rest of Perú. Within the sprawling city of over 12 million people, conflict also exists between the distinct and very separate economic classes. Although, often only separated by a short distance - the economic divides are tremendous.
This tacit strain and stress has been compounded by a number of converging forces. The pandemic and the economic challenges of the last 18+ months have laid bare this smoldering tension. It has fueled conspiracy, contentment and greater division. Now, with an elected presidential administration that has made its party platform "Marxist-Leninist platform that fundamentally aims to spread the wealth of Peru’s natural resources with all citizens" - finding a path forward will be hard . . . but not impossible.
Healing of any kind requires connection. It requires relationships. It requires safe dialogue. It feels like part of our work is to create a space to discuss how to best help all Peruvians find access to the lives they deserve. A critical part of our work is building bridges; and, now - more than ever - building bridges is about creating spaces for healing.
So, we are going to create connections. We are going to meet in the space of hope and opportunity. We are going to work for healing. Connecting at the points and places of connections ... that's what we stand for - and that is what we do.
It is election time again in Perú. The run off for the presidency.
As it currently stands, a less than 1% margin separates the vote count between the two candidates. With a little over 96% of the total votes counted, the runoff election is coming down to a . . . well, a real nail-bitter.
A lot is at stake. The election represents an existential crisis for Perú. The two candidates, Pedro Castillo and Keiko Fujimori, could not be different. One represents the establishment. A conservative with a pedigree for politics and a penchant for controversy. The other, a first time politician and former school teacher who seems to be molded from the old leftists guard of Castro and Chávez.
The country is - well quite clearly - divided. The politics of this election are equally represented in the great social and cultural disparities that exist in Perú. Many see the promise of a socialist administration as a way out of poverty and a chance to get a "leg up." Others view the pro-capitalism, neo-conservative policies of the right as a pathway to more economic reforms. Whatever the vantage point and political leanings - Perú is caught in a real challenge.
The past 18-months have been challenging. COVID has devastated the economy, disrupted social fabrics, and fractured the nation. Whoever wins - the hope is the new leadership will find a way to bring healing and economic stability.
We'll stay tuned to this nail-bitter of an election and hope that whatever happens - the real winners in the election are the people of Perú.
When I talked about building a child empowerment framework previously, I highlighted the effectiveness of our Casa Girasoles model. Health Bridges International’s (HBI) models work best with empowered people taking on the adaptation, sustenance, and improvement of the program. But empowerment work is full of sobering challenges, which is why our work requires flexibility and long-game commitment, as seen in our experience with the Ines Project for medically fragile children.
The Ines Project serves families living in poverty with children experiencing complex medical conditions. With our partners (local pharmacies, volunteer health professionals, nonprofits such as Direct Relief, and faith-based organizations such Caritas) we create a comprehensive care plan for the well-being of the medically-fragile child. The plan assigns a healthcare team – including a community-based health ambassador, a nurse care coordinator, and physician-in-charge of the project – to work with the family to (1) improve the health of the child and (2) empower the family with the knowledge and skills to self-advocate and navigate Perú’s health systems. Upon graduation, families can independently care for their child, determine their needs, and successfully connect with appropriate healthcare services.
The Ines Project has helped over 150 children and their families, but it is one of HBI’s programs pivoting to better align with our new strategy and focus. Complex problems require comprehensive solutions, and we’re ready to do what it takes to serve the most vulnerable children in Perú.
Elizabeth’s Story: Resilience & Hope
Elizabeth* is one of the strongest survivors I know. At 24, she had a complicated pregnancy with her third child and was advised to seek specialized medical support. She left her small town in the mountains, only to find that the nearest hospitals lacked the right specialists and equipment. She gave birth prematurely and her baby was diagnosed with glucose regulation metabolic disorder, a rare, inborn complication that causes weak muscular development and failure to thrive. Her quick-thinking doctors worked with a local politician to transport Elizabeth to a third hospital in Lima, where her baby received life-saving support. However, without access to medical specialists, the child was held for observation for a month then discharged with a general care plan that wasn't sufficient to meet the child's complex healthcare needs.
Elizabeth had no family or friends in Lima, but she was able to rent a small hut atop a motor shop by working informally as a clothes cleaner for her neighbors or by selling food on the streets. She was earning less than S/10 soles (approximately $2.50) a day, same as most families in the Ines Project. Elizabeth’s situation was not only challenging and isolating – it was dehumanizing. Although Elizabeth was working tirelessly to support herself and her children, she couldn’t meet all the demands. Eventually, her efforts to find the best care possible for her child, while simultaneously balancing childcare and work, brought her to the attention of an HBI Ines Project Health Ambassador, and she enrolled in the program soon after.
Our first step through the Ines Project was to assure Elizabeth that she was neither forgotten nor alone – she had a whole team helping her form and implement a clear medical plan of action. Together, they sourced medication, identified nearby medical specialists, and determined that she would relocate to Lima. Secondly, the team encouraged Elizabeth’s innate self-advocacy skills by teaching her how to talk to healthcare providers and request for her child’s needs. We connected her to a CESAL, a Spanish NGO through which she accessed mental health assessments and therapy, continuously engaged her in trauma-informed conversations, and supported her transportation, medical, nutritional, and financial needs. The Ines Project even worked with the Peruvian Ministry of Health to approve the importation of medicine her child needed and partnered with a US-based pediatric endocrinologist for more support.
As she spent more time in the program, Elizabeth revealed a background of deep trauma and abuse, and as a result, would abruptly leave and rejoin the program. It disrupted her progress towards graduation. Her deep lack of trust only worsened when her husband left her: he refused to move to Lima, sent their two older children to her, and stopped all communication. Elizabeth’s story demonstrates that people experiencing poverty are fighting deep personal, mental, and socio-economic challenges that cannot be solved just by pooling resources or connecting them with the right medical specialists. There needs to be systems-level change to offer people like Elizabeth - whose children need her more than ever - a stronger safety net.
Why EIizabeth’s story matters
While the Ines Project met the medical needs of the child, it could not erase the effects of trauma, abuse, and poverty on their mother. There is much more work to be done to ensure families like Elizabeth’s attain true empowerment and sustainability. We have seen that without systems-level safety nets or a wider variety of social service partners working with families to address their socio-emotional and economic challenges, their progress in the Ines Project (or any program, for that matter) will not substantially change their quality of life. Our plan now is to shift the Ines Project’s scope to ultimately prevent highly vulnerable children from entering child welfare programs.
Today, Elizabeth is still working closely with our team to graduate from the Ines Project by December 2021. Graduating means finding financial stability and permanent housing, independently connecting with community and public services, and doing so with confidence. We will keep learning from families like Elizabeth’s and helping them every step of the way. Even if it means that our programs have to evolve, we are determined to build a future where mothers like her can sustainably advocate for their children.
Mothers like Elizabeth need your support. Will you join our team in helping them in their journey to care for their vulnerable children and become stronger advocates for their families? Please consider making a donation. Thank you!
*Name changed to maintain privacy
The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.