For the past week I've been on vacation with my family in Perú. It is an odd experience. Especially, because, for over two decades I've been traveling to Perú for work and rarely look through the lens of a vacation traveler.
Our trip has been great. We've visited HBI's partners in Lima, Arequipa and the Urubamba Valley of Cusco. Orechestrated by our daughter Alex, we've brought Lego sets for the children living in the Union Biblica Casa Girasoles, the One for Others Hope House and Father Alex's orphanage in Alto Cayma. Using the Legos, we've found a whole new way to connect with the kids. This has been especially true for our daughter. She has really enjoyed her Lego Adventure.
Something hit me hard yesterday. While horseback riding on a tour with our daughter, the guide told us that there are currently 40 new hotels under development in the Urubamba Valley. I was stunned. You see, there is a new controversial international airport being built in the district of Chinchero (about an hour outside of Cusco). Although the actual construction of the airport has yet to begin, entrepreneurs in the valley are scrambling to purchase land and develop new tourist facilities and amenities.
The new airport, with direct connections from the U.S. and Europe will completely change the landscape of Cusco. No longer will international flights travel through Lima or Cusco to get to the coveted sites of the Sacred Valley. They will fly directly into the Urubamba (Sacred Valley) and on to Machu Picchu. When I asked our guide about the massive increase in hotels in the valley he said the overwhelming belief is "money is guiding all the decisions" - not the longterm considerations for environmental and social impact. He went on to say "the sound of the money machine is more important than the sounds of the nature." It seems almost universal - people associate the onomatopoeia "ka-ching" with the sound of a cash register and the inference of money.
Without a doubt, the ka-ching from the new airport and subsequent development will have profound impacts on the people of the Sacred Valley. The prospects will bring better paying jobs and more opportunities. But who are the people that will be most impacted? The new hotels, tour companies, restaurants - will be looking to hire English speaking personnel. The vast majority of new jobs in the area will be focused on a select group of people. People who have access to better education, better job experience and better connections. This will create a divide. A division that is already vast throughout Perú.
One of the biggest challenges for massive economic growth is the segment of the population that gets left behind. I understand the economic growth occurring in places like the Sacred Valley is needed. I understand that development brings new resources and opportunities. However, it is not hard for me to see a future where more unequal economic growth leads to even bigger health disparities. This is a well established phenomenon.
It will be critically important for organizations like HBI to be mindful to the changes. And ever more considerate to the population of people who are most vulnerable to getting "left behind."
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.