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As may have been gathered from the gap in the blog, I have left the Progressio ICS Empower programme early.  I wanted to wait until I had my debrief in London before I updated as I did not think it would be fair for me to talk about the negatives before I had the chance to sit down with Progressio and discuss my concerns.  I have not mentioned many of the issues that played a part in my decision to return early in the blog as I didn’t want to detract from the bigger picture.  At the end of the day the ICS programme has the potential to be great providing some fundamental changes are made.

One of my main areas of concern was communication, or rather the lack of.  After meeting with the Progressio staff today I am confident that this will improve in time for the next programme in October.  In particular the communication between Progressio and the partner organisations who arrange the placements needs to be clearer and I have been assured that this will be improved greatly.

I do not want to focus on the negatives when Progressio are committed to making the necessary changes so for now I will keep schtum.  What I will say though is that I am glad that I came back early as I do not believe that any changes would have been made had I stayed.  I am not one for walking away but I had done all that I could in Peru to no avail and I was put in a position where the only action I could take was to return home and ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated.  The rest is up to Progressio, the ICS programme, the partner organisations, and the next group of ICS members and there is a chance that I will be among them.  I have been asked if I would like to return if changes are made and if I do decide to go back I will probably be doing another blog.  It’s the thing I have missed the most since returning!

It is unlikely that there will be any further developments related to this ICS experience so this will be my final post relating to it.  Thank you for reading and thank you to the really special people who brought some great times to an otherwise disastrous experience.  These special people were brilliant in organising a surprise cake on my final night with them in Peru, as well as making a card out of the cake box.  God bless you all and stay strong for the remainder of the placements.  You are all fabulous in your own ways and I look forward to seeing you again when you get back to the UK.

Thank you!

Pamela xxx


There is still illness in the house but I managed to escape to the nearby school, Fe y Alegria, for a morning of festivities.  The place looked really good.  The team did a great job with the banners and flags yesterday.  Most of the work was done by the parents, children and teachers though and that sense of community resonated throughout the celebrations.

The day consisted of various acts performed by each class at the school including dancing, singing and comedy.  Everyone was in the party spirit.  There were numerous food stall serving Peruvian delights such as cerviche, a dish consisting of raw fish which is a must-try for anybody coming to Peru.  As a huge fan of sushi I have been looking forward to trying cerviche and I was not disappointed.  I would happily eat it for lunch every day for the remainder of our stay.

Other dishes included a potato and egg dish that I need to get the recipe for before I leave.  For those of us who were needing warming up, servings of rice pudding and cinnamon were also on hand.  I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty while indulging as I always tell my daughter at such events at home not to eat too much as there is plenty of food at home.  Yet there I was getting filled up and it wasn’t even lunchtime!

Our group is still a novelty to the locals, especially the children.  Some speak to us, others wave from a distance and others just follow without wanting to interact further.  The two girls in the photograph below were very happy to get their picture taken but ran away when we asked for their names.  I’m confident we’ll find out before we leave.

As I was only present for the morning, I only saw the performances of the children from the primary school.  The rest of the group were very impressed with the acts by the pupils from the secondary school.

After my morning off I spent the afternoon being nurse again.  I’m quite surprised that I haven’t caught something from the others yet.  Maybe I shouldn’t speak too soon, there’s still eight weeks to go!

The good news is that my ear and cold have improved after a few doses of the godsend that is Sudofed.  Unfortunately though a couple of other members of the team were not well enough to go to the school and help with the preparations so my day of party planning has turned into a day of being nurse and confidante.

The celebrations are in aid of the 40th anniversary of Villa el Salvador.  Although Villa was only recognized as a district of Lima in 1983, the area of desert on which it was built was given to the squatters forty years ago.  That is definitely a good reason for a party in my book and I am determined to make it to the celebrations tomorrow regardless of who is ill and who is upset!

As a continuation of my expansion of information from our trip to Lima, I will now tell you about the Virgen del Carmen celebrations which were occurring on the weekend of our trip.

Virgen del Carmen is the patron saint of the Mestizo population in Peru.  Mestizo is a term used to describe people with mixed Spanish and indigenous heritage.  The religious festival usually lasts for three days and is seen as one of the most important in Peru.

The main festival takes place in Paucartambo, near Cusco, but other areas throughout Peru participate in the celebrations, in particular, El Guayabo, El Carmen, Celedin, Hauncabamba, Chavin, and Huarmey.  The procession which we witnessed in Lima was entering the San Francisco church and mainly consisted of church representatives.  However, the procession in Puacartambo lasts for five days and includes a number of dance troupes in various costumes.  On the main day (16th July) the virgin is carried through the streets to bless those present and to scare away demons.  The dancers then take to the roof tops and declare war on the demons.  The procession ends with the faithful overcoming the demons and paying their respects to the dead in the cemetary.

I can’t help but feel that we need to put more effort into celebrating our patron saints back in the UK.  An annual pub crawl just does not compare!

The origins of the festival are from the Old Testament, when the prophet Elias retreated to a cave in Mount Carmelo.  Years afterwards people used to travel to the cave to ask for the protection of the Virgin Mary of Mount Carmelo-the Virgin of Carmen.  She was also known as Stella Maris and was adopted by mariners and fishermen throughout the world as their patron.

Tomorrow, I will hopefully have more stories from my personal experiences to tell.  The thought of spending another day in this fabulous country being cooped up does not appeal in the slightest!

This was the first day in the placements, more of an introduction than a hard days graft but I was still looking forward to it.  My body, however, had other ideas.  I awoke to the world spinning and horrible pain in my ear again.  I do have a bit of a cold though so I’m hopeful that it is down to that rather than the return of the infection from last week.  I was very disappointed at not being allowed to work though.

On returning to the accommodation at lunchtime, a few members of the team were feeling negative about the placements.  The children are being taught American English and they do not feel that they can contribute enough with being British.  As I wasn’t there, I cannot really comment at the moment but I am somewhat concerned given the problems with the programmes that we have encountered so far.

I said on Saturday’s post that I had kept some historical information about Peru for use on days when I wasn’t up to much and I am now rather glad that I did.  That is assuming of course that you haven’t done your own research.  In which case you can correct me on any mistakes.  Bear in mind that my information has come from our fabulous Spanish teacher who does not speak English and so is dependent on my translation!

I will start with San Martin, after whom one of the main squares in Lima is named (although you already know that as you were paying attention to Saturday’s post!)

San Martin was born in Argentina in 1778 and was schooled in Spain before embarking on a military career, initially against Napoleon.  He returned to Argentina where he was ordered to raise a cavalry which became the Mounted Grenadiers.  Following this, he established the Lautaro lodge which aimed to free South America from the Spanish.  Their first battle was won near San Lorenzo in 1813.  The following year, San Martin gained command of the North Army from General Belgrano after they had been defeated in what is now Bolivia.

On to Peru.  San Martin realised that the Spanish centre-Lima-could not be taken by route through the Andes and instead decided to cross into Chile in order to attack by sea.  In 1818, the army finally defeated the Spanish and Chile which allowed the sea crossing to commence.  The Chilean Navy was created with a few ships captured from the Spanish and others bought from England.  The first Admiral was Blanco Encalada who was succeeded by the British, Lord Cochrane.  The fleet set sail for Peru in August 1820.

In July 1821, San Martin arrived in Lima after defeating the Spanish.  Independence was declared and a government was formed.  It is for this reason that we, on the Progressio ICS Empower programme, have been celebrating with Peruvian flags and cakes since our arrival.

Tomorrow we will be helping to prepare for a different celebration at one of the local schools.  Hopefully me ear will allow me to take part!

My prediction of taking a couple of nights to get used to the noise has proven correct.  I did manage a few hours of sleep but not as much as I had hoped for.  I tried not to toss and turn too much as I was sharing a bed with another girl due to bed shortages.  Thankfully she slept fine.

Today we visited each of the placements where the groups will be working.  The first was Ecorec which is a project aimed at promoting environmental sustainability, a vital project for a desert area.  As well as growing plants for medicinal purposes, there are various fruits and vegetables being grown along with ornamental plants.  One of the outputs for the group on placement here is to produce a catalogue of the ornamental plants that Ecorec has for sale.

We then visited one of the larger schools complexes in Villa which caters for children from nursery up until 18 years of age.  There is a celebration marking the anniversary of the school this weekend so the children were learning danced and painting murals in preparation.  Some of the dancing was similar to Ceilidh dancing which I and another Scot on the team are determined to teach to some Peruvians.  We think the streets of Villa are the perfect size for an Orcadian Strip the Willow!

The next stop was a nursery school in a different part of Villa.  At the risk of sounding too touristy, the views from here were spectacular.  This is where I will be working for the next eight weeks and I don’t think I will tire from seeing these views at all.

Finally we visited another school, this one for primary children.  The team here will be designing and painting murals on the outside walls.  This is something that I think the schools in the UK should consider doing.  Every school we have seen here has murals on the walls which were painted by the children, teachers and parents.  It makes the school very much a focal point for the community and gives the school a much more personal feel than those back home.

The placements start properly on Monday, with the exception of one school which will be on holiday for the next fortnight.  The members on that placement will be at Ecurec instead.  Tomorrow we will be going to the placements for taster sessions and to get a better idea of what we will actually be doing.

On a personal level I’ve had a difficult couple of days but a few of the fantastic people I am here with spoiled me today with hugs, Monopoly (Tourist edition of course!), a big slice of chocolate cake and…ear plugs to help me sleep tonight!!  With people like that around me I’m sure I’ll be back to my usual self in no time at all.

Moving day has arrived but before we left Barranco we had group meetings to sort out the placements.  I will no longer be doing physiotherapy with the elderly so I am quite relieved.  Instead I will be working with 3-5 year olds but I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing with them!

We left Barranco at 2pm and arrived at Villa el Salvador about half an hour later.  There was no 80s rock on this bus journey though, only Buddy Holly and George Harrison.

Villa el Salvador is about 30km away from the centre of Lima.  It started as a squatters camp in the 1970s and was officially recognized as a district of Lima in 1983.  At present, there are about 350,000 people living in Villa over about 14 square miles.  Most of the inhabitants have come from the highlands of Peru for numerous reasons including escaping terrorism and finding work.

Anybody who comes to Villa to live is granted an area of land on which to build their home and their is a real sense of community spirit when it comes to helping each other.  Residents who have lived here for a while run businesses that employ new arrivals and a soup kitchen is provided until they find their feet and some economic stability.  The children are immunized free of charge and they can attend the local university at no financial cost.  Villa boasts the highest literacy rates in Peru which is quite an achievement when you consider that people earn less than $1000 per year here.

Villa became a Peace Messenger city in 1987 and was a founding member of the International Association of Peace Messenger Cities.  It was also nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in social work and community growth.  The more developed areas of Villa have electricity, sewers and running water as well as two or three stories to the properties.  This takes time to achieve and you can constantly find construction going on in Villa.

The house that we are staying in has seven bedrooms and five bathrooms but is without hot water.  I fairly certain that the first thing I’ll do when I get home is have a long soak in a hot bath!  Our accommodation is on one of the main roads through Villa so I think it may take me a few nights to get used to the noise.  I’ve never been anywhere that is so horn-friendly.  The road is also one of the few that is tarmac-ed with the rest being compacted desert sand or mud if it’s wet.  I’ve only just arrived and I’m filthy already.  The local laundrette will be getting quite a lot of business from us!  We do have a washing machine at the house but it takes days for anything to dry here.  Thankfully I managed to replenish my sock supplies at the local market.

There was no time for the Progressio Cake Club to meet today but we have found a local supplier.  We are also allowed to use the kitchen at the weekend so we may progress to baking our own.  Providing we can agree on what kind to bake!

This is our last day in Barranco.  Tomorrow we will be moving to Villa el Salvador where we will remain for the next eight weeks.  Most of us are eager to leave and start our placements whilst others have concerns about what they’ll actually be doing and the living arrangements.

As this is the pilot programme, many of the details have yet to be sorted out.  It’s just as well I’m the kind of person who likes surprises.  On the other hand, I do like to be organized and the constant impromptu-ness is testing my patience levels.  One detail that has been clarified is the room situation in Villa.  We will now be in rooms of three or four so it is likely that we will keep the same arrangements as we have in Barranco – phew!

Our final guest speaker for the orientation was Lesley Lee who is an ontological coach or life coach as they are more commonly known.  Apparently life coaching is a big concept in the USA and the UK but I haven’t had much experience of it.  My understanding of life coaching is that it aims to help individuals achieve their maximum potential through awareness of how they think.  In short, it’s about personal development.  Having spent the previous four years studying psychology, this should have perhaps interested me but the first ‘task’ completely put me off.

There was a table in the room with various objects on it such as a carton of pineapple juice, a pair of spectacles and a candle.  We were asked to look at the items and write a story about them.  A story about pineapple juice, spectacles and a candle…My ‘story’ consisted of a list of the items on the table.  According to the life coach I am not creative enough but I view creativity as spontaneous not as something you are told to do that has absolutely no relevance to who you are, how you feel or what you do.  What do I know though?  It’s not like I have spent most of my life in a creative industry (music) or spent any time dealing with how people think…

Next up we played a ‘game’ called “What for?”.  We were split into pairs with one of us speaking about our reasons for coming on the placement and the other had to constantly ask “what for?” until we had revealed our hidden reason for being here.  I fully appreciate that some of the others may have benefited from this but I am acutely aware of my reasons for being here both at surface and deeper levels.  Behind my professional reasons there are personal reasons which is the same for anybody.  However, I do not believe that I should have to explain my personal reasons to people that I hardly know in a working environment.  My final response of “because I’m good at it, I enjoy it and none of your business” did not exactly go down well.

Each to their own.  If that kind of thing helps some people, fantastic.  I think it’s safe to say though that I will not be hiring a life coach on my return.

I know my mum is reading my blog so to stop her worrying about me eating, etc while I’m here, the cake of choice today was….Mocha.

We were joined today by Charlie Smith, a British human rights activist in Peru who spoke to us about the Peruvian war on terror which lasted from 1980 to 2000.  Similarly to my previous posts I will have to refrain from political commentary but I fully intend on writing more on the topic when I return to the UK.

Charlie worked on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Peru which was established to investigate human rights abuses committed by the guerrilla movement ‘Shining Path’ and the Peruvian military.  In 2003, a five thousand page report was published which called for criminal justice against those involved in committing the abuses.  At present, most of the member of Shining Path have been arrested, tried and sent to prison in comparison to very few members of the military and government.

The Shining Path was founded by Abimael Guzmann as a rebellion with Maoist and Marxist influences in the Ayacucho region of Peru.  Recruitment was primarily focused on students from the university, mainly from impoverished backgrounds.  In 1980, Shining Path declared war on the government and the 12 years that followed resulted in the most civilian deaths in any conflict in Peru’s history.

Initially, the government in Lima paid little attention to the violence being committed against the indigenous and remote communities.  However, the military was eventually sent in.  The troops did not distinguish between civilians and members of Shining Path with more than 70,000 being killed in the period until 1992 when Guzmann was arrested.  54% of the civilian deaths were attributed to Shining Path through methods such as bombings and massacres.  One of the biggest incidents was a car bombing in Miraflores in 1992.

After Guzmann was arrested the violence subsided but the government continued with attacks against civilians.  These were mainly carried out by death squads set up by President Fujimori to take out political opponents.  Fujimori resigned in 2000 by fax from Japan and was extradited from Chile to stand trial.  He is currently serving a prison term but there is talk of him being released on compassionate grounds.

Witnesses at the Truth Commission spoke of being kidnapped by government troops and held at military bases for days being tortured.  Many were not seen alive again.  Others spoke of being raped and as abortion is illegal in Peru many children were  born as a result of the rapes.

There is currently an exhibition on in the Museo de la Nacion which consists of photographs and testimony given at the Truth Commission.  Hopefully I will be able to visit before leaving Peru.  I fully recommend reading more into this period of Peru’s history.  If anybody wants to read the conclusions of the report in English I will be happy to email them.

On a much less serious note, a few of us decided on a follow up to the chocolate fudge cake on Saturday.  The cake for today was strawberry cheesecake.

Today has been my best day so far in Peru.  For the first time we were able to break off into smaller groups to spend some time which meant we could get to know each other under less strained circumstances.  Five of us decided to walk to Miraflores from Barranco to see the annual parade for Peru Day.

We left Barranco just after 11am where the locals were preparing for their part of the parade that would later join the larger on in Miraflores.  There was everything from marching bands to dance troupes to circus performers.  Everyone was out lining the street and it was really nice to feel welcomed into the festivities.

The main parade wasn’t due to start until 3pm so we had some time to kill.  We started by heading to the local shopping centre, Larcomar, for some lunch.  Larcomar is quite something.  It is built into the cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean which makes it hidden on the landscape.  I’m not one for shopping centres at the best of times so the thought of having the centre hidden is rather appealing to me.  The shops themselves are pretty much the same as you would find in any other shopping centre in any affluent district throughout the world.  Nevertheless it was nice to spend some time with friends doing something like this.

After finding out which route the parade would be taking, three of us headed back towards Larcomar for some ice cream.  We had been informed that the geletaria there was really good and we were not disappointed.  One chocolate brownie sundae and two pistachio sundaes made for three happy girls.  It was here that I really appreciated the setting of Larcomar:  eating ice cream whilst watching kids play football on the beach, the waves of the Pacific crashing on the sand and paragliders passing overhead was a great way to spend a chilled Sunday afternoon.

We got a good spot at the barriers to watch the parade but got a little concerned when we saw the locals bringing chairs with them.  This was obviously going to last longer than anticipated!  Armed with cameras and Peruvian flags the four hour parade began.

There was everything you could imagine and more.  As well as similar acts to those in the Barranco parade, there were huge floats the size of arctic lorries and beyond.  These included dinosaurs, sea creatures, a pirate ship and a three-carriage train covered in lights which reminded me of a certain television advert by a well-known sft drink manufacturer.  We were singing, dancing and waving flags along with the locals much to their amusement.

One of the group is blonde which means she attracts a lot of attention in this part of the world.  Today was no different.  We ended up on Peruvian television, twice, talking about the parade, and all of the clowns headed straight for her.  While this was amusing to start with, the poor girl was traumatized by the end!

And so we headed back to Barranco with flags in our hands and songs in our heads but a little bit dejected by the fact that we don’t have the same sense of national pride back in the UK that would allow for a similar event.  Admittedly that would mean closing a lot of roads which I know we, as a nation, would not stand for.

Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Peru, Peru!

I’ve always been a bit of a geek when it comes to visiting museums and other touristy places of interest so I was a little excitable today.  I think spending most of the past week in bed may have added to the enthusiasm of being out and about.

We took the public bus to the centre of Lima, which is an experience in itself.  It was much calmer ad less busy than some of the other buses we have encountered but the music was just as bizarre.  80s rock seems to be the genre of choice for most.

First stop was San Martin Plaza which is one of the two main squares in Lima.  I’m going to save some of the history for any days that I maybe ill or have less to say.  I don’t want to give you all of the good stuff at once as you will then be expecting that standard all of the time!

Naturally, we then had to stop for some Churros.  Churros is like strips of fried doughnut and comes with fillings or dips such as chocolate, caramel and fudge.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I come back from Peru double my original size.

This weekend is the festival of the Virgin Carmen so there were a number of religious processions.  The main one was at the San Francisco church, which is a must see for anybody coming to Lima.

We were lucky enough to catch the Changing of the Guard Parade at the Government Palace.  The music was typically Latino despite being military but there didn’t seem to be the same precision as at Buckingham Palace.  It was still impressive though and I am not an expert on military parades by any means.

Our final destination was the Museum of Congress and the Holy Inquisition.  This was the visit that I was looking forward to most, mainly because of my interests in politics and criminal justice but also because of the faith issue.  It is impossible to come to Peru and not be struck by the Catholicism.  Religious symbols and idols are everywhere.  Unfortunately, the museum, or rather my experience of it, did not live up to my expectations.  One of the problems with being in a group is that not everybody is going to have the same interests,  The visit was therefore rushed and I missed most of the things that I wanted to see.

I am hoping that there will be some time between leaving Villa El Salvador and returning to the UK to see more of Lima and learn more about Peruvian history.  I arrived here knowing nothing and I want to learn so much more about it.

We thought it would be a nice end to the day to go out for a meal so a restaurant was booked a short walk away from our accommodation.  It was a vegetarian restaurant which we thought would be nice for the veggies in the group who had been on a diet of egg and rice for the past week.  That proved to be a huge mistake.  Rather than it being a Peruvian vegetarian restuarant serving Peruvian food, it was a Peruvian restaurant attempting Western ‘vegetarian’ food.  Pizza or salad, anyone?  I won’t go into too much detail but the starters didn’t arrive and the pizza bases were microwaved leaving part of the base soogy and the other parts frozen.  The group that I was in ended up going to the local supermarket and indulging in a big chocolate fudge cake.

Thankfully we all saw the funny side and are still speaking to each other!