Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Foto Story: A day in Belén

To give you a bit more of a visual understaning of my life and work in Iquitos, I’ve put together the following story of pictures from an afternoon workshop in Belen. Though I spend most of my time at La Restinga, I go here twice a week in the afternoons to do workshops with the kids, mostly around issues of child abuse and exploitation. As I hope I’m able to portray through the pictures, Belen is an area of great poverty, but it’s also so much more than that. Working this kids gives me so much hope and joy, and I wish you could all get to know them. But for now, the pictures will have to do... By the way, you should be able to see most of the pictures in larger size by clicking on them. This is also true for all the other pictures on this blog.

Above: Arriving in Belén in the afternoons, we are always met by a drastically different sight than what we see downtown Iquitos. Belén is both its own city as well as part of the larger Iquitos. The whole area lies much lower than the rest of the city, so the houses are built on stilts. When the river rises, which it will in a few months, the streets are filled with water and the only way of getting around is in caoes and boats. Here's a boat in construction.

As we walk through the neighboorhood, on the way to the community house where we work, we usually see lots of the kids on our way. Here is one of the educators, an Italian volunteer, Alessandro, greeted by Wellixer, Justin, and Franklin - three of our most rambunctious but wonderful boys.

Some of the kids, and Carmen (another educator) and I laying down to pose for the camera.

Katty (12) flashing her beautiful smile.

Carmen and Wellixer goofing around..

Victoria taking a break and smiling to the camera. This day's lesson was about stragtegies for coping with sexual abuse, and here the kids are drawing their ideas for how to respond to different types of abuse.

As I've described before, several of the houses in Belén don't have a fourth wall. This is the house accross from where we work.

On this particular day, we decided to go visit Giler, one of the participants in a young leaders program in Belén. He lives right down the street from the house where we work to the kids, and this is us sitting outside, getting to know his family and some of his neighboors while we waited.

Giler´s little sister looking curiously at us...

Carmen doesn't know how to swim, so she was smiling with fear and joy as we set out.

Turns out Carmen had reason to be scared. There were so many times we thought the boat was about to tip over, including in the moment when this picture was taken (not incidentally while I was trying to steer...).

The sun setting down as Giler steered us (including his two younger sisters in the picture above) safely back to the shore.

As we headed home our day was made, if possible, even better by the sight of a beautiful rainbow rising out of the dirt roads.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The day Liz Tánia found lice in my hair..

As 12 year old girls so often do, Liz Tánia, one of the girls at La Restinga, loves playing with hair. This particular morning she was braiding and poofing my hair when she suddenly let out a small scream at the discovery of a small insect crawling out of my hair right above my ear. She called another girl to come over and take a look, and before long they found another one...and another one...and another one. Yup, you guessed it. I have head lice.
I have been having itches in my scalp for a long time, but when I asked Elin (my roommate) to check my head about a week ago, and she didn't find anything, I figured my scalps was just irritated by the perfume from the shampoo or something like that. Oops.
"MIRA, la muchachona tiene piojos," Liz Tánia shouted after the discovery, and soon I had a small team of people picking lice out of my head (loosely translated: "LOOK, the tall girl (which btw is one of my more popular nicknames) has lice!). Hoping that a lice shampoo and a serious round of cleaning of the apartment and our clothes will do the trick, and that my tiny friends will long gone in a few days... :)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Last minute Christmas present? Make it a good one..

To those of you out of ideas or still looking for Christmas presents, here are some suggestions for sustainable and life-giving gifts. Just click on the text in blue (note that some of the websites are in Norwegian):

From HIV to HOPE

December 1st, as many of you know, was the World AIDS day. Though everyone, regardless of age, religion, sexual orientation, gender, and lifestyle can be affected by HIV/AIDS, the fact is that persons in the sex industry (and in particular younger women) are much more vulnerable to becoming infected. Here in Iquitos, there are exceptionally high levels of child exploitation and prostitution, which contributes to the fact that Iquitos is the city with the second highest cases of HIV infections in Peru.

La Restinga's approach to this issue is broad and includes everything from education, to workshops, to theatre, to visual arts projects. This year, one of the highlights was taking part in a campaign against discrimination towards people living with HIV. All the kids got t-shirts that said VIH (HIV in spanish), and were given the chance to change that word into something like VIVO (I live), VIVIR (live), or VIDA (life). This was to send the message that getting HIV is not neccesarily a death sentence, and those who are infected are not just sick people, or case studies, but living human beings. After everyone had made their Above: Having a blast at the hospital with Luis and Julio

own shirt, we went to the regional hospital, where we split into groups and asked the medical personal if they wanted to be part of the campaign. If they accepted, we put the VIH shirt on them and painted symbols and words on it while talking to them about how they could work to stop discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.
This was super interesting, because there is still a lot of fear within the medical community (some medical personell still insist on putting on gloves before examining a HIV patient, which is of course ludacris, since HIV cannot be spread through physical touch). The campaign turned out to be a huge success, and we had a ton of people coming up to us asking how they could get involved. When we ran out of t-shirts, some people (including patients at the hospital) came up to us insisting that we paint directly onto whatever clothes they were wearing (see picture below).
Above: After we ran out of t-shirts this man asked if we could paint onto the t-shirt he was wearing that day.

Aside from this event, La Restinga has been working all throughout the month of November, dealing with issues of sexuality, gender roles and gender identity, abuse, trafficking, and STIs (sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS). I got the exciting challenge of co-teaching a weeklong workshop with an overview of all of these issues with some of the younger kids (10-13yrs), which was really interesting and but also daunting. The average age of first sexual intercourse in Iquitos is 14yrs (and in some isolated parts of the city it's as low as 12yrs), which is scary and heartbreaking (especially because sexual abuse definitely lowers the average). Given all the health risk associated with this, it's extremely important to start talking to the kids about these issues at an early age.

Picture above: As part of one of the art works promoting the use of condoms to protect against HIV/AIDS, one creative teenager made a copy of Munch's infamous scream-face. If you look closely, you´ll see the same face happily trapped inside a condom.