BOONE, North Carolina — Extreme poverty is an issue that is prevalent in rural areas around the world. Social protections, infrastructure and public services are typically much less developed there than in urban areas, contributing to disparate socioeconomic and health outcomes. This phenomenon is certainly playing out in Peru as, in 2020, almost five times as many people lived in extreme poverty in rural areas than in urban ones despite large gains made in reducing overall poverty. On the ground, support organizations, like the Picaflor House, play an important role in serving these impoverished rural communities. This initiative, by the U.K.-based nonprofit organization Globalteer, seeks to support the local underserved children of Oropesa, Peru, through afterschool programming. The project, mostly staffed by locals, has been offering ongoing developmental support for the past 11 years.
Rural Poverty in Peru
According to the World Bank, 20.2% of Peru’s population lived below the national poverty line in 2019. This is a reduction of 13% over the previous decade, a healthy sign of economic and material improvement. Despite the general advancement, rural areas still lag behind. Almost 46% of the rural population experienced poverty in 2020, according to Peru’s National Institute of Statistics and Informatics. This certainly contributes to higher rates of malnutrition. About 24% of children aged 5 and younger in rural areas suffered chronic malnutrition in 2020, which is a rate more than three times higher than in urban areas.
To ensure continued gains in poverty relief in the Peruvian countryside, there is still a strong need for support, especially among the youngest. Located 13 miles outside of Cusco in Oropesa, Picaflor House provides the children of this community with after-school education and recreation as well as nutritious meals.
The lightbulb moment for the project came to Globalteer’s general manager, Jim Elliot, when he saw many children, after finishing school for the day, wandering around the small mountain community unattended while their parents were away at work. The need for afterschool programming was apparent. Using his experience in starting up a similar education program in rural Cambodia, Elliot opened the doors of Picaflor House in 2010, then a one-room schoolhouse.
Programs at Picaflor House
With the overarching objective of providing a safe space for local children, Picaflor House hosts an assortment of development programs. Its English Language Programme focuses on introducing very young students to the language and familiarizing older students with more advanced vocabulary skills. The Literacy Programme aims at improving Spanish writing and reading comprehension skills. This is a particularly helpful activity as Spanish comprehension is frequently limited among many in the countryside given that Quechua is a common first language.
The organization’s programs extend beyond a purely academic focus. “Our goal is to give a well-rounded education. That means we focus not only on tradition[al]subjects but also, life topics like safety and health & hygiene.” This includes the Child Protection development activity, which teaches children public safety skills to identify dangerous situations and empower them to reach out for help.
Picaflor’s COVID-19 Response
The COVID-19 pandemic introduced many challenges to the Picaflor team. In March 2020, as part of the government-mandated quarantine, the program temporarily closed its doors as did all Peruvian schools and many businesses.
Declines in international trading and lockdown measures significantly affected household incomes. In the second quarter of 2020, employment among Peruvians reduced by nearly 40%. Informal jobs are common in Peru but come without employment stability, especially in rural areas. These informal jobs fueled a significant portion of the pandemic-induced unemployment numbers.
One survey conducted during the 2020 pandemic-induced shutdown in Peru found that the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity was more likely among low-income Peruvian families during this period. Despite the constraints to the pursuit of its mission, Picaflor adapted to meet the needs produced by these new challenges. The team provided struggling local households with “family food baskets” filled with essential food staples. In 2020, the organization delivered more than 89 food baskets helping the families of 80 children who regularly attended Picaflor’s programs. Picaflor House continued this program through 2021, delivering another 89 food baskets in the first quarter alone.
In July 2021, the shutdown mandates eased up and the organization opened its doors again. Between July and December 2021, 97 students enrolled in the program with females making up 46% of these students. This is a promising reinitiation of the organization’s operations and illustrates the need for Picaflor’s services in the community.
Planned Expansions to Help Children in Peru
As activity resumes in Peru, Picaflor House plans to roll out new opportunities for its beneficiaries. Among them is a mobile library, a vehicle filled with reading and learning materials capable of reaching remote villages up to twice a week. The team identified the need for this project upon learning that a majority of children in those areas did not have access to the internet or online capable devices, necessary tools during the era of COVID-19 remote learning. As a consequence, students “hadn’t been able to receive or hand in schoolwork for over a year.”
Picaflor also plans to roll out COVID-19-safe portable classrooms, buildings with high roofs and plenty of ventilation for children in Peru. These classrooms are a cost-effective and health-conscious solution to the organization’s need for newer mobile infrastructure as it begins to occupy a new property lot. Above all, the team is seeking to get back to 100% operations. Elliot notes “our main goals are to return to normal scheduling as soon as possible and help the children catch up academically as, despite online classes, most children have fallen very behind, after two years out of school.”
Picaflor House has proven itself a vital resource to the residents of Oropesa. The developmental programs and the support that the children in that community in Peru are receiving will prepare them to pursue a wider range of vocational and educational opportunities in the future.
– Gonzalo Rodriguez