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January 16, 2010

posted Jan 30, 2010, 2:29 PM by Paul Dosh   [ updated Jan 27, 2013, 8:39 AM by Henrik Mitsch ]
Dear friends of Building Dignity,

Laura Spencer of Seattle, Washington spent the past five weeks living in La Encantada at the Center for Development with Dignity, helping with our 9th annual Chocolatadas and other work, and teaching swing dancing to the community.  Included here is a final update from her, a few photos, and a link to an awesome 3-minute YouTube video of her students dancing to Zoot Suit Riot!

From: Laura Spencer

I came to Latin America in my year off after college unsure of what I wanted to do with my future but with a yearning for adventure, growth, and new experiences, and in Villa El Salvador I certainly found it all!  Experiencing Peru from the periphery of its capital gave me a much fuller understanding of the country than one I had previously gotten in visits to only the most tourist-friendly parts (Miraflores in Lima, Machu Picchu, and some surrounding archeological sites).  

Remarkably, in Villa -- the one area that I did NOT feel was catering to me with tour guides, signs in English, souvenir markets, and Starbucks -- I felt most at home.  I loved that in Villa I didn´t feel like anything was fake. In Miraflores, there is a lovely clean, ordered plaza with flowers and artwork where you see tourists sitting with coffee and looking at guidebooks.  Unfortunately, this nice image is a very small sector of Lima, especially when contrasted with the Villa district of half a million residents with dirt roads, houses that flood, no running water, and garbage strewn about.  One can´t help but feel a bit deceived by the image of the central plaza in Miraflores when it is such a small part of Lima, and Villa is such a large one. 

Yet in Villa, despite the discomforts that come from lack of infrastructure, I felt more comfortable and at home than I have since my travels began (I recently spent a month in Buenos Aires, and several weeks in Chile).  The Valencia Huamán family was so kind and attentive that I felt a deep connection to them in the short month I spent in Villa; try as I might I couldn´t hold back the tears yesterday at my departure. I became attached not only to my family, but also to my friendly neighbors, and the kids in my dance class who were bright, full of energy, and never failed to make me laugh.

Swing Out Villa El Salvador


As a traveler and a writer (hopefully one day a published one) what most inspires me are the human connections I make, and after living in Villa I feel like I could write a novel!  Thank you so much Paul, Emily, Jesús, Martha, and everyone else responsible for this wonderful organization and giving me a chance to me a part of it!

--Laura Spencer
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