News Archive 2011

September - October - November 2011: Welcome to Building Dignity's Blog!

posted Nov 14, 2011, 12:10 PM by Andrew Mueller   [ updated Jan 27, 2013, 8:47 AM by Henrik Mitsch ]

Hola! Welcome to the Building Dignity blog! This blog will serve as a way to communicate the many things we're working on here at the Center for Development with Dignity (CEDED) so you can (at least vicariously) be a part of the action. Feel free to share your comments and thoughts with us by email. In this first post, I'll try to sum up an exciting 2 months of activity here at CEDED. Here goes ...

It didn't take too long for me to settle in to the rhythm here at the Center for Development with Dignity (CEDED)--or maybe the rhythm settled into me. Since arriving at the crack of dawn on September 15th, my work at Building Dignity has been fast paced and full of inspiration. By the end of September, I had met with a national congressman here in the Center, coordinated with City Hall to get our first Leadership Grant project off the ground, and gotten to know the many leaders and neighbors who are working on the development of Lomo de Corvina (the hill at the edge of Villa El Salvador where we are located).

Meeting with Sergio Tejada
A meeting with national congressman Sergio Tejada (right) and his legal aid (center) at the Center for Development with Dignity.

To date, we have successfully implemented our spring (here in the southern hemisphere) season of workshops for youth and adult leaders. These workshops range from math and homework tutoring every weekend, music classes on Saturday mornings, our leadership school for young women, and computer classes and weekly meetings with dirigentes (elected neighborhood leaders). We are also partnering with an Italian NGO here in Lima called CESVI ( which facilitates a workshop for youth every week focused on entrepreneurship and implementing projects and events for the community. At the beginning of October, the CESVI group put on a movie showing that brought over 100 people through our doors! The group is currently working on promoting a neighborhood festival this coming Saturday (November 19) with a theatre and arts NGO called Arena y Esteras and another movie showing in December.

The line outside our door right before the "CEDED Movie Theater" gave it's inaugural showing featuring Los Pitufos ("The Smurfs!"). 

One of CEDED's most important programs is the Leadership Academy which trains local leaders of all ages to better serve and improve their community. I have been in charge of organizing our leadership circle for young women (ages 11-16), along with the support of some volunteer study abroad students from the U.S. There are approximately 7 girls who attend consistently and we have been discussing the issues of human rights and women's rights along with playing leadership and teambuilding games. November 25th we will have a closing event for our Level 1 class where the participants will get a chance to present to their parents what they've learned. Beginning in January, we will start a new Level 1 class for boys and girls as well as continue with our current group on to Level 2.

The group of young women (plus one younger brother) in Level 1 of our Leadership Circle. Also in the photo are our awesome volunteers (from left to right), Hannah, Nikita, Matt, and Elizabeth.

These past 2 months have also seen CEDED expand its connections in the community. Recently, I had meetings at City Hall in Villa El Salvador and met with the directors of Urban Development as well as Citizen Participation with the goal of developing a better relationship with local government. In the future, I plan on inviting representatives from City Hall to speak to groups of dirigentes to help facilitate cooperation between the two important community stakeholders. This will also be a part of a larger initiative to develop a leadership curriculum for dirigentes to better prepare them to lead successful development projects and initiatives.

Speaking of mutual cooperation, CEDED has been fortunate enough to sign an agreement with the María Elena Moyano Institute of Technology (ISMEM) which is currently providing free computer classes for dirigentes from Lomo de Corvina. In return, some of our volunteers are teaching weekly English workshops for the students at ISMEM.

This was one of the first projects I worked on after listening to the dirigentes in September when they told me about computer illiteracy as a major barrier to development. Many dirigentes are experienced leaders and activists with long histories in Villa El Salvador, but as electronic communication and information gathering are becoming the norm, they are feeling this important tool passing them by. We have already seen the benefits of the computer classes at ISMEM as just the other day, a dirigente named Jorge, came over to use our computer to type a professional letter to City Hall. Usually, he would have to pay someone to type it for him but now that he is more familiar with computers, he was able to do it all by himself!

Our first day of class brought 20 dirigentes through the door, many of them using a computer for the first time.
Dirigentes participating in the first computer class we offered in partnership with ISMEM (the María Elena Moyano Institute of Technology). The first class brought 20 students through the doors and we've had consistent attendance of around 15 since then.

Speaking of dirigentes, Betty Lozano, who won our first round of Leadership Grants, is continuing to make progress on her project which is to put a new roof on the preschool in her neighborhood. Through our connections at City Hall we have succeeded in getting a detailed architectural plan and cost analysis. Now all that is left to do is secure outside financial support and donations of materials. Other than the $500 that Building Dignity is financing, Betty's neighbors are pitching in and Betty is soliciting cement, bricks, and rebar donations from local businesses and the municipality. Below is a preliminary architectural plan that we obtained after a municipal architect visited the school back in October.

The PRONOEI building has 2 classrooms, both of which are in desperate need of a new roof. 

The last bit of action that I'll share with you in this blog entry is our newly budding musicians of Villa El Salvador. On Saturday, I had 7 guitar players come to learn form Andy and Alfa (two volunteers, friends of mine, and and fellow neighbors) as well as a few students interested in the Cajón (an Afro-Peruvian percussion instrument resembling a wooden box that you sit on and play, hitting the front panel with your hands). Thanks to a generous donation from Patty and John Mueller, we have been able to purchase a guitar, 7 cajones, and an amplifier. In the future I plan on giving local artists in the area around La Encantada a space at CEDED to perform and share their art. This music class will hopefully be the beginning of that process.

Andy Ventura (Left) teaching some beginner guitar students

Our master cajón player (cajonera) and volunteer Angiela giving a lesson to some aspiring cajoneros (myself included!)

August 21, 2011: Montessori students visit Building Dignity in Peru

posted Aug 21, 2011, 1:27 PM by Henrik Mitsch   [ updated Jan 27, 2013, 8:41 AM ]

Dear friends of Building Dignity,

Recently, the Center for Development with Dignity (CEDED) hosted our youngest volunteers yet. Educator Elizabeth Henke and six students from Montessori High School
(Cleveland, OH; picture on the right) volunteered their time (and fundraised dollars) to teach, paint three rooms of the center, and immerse themselves in Villa El Salvador community life. At the end of this message, I note other highlights, but most of this update comes through the voices of these young adults: Daria Bobyleva, Serena Chapman, Christian Heller, Otto Lyon, Savannah Roach, and Betty Roethlisberger.

"My initial impression of Villa El Salvador was one of surprise. I was surprised at how such a poor city could be located so close to one so prosperous (Lima). I was initially worried about how safe it would be for us in Villa El Salvador on a daily basis, but those worries quickly went away when we started to walk around and meet some of the people living there. It seemed not safe when we first arrived, but the people living there were so kind and that made us feel very comfortable to be in that area. The time spent in Villa almost felt more safe than the time spent in Lima." --Christian

Painting the Garden Room.
"I have to say, my initial impressions of Villa El Salvador were not the best. The first things I saw after I stepped off the bus were huge piles of trash everywhere, as well as a bunch of homeless dogs all around looking for scraps. The sandy desert of Villa El Salvador was filled with the smell of trash. As soon as I met the people who lived there my thoughts of the place completely changed. These people were so open to strangers, every time we passed people they would greet us as if we had known each other for awhile. The kids were so comfortable with us after just three days." --Betty

Picture on the right: Painting the Garden Room. Laru became our expert painter, spending much of his time over the three days painting the garden room with the help of Betty and Daria, and of course, Encantada resident "Michelangelo".

"I kept an open mind going into Villa El Salvador. I honestly had no idea what to expect. Driving into Villa El Salvador, my first impressions were trash everywhere, lot and lots of stray dogs, and run-down even though there were people all about! Normally all this would lead me to think it is a dangerous, unhappy place. But once we stepped out of the bus and visited the Mayor, we were greeted by happy, proud people! In fact, they were celebrating their 40th year anniversary so the city was quite new contrary to my first impressions. As Jesús led us through rows and rows of 'houses' made out of mostly scrap materials, the people said ‘hola’ with smiles on their faces; yet they were living in insufficient housing with dirt floors, and no running water! As time went on in getting to know Villa El Salvador I was surprised by the unity and optimism of the people, all working toward the same goal with happiness and courage instead of discontent and violence. This place became safer and safer as I watched three- and four-year old children walk home from the center in the dark, all alone! Children that age wouldn’t do that in the U.S. The other thing that blew me away was the generosity of the people. I went to a soup kitchen and they offered us food even though they only had so much food to feed the women and children in need. It really left me with an appreciation and thankfulness of my life, but more so, the lesson that one can choose to find the good in any situation. With this experience, I hope to do that myself and always remember the optimism of the people of Villa El Salvador." --Serena

Playing guitar.
"One of the observations that shaped my understanding of La Encantada was watching how observant and thoughtful the kids were. When we put out the origami paper and watercolors, they took only what they needed. I was hoping, at most, for the kids to be interested in playing with the folded frogs, but without any language communication, the kids were immediately following along after the first few folds." --Otto

Picture on the right: Playing guitar. Otto, our traveling musician, enhanced our time at Building Dignity by performing songs for the children in the kindergarten class and Wawa Wasi (daycare).

"One of the most astounding things I witnessed was seeing how gingerly and thoughtfully the students used materials--one at a time. The Montessori philosophy of limited material was played out here, born of circumstance, but with the same result: the material had value. It was there to be shared and respected." --Elizabeth

Radio Interview.
"There was one little girl at the center who showed up for every art class, named Mercedes. She had a green ribbon tied in her hair. She carried her notebooks and pencil around as if it was her job. On the first day of art workshops, we taught all of the kids watercolors. Most of them traced pictures out of books and colored them in. Mercedes plopped down on the sand-coated cement floor and proceeded to draw a house, a tree, and two people. The first thing that surprised me was that she drew a typical house instead of the makeshift ones made out of cinderblocks that she knows. After she had finished painting with concentration for about fifteen minutes, the paper had become a muddled mess of goopy paint and water. I asked her what she had painted (in Spanish) and she answered with: her house, me, and Christian. She handed me the paper and began on a new, but very similar piece of art. I can’t answer why, but at that point something clicked and I instantly felt like I was in the right place. From that point, I felt safer there than I do just a few blocks from where I live at school. This little girl who lives without water and little financial support was able to instantly connect to a stranger and show an instant generosity that many adults will never be able to know. To me, this experience is a lens into the lives and lifestyles of the 400,000 people who live in Villa El Salvador." --Savannah

Picture on the right: Radio Interview. Savannah and Elizabeth represented the group as the radio host asked questions ranging from why we chose to visit Villa el Salvador to what is most American’s response to global warming and climate change. Upon completion as we were walking down the street, we were greeted by people who had listened to the broadcast! They warmly thanked us for coming to their city and working with CEDED.

English workshop.
"The most memorable moments for me were the third day when I was working with a small school in La Encantada. When we walked over from the center to their classroom, this little girl came up to me and took my hand. I don’t know how to explain it, but that one little action she took meant so much to me. When it was time for them to play outside they were so excited to do something with us. I took them around giving them piggyback rides and swinging them around in the air. They loved this and it put a smile on their faces every time. It made me so happy to see that smile shining on their faces and it’s a memory I will never forget. They never got tired of this and did not want to stop, but they calmly stood aside after their turn to let someone else go. The camaraderie these kids have is something every one should have and it gives us hope for the future." --Betty
Picture on the left: English workshop. Savannah and Betty take time to teach the parts of the body along with naming the members of the family. The students listened, drew, labeled, and sang “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.”

Recent Building Dignity Highlights
Leadership Grants: We awarded our first leadership grant to community leader Betty Lozano Revollar. The grant enables Betty to lead the construction of a concrete roof on a school. This $1,600 project is co-financed by Building Dignity (40%) and neighborhood residents (60%). Betty will also play a mentoring role in our upcoming grant competition for emerging leaders. Emily and Paul spent time in Lima in April and June developing this program.

Students in Brooke Haubrick’s classroom at Adams Spanish Immersion School (St. Paul, MN) donated 136 new books to the CEDED library. And Carleton students Jason Anderson and Nicole Johnson are currently leading the design and completion of CEDED’s community kitchen. More from them in our next update.

Programming: We continue to offer 2-week and 4-week classes in English, math, sports, leadership, music, and poetry. Recent workshops have been led by Rocío Hernani and Indy Díaz Nuñez (Peru), John Boyce and Daniel Franklin (Australia), and Jason Anderson, Mary Ellen Dingley, Nicole Johnson, and Annabelle Potvin (U.S.).

Personnel: We are adding two new Program Coordinator positions (one Peruvian and one non-Peruvian). Macalester alum Andrew Mueller will fill the latter position beginning in September. We are recruiting in Lima to fill the other position.

Needed: Your old PC laptop that’s collecting dust on the shelf! CEDED needs two additional used PC laptops. The market value of your donated computer is tax-deductible. Talk to me if you can help with this important need.

Thanks to all our diverse supporters and volunteers!

April 2, 2011

posted Apr 2, 2011, 7:35 AM by Henrik Mitsch   [ updated Jan 27, 2013, 8:41 AM ]

Dear friends,

December through February was Building Dignity's busiest period since the 2009 inauguration of the Center for Development with Dignity, with volunteers leading a host of activities.

Susie Taylor, of Portage, Wisconsin led a team of SoulsideOut volunteers test -- Athene Bryce-Rogers, Sadie Luetmer, and David Schiaffino -- on a month-long volunteer trip to La Encantada. Susie writes:

“The Center has been a hot spot of creativity and budding vision. We joined forces with Jesús, Martha, Emily, Naomi Nanez, and Australians Maddie Willis and Laura Stockdale to run a dance camp and empowerment workshop, teach English, inaugurate the Library of Dignity, paint a mural, build a garden, and deliver a new tiled floor to the bathroom!

¡Clases de Baile! Dancing to Shakira and Usher the kids met and practiced in the center two hours a day. At the end of the camp, parents, brothers, sisters, friends, and dancers headed to the park, plugged in the speakers, and put on a fabulous show. Giggling and playing, the kids bounced through their well-rehearsed routines against a backdrop of Villa. Epico.

Empowerment Workshop:
Twice a week, in 2-hour segments, a dozen girls worked with Naomi to articulate their visions. Through painting and photography the girls shared their dreams and aspirations, and identified the attributes they possess that can make those dreams obtainable realities. The creativity and passion that emerged in these sessions was inspiring.

English Classes:
Whoa! The first day ushered 40 new students through the Building Dignity door! The interest was potent, energetic, and focused. Kids filed in with notebooks and eager faces. Sadie and Susie had their hands full the first day until we limited class sizes to maintain the integrity of the lessons. The kids split into smaller groups and worked hard, moving quickly from colors and body parts into the difficulty of verb conjugations. Voices could be heard ringing through library and common room, “I am…you are… we are… going!”

We attacked the back room and painted the regions of Peru in vivid colors (photos below). From the Ocean to the shore, through La Encantada, the desierto, up the foothills to the mountains, across the Amazon, into the jungle; in each environment their own animales and plantitas. The final installation went in as the kids painted their hands in technicolor and left their own print on their walls.

In our final week the Soulside volunteers hauled in dirt and plants until the garden breathed with green. The kids did the planting: one to free the roots, one to hold and carry, another to dig a hole, and the collective to finish the job. We did our research and feel confident that with the limited light our indoor garden will continue to grow. It makes a tremendous reading room and brings life to the Center.

Our weeks in La Encantada were inspiring and an honor to participate in. The Soulside thanks Building Dignity, Maddie, Laura, Emily, Naomi, Jesús & Martha, and the community at large. We are lucky to participate in this project; our aim is to continue providing a wider audience with an intimate window into the activities shaping this vibrant persevering community.”

Additional Recent Highlights

Programming: 9-week puppet-making workshop series; TV and Radio Communications classes
; Saturday Coffeehours with neighborhood activists.

Personnel: As planned, we have begun paying modest salaries to Peruvian staff and Peruvian instructors. Non-Peruvian staff and volunteers will always donate their time and expenses.

Infrastructure: Internet upgraded to Wi-Fi; bathrooms finished (showers!)
; new bookshelves.

Coming Soon: Leadership Fellowship Program!

In April, Emily and Jesús will lead a team of 10 veteran neighborhood activists in a five-week process of designing and initiating the first round of Building Dignity’s leadership fellowship program. This committee plans to begin soliciting applicants in May. Proposals for projects in the Lomo de Corvina region will be due in June and the first cohort of fellows will implement their projects beginning in July and August. Fellows will meet weekly to support each other in pursuing projects in their individual neighborhoods. We’re really excited to launch this program!

Thanks to all Jan/Feb/Mar volunteers: Emma Kaplan, Mary Ellen Dingley, César Flores, Naomi Nanez, Tito y sus Títeres (puppets), Maddie & Laura, and the SoulSideOut team
(Susie, Athene, Sadie, David).

¡Muchas gracias!

P.S. If you are one of our donors, please consider making your 2011 contribution early in the year to help even out our cash flow, since donations are concentrated in December. We appreciate your generosity!

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