News Archive 2012

December 2012: End-of-Year Reflections from Andrew Mueller, Building Dignity's 2011-12 Program Director

posted Jun 2, 2013, 6:06 AM by Henrik Mitsch   [ updated Jun 2, 2013, 6:14 AM ]

Dear friends of Building Dignity,

As 2012 comes to an end, it’s a good time to reflect on a productive year at Building Dignity. First, some numbers: 496 children, youth and adults benefited from our Community Education programs; 127 adolescents and 24 adults participated in our leadership training programs; our generous supporters expanded our collection of laptops from 2 to 7 computers, which are used to do homework and research by over 50 children and adults per week; and leadership grants that support adult and youth-led development projects grew from $500 to $2,500.

While the above list gives a taste of the extraordinary growth we’ve experienced over the past year, let’s take a closer look at some program highlights and the people who made this growth possible.

Youth Leadership
When I arrived in Villa El Salvador in September 2011, one of my goals was to expand the youth leadership program, Voices of Youth, which had previously been implemented as a pilot program. This program seeks to provide leadership education to highly motivated youth in our community in a dynamic workshop setting. At the culmination of the program, participants design and implement their own community service project to benefit their neighbors and peers. This year, we solidified the framework for the program and developed a strong cohort of young leaders who organized a youth rock concert in La Encantada, conducted screen-printing classes for their peers, and helped out with a puppetry workshop for children. One of our most dedicated graduates of this program, Claudia Pezo, now works as the assistant facilitator for Voices of Youth. With Claudia’s added leadership, our group of young leaders has taken even more initiative to engage in service projects and organize events for other youth and the community. Before I left, Claudia and her friend Brenda suggested to Julia Smith, the Center’s current Program Director, that they organize a theatre performance at a local orphanage. This kind of initiative is the goal of Voices of Youth, and I was happy to see Claudia’s energy contribute to more youth engagement in their community.
Voices of Youth

Adult Leadership
Since my first week on the job, I spent countless hours meeting with adult community leaders, politicians, government officials, and local community educators in Villa El Salvador. My goal was to understand the challenges and needs faced by community leaders. Through meetings held with grassroots leaders (called dirigentes), I received an insider perspective of the day-to-day struggle faced by these volunteer activists. It is important to emphasize the word “volunteer” because dirigentes are elected public servants who are tasked with leading local development initiatives but receive no compensation for what is essentially a full-time job.

In collaboration with veteran dirigentes, we developed plans for an adult leadership program. The workshop series, called Discover Leadership, is an 8-session course followed by a project design and implementation phase. Using popular education methodologies Discover Leadership takes a holistic approach to developing up-and-coming leaders, touching on character development, communication and organizing strategies, project planning and financing, and conflict resolution. For the pilot project (August-October 2012), Building Dignity collaborated with a local university to bring professional guest speakers to teach topics such as project planning and working within government bureaucracy. Currently, the course participants are designing their community projects and receiving ongoing technical assistance and financing from Building Dignity.
Discover Leadership

Spotlight: Betty Lozano Revollar
If there ever was an individual leader who exemplifies the goals of the leadership development program, it’s Betty Lozano. Before my arrival, Betty had been awarded funds from the Leadership Grant project to help finance the construction of a new roof on her neighborhood’s preschool. Over the course of the year, I met with Betty as well as local business and political leaders in Villa El Salvador to secure all of the financing required for the $4,000 project. It was a time consuming and challenging affair and gave me a perspective on all of the obstacles that cause many development projects to fail in under-resourced areas like La Encantada, even with the leadership of people like Betty.
Betty Lozano

After more than a year of hard work, and thanks to Building Dignity staff and Betty’s never-ceasing positive attitude, the roof was finished this October. Now, over 60 children ages 3-5 as well as hundreds of parents and community members have access to a safe, secure place to learn and gather.
Preschool Roof Completed

Now as we reach the end of a full year of progress, we can reflect back and give a toast to leaders like Betty and Claudia who are filled with energy and a motivation to see their former shantytown rise up and move forward one step at a time.

From the staff and community of La Encantada, we thank you for your support of Building Dignity this year and here’s to a prosperous 2013!

Andrew Mueller
Development Associate
(Program Director from Sept. 2011-Oct. 2012)

October 2012: Opening New Opportunities for Women Artisans

posted Jun 2, 2013, 6:05 AM by Henrik Mitsch

Dear friends of Building Dignity,

For many, the arrival of fall is a busy time, characterized by back-to-school preparations and a quickened pace of work. In Lima, the change in season marks a refreshed commitment to our mission, as we seek creative ways to fuel neighborhood-led development.

Amidst this flurry of activity, we would like to share with you the stories of a few courageous women, who are working to expand their skill set, broaden opportunities for their family, and contribute to the development of their community.

Mujeres Emprende GroupIn May 2012, Building Dignity collaborated with the city government of Lima to launch a new program called “Mujer Emprende” (Enterprising Women), which enables women to generate income through the production and sale of artisanal crafts. Each week, women meet at the Center for Development with Dignity to learn the arts of sewing, weaving, knitting and more. The results—impeccably crafted jewelry, dolls and decorations—are then sold at artisan fairs throughout the city, allowing these women to support themselves and their families.

“Mujer Emprende” recognizes, however, that a woman’s well-being depends on much more than her income. Thus, workshop facilitators interweave artisanship with discussions of self-esteem, domestic violence, women’s rights, gender equality, preventative health, and leadership.

We invite you to meet some of the women of “Mujer Emprende” through their own words:

Jenny Rojas Rodríguez
Jenny Rojas Rodríguez
, 30 years old: “I joined the program ‘Mujer Emprende’ to learn and to overcome challenges. I really like the crafts, and the income they generate help my family. I hope that this program grows and attracts the support of other institutions so that we can become business women, capable of supporting our families.”

Mercedes Flores Segura
Mercedes Flores Segura
, 27 years old: “I joined this program because I wanted to learn new things. I have participated in the workshops for five months, and I feel very happy because I have learned so much and because the Center welcomes us with such kindness. The Center for Development with Dignity offers us a space to develop ourselves through ‘Mujer Emprende’ and the opportunity to participate in other workshops and programs.”

Clida Flor Echevarria Rufino
Clida Flor Echevarría Rufino
, 36 years old: “They invited me to participate in the program by visiting my home and telling me they were going to offer free workshops. It seemed like a good opportunity, so I signed up with my sister. I have learned how to make beautiful handicrafts. We have organized ourselves, and I am now the president of the group. Together, we have visited artisan fairs in Villa El Salvador and other districts. We rely on this small income and hope to do more to promote our products, which we create with much love and professionalism.”

“Mujer Emprende” is another avenue by which Building Dignity seeks to fuel community-led development through empowerment and education. For us, it has been a pleasure to work closely with these women. On behalf of the 16 participants of “Mujer Emprende,” a heartfelt thank you for your support!

July 2012: Engaging Youth through Teaching and Tutoring

posted Jun 2, 2013, 5:58 AM by Henrik Mitsch

Dear friends of Building Dignity,

Greetings from Lomo de Corvina (Lima, Peru), where Building Dignity is working hard to address one of the area’s most pressing challenges: the lack of resources and support for students. 

In January, Building Dignity welcomed Ana María Mejía Huisa to the team as our Program Coordinator. In six short months, Ana María has helped expand our Community Education program and deepen the impact we have on the lives of young people. The Center for Development with Dignity is now open three days a week for one-on-one and small group tutorials and homework help. As Program Coordinator, Ana María welcomes each student to the Center as they arrive. She reviews the assignments they bring from school and pairs them with a volunteer tutor who helps them study. Students pore over Building Dignity’s growing collection of encyclopedias and reference books and delight in the opportunity to conduct research on one of the Center’s laptops.

Ana Maria Teaching

Book donationsLaptop donations

For Ana María, the goal of our tutoring program is broader than helping students complete their homework. The goal is also to cultivate good study skills and a love of learning. That’s why Ana María and Program Director Andrew Mueller invite students to stay at the Center after they’ve finished their homework to read a book or play board games that exercise math skills. Thanks to the energy of Building Dignity staff and volunteers, students often stay until the minute the Center must close for the evening! Approximately 50 students benefit from our tutoring program each week, and many of them attend on a regular basis.
Horas Publicas
Building Dignity is grateful to the volunteers who make our Community Education initiatives possible. This month, we invited two of our former volunteers, Daniel and John, to share a bit about their experience in Lima. They write:

Dear friends of Building Dignity,

Our names are Daniel Franklin and John Boyce; we are both students from Canberra, Australia. Some months ago we completed a four-week volunteer stint in Villa El Salvador. During this time, we developed a relationship not only with Jesús, Martha and the family, but also with the community and its leaders.

As volunteers, we were able to establish a relationship with La Buena Esperanza, an elementary school in the community of Oasis. John and I were able to assist in English classes for all grades at this elementary school. Throughout our time at the school, the kids were enthusiastic and eager to learn, and took an interest in Australian culture.

Daniel and John with 5th graders

Throughout our stay, programs of sport (basketball and soccer) were organized every afternoon for children of the La Encantada community. The kids were always full of energy and keen to participate. We were amazed by the amount of talent that a number of kids displayed in soccer, with the both of us struggling to keep up with the frantic pace of the kids!!

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in La Encantada; we gained a unique insight into the life of Peruvians in Villa El Salvador, and more specifically the communities of La Encantada and Oasis. We are forever grateful for the opportunity provided to us by Emily and Paul, as well as the hospitality and love shown to us by Jesús, Martha and the family. We look forward to visiting the community in the not so distant future.

Building Dignity extends a heartfelt thanks to John and Daniel and the other volunteers who have contributed to our Community Education initiatives. We also wish to thank our friends and donors, whose generous support sustains our tutoring program, community education classes, and in-school support for students.  Finally, thanks to the members of Soulside Out for contributing to the photos used in this newsletter. 

A Night of Celebration at the Center for Development with Dignity

posted May 21, 2012, 12:44 PM by Andrew Mueller   [ updated Jan 27, 2013, 8:50 AM by Henrik Mitsch ]

Every May 11th, Villa el Salvador celebrates its founding as a squatter community and eventually an official district of Lima. Villa el Salvador originated as a group of displaced families from the rural provinces of Peru attempted to invade a plot of private land in southern Lima in April of 1971 and then were relocated to the current site on May 11th, 1971 by the populist dictator Juan Velasco Alverado. 

Below is a short video that explains the general history of Villa el Salvador up until it's 30th anniversary in 2001 (unfortunately there aren't any English subtitles but some of the images are striking). 

Historia de Villa el Salvador

Here is the original music video of Villa el Salvador's anthemic song which is about the improbable origins of a city built on nothing but sand but with the spirit of social justice, direct action, and self government.

Canción a Villa el Salvador

Here at the Center for Development with Dignity, we had our very own celebration of Villa's anniversary (which also coincides with the anniversary of La Encantada's founding as a new barrio in 1996). It consisted of puppet shows, music, and some small theatre compositions that were presented by youth who participated in our youth leadership program, "Voces de la Juventud". It was an exciting night with lots of stories and sharing of experiences. 

Below are some pictures so you can share in the celebration.

Títeres (Puppets) telling us a story

Graduates of the Voces de la Juventud leadership workshops showing off their certificates

Neighborhood leader, Edita, recounts the initial founding of La Encantada

Music was shared by visiting volunteer Megan Hadley and Program Director, Andrew Mueller

Building Dignity: Investing in Leaders, Fueling Development

posted May 8, 2012, 3:40 PM by Henrik Mitsch   [ updated Jan 27, 2013, 8:49 AM ]

The below attached article is printed with permission of the Jack Kent Cooke Scholar Association.

Published: April 2012 edition of the Jack Kent Cooke Scholar Association's Newsletter

April 2012: Building Dignity in San José, Costa Rica

posted Apr 30, 2012, 4:38 PM by Henrik Mitsch   [ updated Jan 27, 2013, 8:50 AM ]

2012 is off to a good start for Building Dignity! With programming moving full speed ahead in Lima, we have begun to reach out to like-minded non-profit organizations, build new partnerships, and expand our impact. Upon completing her graduate degree in August 2011, Building Dignity Director Emily Hedin moved to San José, Costa Rica for a year with the goal of expanding her skill set and leadership abilities before returning to Lima, Peru to resume her full-time work at the Center. In San José, she is networking with successful nonprofits, learning from their experiences, and improving Building Dignity programming by implementing our curriculum in new communities. Since February 2012, Emily has partnered with the local "Boy with a Ball" Foundation ( to organize youth leadership workshops for young women in the community of Triangulo de la Solidaridad.

Newsletter April 2012 Picture 1
Like La Encantada (Lima), the community of Triangulo de la Solidaridad faces daunting challenges. In this neighborhood, about 1,500 squatters—the vast majority of them undocumented immigrants from Nicaragua—live on 3 acres of land. Families in communities such as Triangulo de la Solidaridad occupy unstable homes with dirt floors, and 50% of households lack access to treated water. Most families make less than $200 a month, and the average individual drops out of school between the 3rd and 6th grade.

With the help of the Boy with a Ball Foundation, which has worked in Triangulo de la Solidaridad since 2004, Building Dignity is implementing its Youth Leadership curriculum with a dynamic group of 15 young women. Each week, the girls gather in the Foundation’s community center for an afternoon of activities that cultivate teamwork, self-esteem, self-expression, and leadership.

Newsletter April 2012 Picture 2We began in February with an engaging reflection on human rights in the area. The girls "measured the human rights temperature" of their community and identified where and how the protection of human rights could be improved. During the month of March, we celebrated women’s rights and the rich history of women leaders in Latin America and around the world. We also examined how women are portrayed in the media and discussed how we’d like to see that image changed. We are now focusing on service and leadership, as the girls work to design a community service project in Triangulo de la Solidaridad.

According to workshop participants, the project provides a space where they can "integrate, share, and learn new things." The workshops are "good, because it is something we can identify with as girls."

Back in Lima, leadership workshops continue to help young women find their voice and contribute to positive social change. Claudia, a member of the Lima-based “Voices of Youth” program writes:

I participate in leadership workshops at the Center for Development with Dignity, and there I feel strong and capable because [the Center] is connected to my community. Before, the neighbors were not so organized or concerned. Now, through meetings with young people and neighbors, the Center has made it possible for us to develop the will and desire to move forward as a community and as individuals. I believe that I have found a very special place for me and my community.

The young women of Triangulo de la Solidaridad and La Encantada have exchanged letters and souvenirs from their communities, offering one another encouragement and support on their journey. For us at Building Dignity, it is a privilege to watch their natural leadership grow.

Building Dignity would like to thank and acknowledge the University of Minnesota’s Center for Human Rights. The human rights curriculum “This is my Home” inspired several activities that we incorporate into our own work.

Bringing in the New Year with Dignity

posted Jan 6, 2012, 1:21 PM by Andrew Mueller   [ updated Jan 27, 2013, 8:49 AM by Henrik Mitsch ]

Happy New Year from the Center for Devleopment with Dignity! 2011 was a full year for the Center and we're about to hit the ground running in 2012. Here are a few highlights from my time here in the last few months of 2011:

  • Graduating a group of 8 young women (2 not pictured, below) who participated in the first level of our Leadership Academy for young girls. It was a great learning experience for me as well as some of our other volunteers who were able to work with these fine young women as they grew from week to week. During our "clausura" or final, closing meeting, each participant gave a short presentation about what they had learned throughout the workshop. A few parents were able to attend as well and learn about human rights and women's rights as well as the results from a human rights survey in our neighborhood of La Encantada.
    Leadership School Level I Graduation
    (Future leaders of Villa El Salvador from left to right: Eva, Lucero, Shirley, Janella, Claudia, and Rosa)
  • Bringing access to technology to Lomo de Corvina was a major accomplishment this November and December as we successfully trained 12 dirigentes through a partnership with ISMEM (see earlier blog post) who now are able to confidently use computers for the first time. We have also received numerous laptop donations that have brought our total number of computers at the Center to 7 with more on the way. This January and February we will be offering two computer classes (one for adults and one for youth) each week so we can build on the progress we made in the fall.
    (Dirigentes as well as the teachers and directors of ISMEM after their graduation and certificate presentation)
  • The Center for Development with Dignity's Community Kitchen was put to good use after its construction in mid-2011, specifically during the first baking classes taught in November and December. We had 5 classes that taught youth how to make delicious desserts from alfajores to apple pie. The kitchen was also used to prepare meals and refreshments for community meetings and events such as our 2 community movie showings. This coming January and February, we have a very enthusiastic volunteer named Juana who plans on teaching a 10-class baking course for adults in the community (I'm guessing it will be very popular!).
(Alfajores were a hit)  (Learning how to make a lattice top apple pie)

  • Chocolatadas 2011 were very successful. We had three chocolatadas in three different communities: La Encantada, Oasis, and Santísimo Salvador. For those who are unfamiliar with the chocolatadas celebration, it consists of a community party with hot chocolate, panetón (a Christmas sweet bread), and toys for children. Building Dignity this year partnered with another NGO called Carta a la Tierra who donated 2,000 personal panetoncitos that were handed out at all three events. For a few weeks, my room was also home to about 300 different toys that were donated as well. I felt like Papa Noél! For each chocolatada, we coordinated with local neighborhood leaders who organized their community so that the events went off without a hitch. Neighborhood leaders from each community's vaso de leche and comedor (two government funded programs that provide free or low cost milk and meals for the poorest residents) helped prepare the hot chocolate and more volunteers helped hand out panetón and toys.
    (Jean Pierre about to help unload a Mototaxi full to the       (Children from Oasis enjoying some Panetón and hot chocolate)
    brim with of sugar, milk, and chocolate)                      

             (Presidents of the Comedor, Rosa and Edita prepare the hot chocolate)

(Playing games with the residents of La Encantada as a preamble to the Chocolatada Fiesta)

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