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In Peru, Lowering the Barrier between Dreams and Reality

By Gisella Silva and Lola Sanchez-Carrion
In Peru, Lowering the Barrier between Dreams and Reality

A young, prospective recipient of TECHO Club’s help, in one of Lima’s
asentamientos (photo: G. Barreto).
In her essay “What is Poverty?” Jo Goodwin Parker states that “Poverty is living in a smell that never leaves. Poverty is dirt. Poverty is cooking without food and cleaning without soap.”
From what we have seen, poverty is also climbing countless stairs with a cloud of despair over your head, living with the realization that it is almost impossible for hope to shine through. Poverty is facing the fact that not all of one’s dreams and aspirations can come true. Poverty is complex and complicated and frustrating.
Empathy for those who live in poverty every day can only be gained by experiencing it, and this is what makes TECHO Club at Colegio Franklin D. Roosevelt, The American School of Lima so meaningful. We, students, spend two full days in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Lima, building emergency homes for families that lack basic shelter. We build with them, we eat with them, and over the course of the weekend, we a learn from them.
Our club began two years ago, and it quickly became one of the largest student-led groups on campus. With more than 200 high school volunteers, we have raised over US$100,000 and built 60 homes. Aside from building homes, our goals are also to mitigate the negative effects of poverty, educate our community about its vicious cycle, and most importantly, break down the stereotypes that plague our society.
None of this would have been possible without the help of the Latin American NGO TECHO. TECHO was started in Chile in 1997, by a group of university volunteers who wanted to mitigate the effects of poverty in the slums, and our partnership with TECHO began in much the same way.
When Sebastian Salomon (currently a Grade 12 student at FDR) attended a build during his sophomore year with his classmates, he was so appalled by the conditions he witnessed that he wanted to do something about it. He started TECHO Club with the help of Corey Topf, our teacher sponsor, and in just two years, that small seed of an idea has grown quickly.
We have expanded to middle school, where 50 Grade 7 and 8 students formed TECHO Siete-Ocho, thanks to the help of humanities teacher Joseph Bonnici.
Last spring both clubs united to organize our second annual Roosevelt Community Build. Over 300 members of our Roosevelt Community worked together to raise more than US$45,000 and build 26 emergency homes in San Juan de Lurigancho, an asentamiento outside of Lima.
Although we did not change the fact that these people are still living in poverty, we were able to improve the conditions in which they live. By building these homes, we have also given them a small amount of hope. Hope that they could begin focusing on bigger dreams, like seeing their children graduate from university. Hope that they could go on to become the nurses and lawyers that they longed to be.
As former TECHO Club president Sebastian Salomon once said, “Being a volunteer is valuable because it means recognizing that one does not have to be an adult or a politician to change the reality of those living in poverty; all one needs is the willpower and dedication to fight against what they believe is unjust.”
Being a part of TECHO Club has empowered hundreds of us at Colegio FDR to do something about poverty, and to break down the prejudices here in Lima. We now understand that people in poverty were simply not given equal opportunities to strive for their dreams. As volunteers, we have the means, and now the drive, to help those who are less fortunate get one step closer to escaping poverty, so that the barrier between their dreams and reality can lower.
For the work we have done as a club, we have received the AAASA Global Citizenship award, a regional honor that recognizes student groups who have made a significant impact within their community.
Through TECHO Club, endless opportunities have also arisen for students to pursue their passion for service. One Grade 10 student, Carolina Aguilar, spent a year working on her personal project, providing people in San Juan de Lurigancho with an alternative source of light that was both cost-efficient and easy to maintain. Two of our club members, Gisella Silva and Olivia Franco, attended a Global Issues Network (GIN) conference in Costa Rica to encourage other schools to start their own TECHO clubs.
Many think that those in poverty live in an entirely different world, when in fact, they are less than five minutes away. Five minutes from polished buildings and malls, to run-down cars and cardboard homes. We cannot help but ask ourselves, is that fair?
Fortunately, and thanks to organizations such TECHO, this plague is gradually being addressed, and students within the Colegio FDR community are working hard to confront it.
Gisella Silva, Lola Sanchez-Carrion, and Gabriel Barreto are all Colegio FDR students—and TECHO Club members.

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