The light at the end of the Shining Path
In South-Central Peru, a little less than 40 years ago, a rebellion was born. The rebels called themselves El Sendero Luminoso, or the Shining Path. It was a Maoist offshoot, a sect filled with and fueled by angry intellectuals and peasants determined to create a new social order.Beginning in 1980, the Shining Path launched a guerrilla war against both the government as well as any citizens it perceived as capitalist sympathizers. The war wreaked havoc on the Peruvian countryside.”They wanted to get the land back into the hands of the farmers, theoretically. Then it just wound up being a kind of civil war. Lots of farmers, if they indicated they didn’t want to be a part of the Shining Path, then they would kill them,” said Lynn Roe, a nurse at Valley View Hospital. Roe, 54, along with fellow nurse Carol West, 56, traveled to Peru in May to volunteer their services for a few weeks.”The government sent the military in, and it was war between the military and the Shining Path,” Roe said.Most humanitarian groups now estimate that the war caused the deaths of at least 30,000 Peruvians. At least 46,000 others are listed as missing and most likely dead. Between 1980 and 1990, when the Shining Path was at its peak, roughly 200,000 Peruvians were displaced and driven out of their homes by rural violence. In other words, the impact was immense.In the center of this turbulence was the city of Ayacucho, where the Shining Path had a strong base. Today, Ayacucho is recovering, slowly but surely. The Shining Path has long since been broken up, but remnants of the group were active as recently as 2003, when they took 71 hostages and forced a standoff with the government.It was to Ayacucho, the war-torn heart of Southern Peru, that Roe and West travelled.
The idea, Roe said, was to get into the country’s guts, to really get a feel for the people and culture. Both Roe and West have traveled abroad numerous times, so they wanted to avoid the simple tourist experience of visiting only the attractions.”We wanted to see the real inside of the country,” Roe said.So the pair of them hooked up with an aid organization called Cross Cultural Solutions. Through the program, Roe and West were each assigned a health clinic in Ayacucho at which to work.The experience was unforgettable for both. The Shining Path had set the Peruvian countryside back to the point where many residents were barely eking out a living.”It’s really sad,” West said. “I didn’t know what it was really like until we went down there.””What we were really surprised about was that they had really limited supplies [at the health clinics],” West continued. “Many things we take for granted, they don’t have.”West said the clinic at which she worked often lacked basic medical supplies like iodine, bandages, syringes, IV bags and soap.At her clinic, Roe was shocked to learn that despite the supposed “universal” health care system in Peru, families were still forced to pay for aid. If they couldn’t pay, they were forced to make do without.”They say they have insurance for mothers, children, and elderly, and what that means is that you can go to the clinic and see the doctor, but unless you have the money, you won’t get the medication. And they have to pay for everything, they have to pay for syringes, bandages, everything,” Roe said.
And many families in Ayacucho can barely afford to feed their families, let alone pay for antibiotics.”I saw tons and tons of kids with high fevers,” said Roe. “It was pretty much treat the symptoms and send them home.”One afternoon, said Roe, the clinic even ran out of water. She couldn’t believe it. “We had no hand sanitizer,” said Roe.”It’s just a whole different world,” Roe said.After two weeks of working in such extreme conditions, Roe thought she had probably seen it all. But she hadn’t.On her very last day at the clinic, the head doctor sent Roe to the local grocery store to buy some food for a local woman named Vivian. Vivian was probably in her mid-40s, Roe said, and she had seven children.”I bought her enough food to last her a month, and it cost me 20 dollars,” Roe said. “She was so thankful and grateful.”But that’s not the kicker.
Later that day, the doctor told her that Vivian had secretly asked if “that lady from America” would be willing to adopt her 4-month-old baby.”She knew that her child’s chances were just not that good,” said Roe.But despite the extreme poverty of the area and the working conditions, the people are some of the most welcoming and hospitable that both West and Roe have ever met.West said that the thing that impressed her the most was “the friendliness of the people. They’ll just reach out whenever. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back.””The people were nice everywhere we went. We did not have one bad experience anywhere,” said Roe.West added that though this was her first volunteer mission, she hopes she’ll be able to volunteer abroad at least once a year from now on.Contact John Schroyer: 945-8515, ext. 529 email@example.com
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