Our limited experience of South America has, except for brief stays in Lima and Arequipa, been the Peruvian Amazon. So before Neil started full time with Latin Link we wanted to broaden our horizons and visit some different places and get to see a wider variety of mission workers. So after a few days in Lima meeting the Latin Link team there we headed off.
Our first stop was Huaraz in the mountains north of Lima. The 9-hour bus ride up into the mountains had Neil scrambling for travel sickness tablets and then spending the following days suffering from the altitude (3,100m). Here there’s a small team of Latin Link folk (from Spain, Britain and Perú), several of whom work with a project helping vulnerable families and children. It was fascinating to learn about the history and how the project continues to change and evolve; these days the emphasis is on trying to work with other groups and the local government in order to encourage fostering. We also visited the midweek prayer meeting at one local church where Sarah (who we stayed with) is involved in a range of discipleship ministries.
One take away question we had was how we continue to encourage best practice: helping keep families together whenever possible, providing support, creating foster placements when necessary in an environment where these things are not normal. From the safety of an armchair in England it is easy to say we should only focus on best practice and must stop doing anything that isn’t (eg: running children’s homes) but the reality on the ground is more complex (not least because the result of closing things would be more children on the streets). The team in Huaraz are doing a great job of navigating these challenges and living with the frustrations.
Second stop Bogotá, Colombia. Visiting a different South American Capital, we were bound to spend a lot of time comparing it to Lima. Colombia is a wealthier country, with a larger middle class, but also has a wider disparity between rich and poor. Again we visited a number of projects but the one that made the biggest impact on us was a local church which is a centre for supporting Venezuelan refugees. As we all know migration is a big issue in several parts of the world and currently there are about 1.5 million Venezuelans living in Colombia having fled the meltdown in their own country.
The primary thing we learned from our visit is how complex providing support to refugees actually is; and how there are multiple layers to this. When we train people and send them as mission workers to another country we talk a lot about culture shock, orientation etc. When refugees arrive, they too experience culture shock and displacement but also lack the means to meet their basic needs. Expectations, trauma, human needs and social dislocation are a problematic mix.
Bogotá is a fascinating city, with its colonial history, modern buildings and street art. On our last day, we went up a cable car that is part of the public transport system linking a poorer neighbourhood to the main bus system. For 25p you get some brilliant views of the city! (And in Neil’s case an extra dose of altitude sickness)
It was great to meet so many Latin Link people and learn what they are involved with. As well as the visits mentioned we met a number of the team in Lima as well. Lots of people took us out for meals and several opened their homes so we could stay with them – Thank you.
Now we are back in the UK and beginning to adjust to a new life with plenty of commuting. More of that next time……….