COVID-19 in Huaycan: Huaywasi’s New “Normal”

Huaycan, Lima, Peru panorama
 
As an ethical fashion brand operating within the NGO, The Light and Leadership Initiative (LLI), in Huaycán, Peru, we want to take this opportunity to reflect specifically on the effects COVID-19 has had on our home city. 

We previously analyzed the effects COVID-19 has had on the nation of Peru and explored a fair trade silver lining found in an ethical food distribution system in rural Andean villages. Check out that blog here to learn more about the hardships the country faced and the organizations that are constantly striving to better the lives of others. 

Huaycán is an urban community in the suburbs of Lima, Peru, located in Ate District which is about 15 km east of Lima. Huaycán is home to thousands of immigrant settlers from various parts of Peru that are looking to improve their standard of living and reach job opportunities in Lima

Like many communities in Peru, Huaycán was founded as a result of a land invasion in the 1980s. During this time, attacks from The Shining Path terrorist group forced many people living in the highlands to seek refuge in Lima. 

Huaycan, Lima, Peru photo taken on street

Given the current situation all around the world, we have all had to adjust to the new “normal” but as we know, this is a lot more challenging in developing communities, and Huaycan is certainly no exception. 

Peru went into a strict and sudden lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus on March 16th, 2020 and nothing has been the same since. While the majority of our team members were forced to return to their home countries, LLI management and Huaywasi artisans have still been in Huaycan. 

When Irene, LLI’s Communication & Development Manager, was asked what’s changed from March until now, this was her response:

“I think everything and nothing has changed since March. At the beginning Peru was being super restrictive and no one was allowed to go out of their homes. It was very scary to walk around La Quince (main street in Huaycan that is usually crowded with people) with literally no one on the street but us. Letting go of the volunteers was super hard. From having a team on the ground, supporting each other, it suddenly became just me. I am used to it now, but it has been a complete change!” 

LLI Communication Development Manager, Irene

Irene, LLI’s Communication & Development Manager

Irene also noted that because 70% of Peruvians have informal jobs, this means they rely on their day to day work, and being locked down for so long has put many families at risk. Unfortunately the pandemic hasn’t been the only concern as many people are facing job insecurity and are struggling to put food on the table during these increasingly tough times. 

Irene stated, “These circumstances merge into Huaycan. So you can imagine how hard it has been for so many families. This community is super resilient and has developed their own ways to survive, not only this time, but many before. Hopefully the situation will improve soon and Huaycan can breath again.” 

Huaycan, Lima, Peru skyline view

Yeni, LLI’s Education Manager, was suddenly forced to adapt to online learning and the challenges that come with teaching remotely. A lot of families in Huaycan lack access to laptops so Yeni, being the resilient and hard worker that she is, created coursework to send to students via Whatsapp. This is what she had to say about adjusting to the new normal: 

“My work has definitely changed a lot because I’m not training volunteers, visiting classes, or doing lesson plan reviews with teachers. Now, I am working remotely preparing video/text lessons for the kids with the help of some remote volunteers in the programs that I need help with. The materials are being sent through Whatsapp groups and then I wait for the students to send back their tasks to receive feedback from me. Most of the time, I communicate with the kids directly rather than their parents because I want them to hear my voice or see my messages/videos when congratulating them or giving feedback on assignments. Of course I also want to listen to them and hear their voice or see their messages.”

LLI's Education Manager in Huaycan, Lima, peru, Yeni

Yeni, LLI’s Education Manager

Yeni is constantly busy organizing new educational programs for the kids in Huaycan, but during her free time, she has been watching tv series, exercising, and practicing her English! The biggest takeaways she has gotten from this situation is “I learned to be empathetic with others because I have seen many people who really needed help to survive and not pass away from hunger. I also learned to appreciate, love and care for my family because I do not know when they might pass away, not only with COVID-19, but in any circumstances.” 

On the Huaywasi side of LLI, things have also been looking a lot different, but we are doing the best we can given all that is going on. Besides Huaywasi artisans, the rest of our team has all been working together remotely and Irene has so graciously been helping us with Huaywasi’s office operations. 

Elena, Huaywasi’s Head Seamstress, stated, “La cuarentena en Huaycán ha sido muy crucial porque mucha gente no estaba tomando medidas preventivas. Fue muy triste que no pudiéramos despedirnos como solíamos hacerlo. Lo que más extraño es no tenerlos cerca, hablar con ellos, y poder participar en el programa [The quarantine in Huaycan has been very crucial because a lot of people were not taking preventative measures. It was very sad that we couldn’t say goodbye like we used to. What I miss the most is not having them around, talking to them, and being able to participate in the program].” 

Huaywasi artisans participating in LLI womens program event

Despite the obvious disruptions to their everyday lives, Huaywasi artisans fortunately are already used to working from home! The biggest change for them has been shopping at Gamarra. 

Gamarra, one of the largest textile markets in Latin America, is where we source all materials for Huaywasi production. Pre-COVID, Gamarra was always overflowing with people and vendors, but now, things have changed quite a bit. 

Gamarra, La Victoria, Lima, Peru textile market in Latin America

Daria, Huaywasi’s Master Weaver, described to us “He visitado Gamarra y si ha cambiado porque no todos los puestos están abiertos en su totalidad, así como el costo de los materiales a aumentar, con respecto a los compradores veo que la gente no toma conciencia y lleva su vida normal como antes de la pandemia  [I have visited Gamarra and it has changed because not all the vendors are open in their entirety, as well as the cost of materials has increased With respect to buyers I see that people do not become aware and lead their normal life as before the pandemic].” 

Elena also mentioned that the prices have gone up significantly and it is a lot less crowded. For the safety of all Huaywasi artisans, we have been limiting their trips to the market but it is still really interesting to hear about their experiences from the times they have had to go out. 

While Huaywasi and LLI have been adjusting well to the new “normal,” as Irene stated perfectly, we are all waiting for the days when we can return back to the office Huaycan can finally breathe again.

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