The day of the Wawawasi (daycare in Quechua) inauguration in Union Santa Fe was dark and gloomy, the community appeared to be stuck inside a cloud, the air inside turned foul by the nearby animal processing factories. The bus MEDLIFE staff arrived in was parked above the community. From this vantage point, dozens of other communities could be seen in the distance, fading into the mist and dirt.
I knew I had been to some of the places I could see on other field visits, but I couldn’t tell them apart. The shanty-town’s all looked the same to me obscured in the mist from afar. Shacks, dirt paths, stray dogs and hills, the same impoverished patchwork blanketed the desert as far as I could see.
But when we approached Union Santa Fe, although I had never been, I could immediately identify it. MEDLIFE had done a lot of projects here, and the results of all that work were immediately visible on approach; a house there, red staircases leading down the hillsides on all sides and in the center the new Wawawasi project. The tall sturdy walls and clean white color it was painted cut through the mist and made it stand out against the dark muddy pallet of colours surrounding it like an apparition.
Amidst the typically bleak environs of Union Santa Fe, with the community gathering around it in celebration, it looked like a symbol of hope.
In its first weeks of operation a few months later, the Wawawasi was full of children, some laughing, some crying, all being cared for by the two full-time staff running the place. For the kids here, the center really did represent a big step leading to a better future for their families.
Quality childcare simultaneously addresses the needs of both parents and children living in poverty. The parents, many of whom are single mothers, with kids at the Wawawasi, are free to pursue more productive daytime work that would be an unsuitable environment for a child. Many of the poor in Lima walk the streets all day working in the informal economy. Can you imagine canvassing chaotic and dangerous parts of a city with a preschool aged child in tow? “The people of this community work a lot, all week.” said Maria Contreras, a caretaker at the Wawawasi. “Mothers with young children are waiting for their children to turn three so they can bring them here and get jobs.”
A lot of evidence (this article discusses and cites a lot of interesting research and is not behind a paywall) suggests that children’s long-term social and cognitive development benefits greatly from quality early childhood care (pre-school age, the Wawawasi does not accept children younger than three years old.) Numerous studies have found that quality center-type early childhood care (as opposed to informal arrangements, neighbors ect.) is associated with higher future cognitive and language scores on standardized tests, and better overall school performance. The activities and environment within the Wawawasi; arts and crafts, reading to the children, puppet shows, games and even just a social environment with other children all foster cognitive and social development.
The center also provides two nutritious meals a day to the children, breakfast and lunch. For families struggling to get the basics, not having to worry about two of your children’s meals on a work day is a huge relief.
A phrase often heard in conversation and in the speeches given at the inauguration was “seguir adelante,” which means to move forward, towards a better future for the community and children of Union Santa Fe, an idea that both community members and MEDLIFE hold dear. MEDLIFE is thrilled to have completed this project with the community of Union Santa Fe, taking another step forward with them towards a better future.
See all the photos in the timeline below!