Situated on an oasis along the Pacific Ocean, Lima is surrounded by desert dunes and dozens of ancient archaeological sites. Streams of settlers from the countryside come to Lima to make their homes on the miles of sandy bluffs that surround the city. They build them with whatever materials are available: cardboard, straw, tin sheets, driftwood. Such settlements are known in kind terms as pueblos jovenes, young villages. Other times they are called invasiones, invasions.
I’d seen pictures of these “young villages” during my research of Peru and was fascinated at the initial sight of them: row after row, mile after mile of makeshift housing perched on sandy hillsides and rough desert terrain attesting to the pioneering spirit of these settlers. I had to visit them for myself to find out if the transition to Lima was worth it for these immigrants.
One of the first people I encountered was Artemio Godoy, (shown above with his son Raul). His family lives near a district of Lima called the Villa el Salvador. Senor Godoy and his family are sqatting on land along the Pacific. Their yard is encircled with trash and debris, as well as herds of chickens and dogs that coexist remarkably well without the use of fences or chains. Senor Godoy was reluctant to talk to me. It seems another western journalist had come along earlier that year asking questions and photographing. “He promised that things would change…,” Artemio said, referring to his lack of water and electricity.
Undeterred by a colleague’s ethical breach, I persuaded Senor Godoy to let me take some photographs outside his home. I assured him that nothing was likely to change as a result of my reporting. (Shown above outside her home along the Pacific, Elizabeth Godoy, 17, Artemio’s daughter.)
Oscar Rojas (above), age 40, came to the Villa el Salvador from the countryside with his family when he was 6 years old. His family was one of the original settlers of the area. When he began to build his own farm and house seven years ago, the surrounding land was nothing but sand. Now the houses and farms stretch for miles in either direction.
Farmers, however, are limited to raising animals like chickens and pigs. Due to small plots of land and sandy soil, crops cannot grow and no pastures exist for animals to graze. Despite Rojas’ animal wealth (which includes his 70 pigs, several chickens, three sheep and a goat) he and his family still live in makeshift housing without water or electricity. The Rojas’ water is trucked in a couple times a week and sold to them in large buckets.
Despite these difficulties, Rojas still considers himself lucky to have land and be able to provide for his family. Shown above with a neighbor, Victor Rojas, age 20, and their station wagon (yes, it still runs).
Many make a daily commute into Lima’s more central areas to find work in construction, house-keeping or restaurants. Above, Josephina Cori and her son Wimer clean houses in Lima and live in the pueblo joven of Churias.
Lima’s wealthy suburbs stand in stark contrast to the villages that surround them. Note the tennis court, bottom right. Tales of such wealth reach the poorest villages in the Peruvian countryside and still spark mass migration to the city.
Building houses on the dunes creates a variety of infrastructure problems. It is likely that most houses built on those dunes closest to the ocean will never get plumbing. Above, neighbors pitch in to build a stone wall hoping to keep the houses above from sliding further down the hill.
Above, Anna Medina Valdez (left) and Geonila Rodriquez (right) knit sweaters for a living. They are squatters in an invasion in the Villa el Salvador; however, if they stay on the land long enough they’ll own it someday. Anna Valdez, 30, much prefers her life in Lima to working the cornfields in the mountains of Cusco. She’s lived here for ten years and while life is hard, she is glad she came: “I came to Lima because I didn’t go to school as a child and have an education. Now my daughters have the opportunity to go to school here in Lima.”
Trash disposal methods in the pueblos jovenes consist of community dumps in open areas that are sometimes collected by government contractors. Since many residents are without sewage utilities, these grounds often double as toilets .
Isabel Ramos del Valle, 18, is the only person I met who regrets her move to Lima. Shown above, she came to the area with her boyfriend from the South when she was sixteen years old. Securing employment in town as a maid, she was soon fired after she became pregnant. She hasn’t been able to find work since.
Isabel lives with her now husband and their daughter Liz (right) on the steep slopes of the pueblo joven of San Juan de Miraflores where the altitude is higher, the climate cooler and the hills steeper. Most homes including hers lack water or electrical connection. Water is delivered, at a cost, down on the roads running through the valleys of San Juan de Miraflores where communal clothes washing stations form.
Isabel’s neighbor Gallardo Toledo, 36, is happier to be in Lima, where she came to live at the age of fifteen. It took her years to save up enough to build a house, having had to return to home Piura (535 miles north) once for lack of funds. Having been through a few relationships in the last twenty years she now has three children. The oldest just started college; the youngest is four. The four of them share this room and bed. Toledo is proud that her children are able to receive a good education by living in Lima.
Children, Incorporated is a non-governmental organization (NGO) working in the areas around Lima by helping to fund children’s education and supporting schools that share their vision. I was privileged to be able to provide their photographic library with an update while in the pueblos. (Above) Gelson Mendoza’s school uniforms, lunches and tuition are covered by CI.
CI works all over the world, but doesn’t forget about their immediate area either, having similar programs in our shared hometown of Richmond, VA. Above, children receive a mid-morning snack at Nuestra Senora de la Misericordia, a school in the peublo joven of Ventanilla run by some wonderfully hospitable and generous nuns, and supported by CI.
The simple lives and constant struggle of the people of the pueblos jovenes draws my admiration. They are people that spend a lifetime trying to replace their cardboard walls with those of brick; people that, like machines, have little idle time. While I have no aspirations for such as house or lifestyle, seeing the pueblos jovenes of Lima and the slums of other parts of the world has narrowed my definition of necessity, while broadening what is luxury. Experiences such as these continue to impact my way of life back home, where I am learning the rewards of a strong work ethic and the meager value in the accumulation of things.
For the majority of people I encountered, it seems the move to the big city was beneficial. However, as Lima continues to increase in size, so do the headaches of a city that can’t cope with all its inhabitants: mind-numbing traffic jams, spiraling crime rates and pollution that makes LA seem like a Lysol commercial. Consistently ranked among the very largest urban population centers in the world, Lima would do better in the long run to go outside its boundaries to address conditions that generate such places as the pueblos jovenes.