In writing this first dispatch, I find myself considering the ways I have been inside and outside my experience here in Perú over the last month—how small actions become objects of scrutiny and analysis; the ways in which I am aware that what I make of my daily interactions will have an audience. On the one hand, I am building a life for myself here, navigating public transportation and markets, weaving myself into the fabric of the everyday. At the same time, I am taking pictures, scribbling notes during conversations with everyone from collaborators to taxi drivers, stepping outside the context to try to see it more clearly.
In the past month, my fellow Felsman Fellow Lauren and I have begun getting to know the work of INFANT, and the people behind it. INFANT, which in Spanish stands for the Training Institute for Child and Adolescent Workers, is engaged in a range of projects with youth and families in different communities across Perú. The majority of its staff came of age in the country’s organized working youth movement, and bring their own diverse experiences as child workers to the table in important ways—as facilitators and educators in community projects, as advocates for childhood without violence in the public sphere, and as communications specialists, creating media materials that speak to and for the broader movement. INFANT’s myriad efforts are dynamic, and part of a larger project of respecting children as knowledgeable, powerful agents of change in their own lives. This takes many shapes—gardening and composting, drumming lessons, anti-violence workshops, to name a few—but is rooted in an ongoing process of building a culture of respect, tenderness, and solidarity toward and among the young people in these often-struggling communities. Given the range of projects and ideas, not to mention geographies, covered by INFANT, I asked Esther, the organization’s director, if she could articulate their work in one sentence. She thought for a moment, then said with certainty that it would have to be, “vida digna”—dignified life.
Perhaps the inside/outside distinction is a false one. Or perhaps being inside and outside at the same time is simply a kind of mindfulness—an attempt, or willingness, to notice the building blocks that amount to the moment we’re experiencing. One of the blessings of the Felsman Fellowship is the amount of time it affords us—time to build, time to breathe, time to think carefully and critically about what kinds of projects make sense in the contexts within which we find ourselves. I have seen, heard, smelled, and come to know so much in the last month—riverside communities in the Amazon battling with the contamination of their water and forest; communities in the hills miles above Lima with breathtaking views of the city and the Pacific Ocean, but no electricity; a municipal election with a victorious former mayor, best known for “stealing, but getting things done”; a walk down a lush jungle road that in the rainy season will only be navigable by boat; ceviche, Pisco, garbage, rivers, moto-taxis, sand, mist—and with each new encounter come more and more questions. I am excited to use this platform to share some of the ideas, creations, and collaborations that emerge from these experiences. I hope it can act as a small window through which you can wander in, and out, as you please.