January 7th, 2013
Today I visited the largest marketplace in Northern Lima; Puente Piedra. The streets are full of sellers (‘ambulantes’ they’re called). Veg, donuts and meats; any food, they have it. Bun cake made of crème caramel… I’m taken round by Yolanda, a street befriender, currently employed by local government to work with the many children in the market place.
The dusty market streets are crammed full of stalls and odd-looking stray dogs roam freely amongst the sellers. Small children sit outside all day in the dirt selling quails eggs. It seems a bit ironic – a food that’s seen as a bit of a delicacy here in the UK is sold by 10 year olds on the side of a dual carriageway in Lima….
Yolanda explains that a lot of children turn up at the market with their parents at 4am to set up their stalls and are there until 8pm – or 10pm if they work on the inside markets. I’m shocked – that’s over double the amount of time I spend at work – and these are small children.
I meet a little girl who is just two years old. With her hair in bunches, she sits in front of some mini bananas. Yolanda tells me she’s been ‘helping’ her mum since she was just 8 days old. What a childhood… In this huge expanse of stalls, it’s easy for children to blend into the crowd. Is anyone going to say, ‘Yes you’re significant, you’re worth the effort’ before another life starts and ends on the streets?
Then there’s three sisters - the eldest tells me her name’s Nicole. She’s sitting in front of her mum’s lettuces. There’s smiles and shy laughter. I try and speak to her, but beyond asking her name, she doesn’t really understand what I’m saying. The three girls don’t officially exist in the eyes of the authorities, so they’re not currently attending school. Yolanda speaks with their mum to try and persuade her to get this sorted, but there are issues – she’d run away from an abusive partner. In the background, Nicole searches her sister’s hair for nits and picks a couple out. “They operate as thieves with their mum,” Yolanda tells me. Apparently selling lettuces doesn’t bring in that much money, although 10,000 people are meant to pass through the market every day.
As I leave the market I’m struck by the significance of Yolanda’s work supporting vulnerable children at Puente Piedra. She’s employed by the State so it’s really inspiring to see Local Government ‘in action’ stepping up to their responsibilities to their citizens. It’s definitely a step in the right direction - and one I wholeheartedly support.
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