Juana, a single working mother, leaves home very early in the morning for work. Sometimes she has time to prepare breakfast, the children’s snacks for school, and brush her daughter’s hair. Other days, the children themselves have to do these tasks, occasionally arriving late for school. Benjamin, Juana’s nine-year old son, leaves school and runs the risk of violence from street-gangs as he walks home alone. He then prepares lunch for his sisters. Ruth, who is six, has nobody to take her to the kindergarten, so she stays home alone in the morning.
Benjamin also has the task of collecting his little sister, Carmen, who is three, from the Wawa Wasi daycare center and of taking care of her for the rest of the day which reduces the time for his homework and for any recreation. Sometimes Carmen gets tired and has to be carried home. Benjamin does his best, but it is not the same as having his Mom there.
Meanwhile Juana is busy selling plantain chips as snacks on the street next to a bus stop some six kilometers away. She is in danger from road accidents and possible assaults. She has no income other than what she earns. She is continually worried about the welfare of her children who are left alone while she spends long hours working away from home.
Facing the Problem
Juana is just one of many mothers who live in San Benito (population 12,000), in the District of Carabayllo, a journey of two hours from the center of Lima, Peru. Although the township began fifteen years ago, most homes still lack access to running water, sewage, roads and a regular supply of electricity.
Our Warmi Huasi team of dedicated and experienced professionals consists of Rosario Salinas, an obstetrician, Amelia Palacios, a teacher, Shirley Almeyda, a psychologist, Milka Rosas, a social worker, and Vanessa Cardozo, a nutritionist.
From August to November 2011, this team, working with a group of six university students at the weekends, interviewed 536 mothers. Of those mothers, 162 work more than four hours a day, on more than three days a week outside the home, and have children under twelve, our target group.
During February and March 2012, the team interviewed 83 Benjamin and Ruth mothers and evaluated their 130 children. They then began to work with 55 of those mothers and their 110 children, who according to the study were those most at risk. We will take on a similar size group next year. The plan is to involve six community accompaniers in the project, as later they will play a key part in the community organizations designed to take over at the end of three years. We have been working continually to stimulate interest among the local, municipal and central government institutions, so that they will understand the risks faced by the children and assume their statutory responsibilities.
Strategies and Activities
A primary aim of the project is to strengthen the social skills of the working mothers so that they can better protect their children. There are workshops in personal development, information about work opportunities and rights, training to prevent risks to the children, visits to the families and psychological support.
There are separate workshops for the children, helping them with their studies and recreation, enabling them to make friends with other children, giving them psychological support, and even teaching them how to produce more nutritious meals.
Working along with existing community organizations, there is a program to create new spaces where the children can play, read, and do homework together in their own neighborhood.
What the Project Aims to Achieve
All of the above are designed to insure that children, under the age of twelve, of working mothers will successfully overcome the risks to which they have been exposed. The hope is that the mothers will be enabled to keep working, knowing that their children are growing, playing and learning in a safer and happier environment.
The project will be continuously evaluated over the next three years, and whatever lessons are learned will be fed into future programs in other areas. What is certain is that we will never lack areas that can benefit from such projects.