Updated 6.21.2022 POST PANDEMIC
Pucusana is a small fishing village located 60 km (37miles) south of Lima, Peru. Although mostly seen as a tourist destination, Pucusana is the poorest village on the coast of Peru with a population of about 15,000. The people of Pucusana financially depend on the fishing industry and the summer tourism.
In past decades, Peru was known as one of the worst politically corrupt countries in the world. It ranks 35th most generally corrupt with four of its past presidents going to prison. Their crimes include but were not limited to: crimes against humanity, murder, perjury, fraud and embezzlement. If the Presidents are this bad, how much worse is everyone else? Broken government often leads to broken systems. Corruption is everywhere and in almost every single political or financial power in Peru. Our poor little fishing village of Pucusana is no exception.
The Fishing Industry:
During the fishing season, hundreds of colorful wooden fishing boats dock in Pucusana’s harbor. Fishing is the main form of income for the families of Pucusana but the industry is plagued with corruption. Most of the fisherman dropped out of school at the age of 14 in order to help their families financially. Seen as uneducated, the fishermen are taken advantage of by the large trucking companies they work for. A seasonal job, the fishermen are paid barely enough to feed their families. 90% of the profits go toward the trucking companies who take the fish to be sold in Lima. The Captain of the harbor and the Board of the fishermen union are in bed with the corrupt officials in City Hall and the trucking companies. No matter what the fishermen try to do, they are undermined at every turn. Attempts to strike lead the trucking companies to boycott Pucusana. Attempts to elect better union reps leads to falsified elections. The Mayor and Harbor Captain look the other way as they are paid to do, and the toxic cycle continues for the poor underpaid fishermen. The system is against them, and the fishermen barely make enough money to survive.
In addition to low wages, the fisherman do not have health benefits, insurance or compensation for injuries obtained while spending months out at sea. Many of the men in Pucusana have missing fingers, hands, arms or legs due to the dangers of commercial fishing.
Tourism during the summertime (December – March) is the only way Pucusana survives as a town. Hundreds of upper-class families come to Pucusana for its beautiful beaches. The wealthy who come, live in beautiful multi-million-dollar apartments and houses built around Pucusana's Island and beaches. They have private docks, a Yacht Club, and the city hires extra janitors to clean “their side of the beach”. Ironically, all tourists drive through the slums to enter the natural beauty Pucusana offers; but instead of being moved to help the underprivileged, the wealthy community builds fences and place private security around their homes and beaches to keep the native Pucusana people out, isolating them in their own town for at least four months out of every year.
The divide between Peru’s rich and poor is unmistakable in Pucusana because it is a hot tourist spot. But all of Peru operates this way. Peru is made up of the rich and the poor. They do not have a middle class. Tourism might enable Pucusana’s economy for a few months, but the divide between the rich and poor grows each year with more conflict and altercations. A great deal of education is needed to be done on both sides of this spectrum. The poor in Pucusana should not be pitied or hated. There are ways for the wealthy to help enable real positive change in these impoverished communities if they are willing to learn how. And the wealthy are not to be envied or hated. They could be seen as neighbors and friends to learn from. But for now, the divide remains and when summer ends, Pucusana is left deserted and still devastatingly poor.
Another problem that Pucusana (and all of Peru) faces is the power of the Catholic faith. Peru is a religiously free country. Meaning you won’t be thrown in jail for whatever religion you choose to believe in. But the Catholic Church and Catholic Private Schools receive tremendous tax breaks and even receive money from the Peruvian government to pay for their workers and teachers, while no such deals exist for other religious churches or private schools. You’d think that since the government is paying for all of their taxes and teachers that the Catholic Schools would be free, but they are not. In fact, they charge high tuitions, and the Catholic Church pockets the majority of all money paid. This has enabled the Catholic Church to dominate education, religion and have tremendous political power. There is a joke in Peru that if you see an expensive car with tinted windows driving around your town, than the local Priest and some nuns are inside…
The tremendous wealth that the Peruvian Catholic Church accumulates might, and that’s a big might, be okay if the Catholic church was aiding in charitable works and poverty alleviation. But in all 15 years of my time in Pucusana, I have seen no such thing. Outside of providing Mass on Saturday nights and parades on every Catholic holiday, the church does nothing to actually help the people living in Pucusana.
In addition, (unlike some of the more financially stable and larger cities in Peru) Pucusana is oppressed by their Catholic Church. The Catholic Church in Pucusana is quite corrupt in its theology and political views. Unlike the reformed conservative Catholic Church known in the United States, the Catholic Church in Pucusana is a good representation of how Catholicism was hundreds of years ago. One example is how the local Priests have received pay-offs from the City Major to use the pulpit as a platform to tell the people who to vote for. Political corruption has no limits and uses many different kinds of people to influence the reelection of corrupt politicians. Pay-offs, land titles, forgiveness of debts are all ways past Majors have used to buy votes, and it happens often inside the Catholic ministerial order and congregation. This type of hypocrisy is widely known in Pucusana and causes many young people to want nothing to do with church.
And life is made difficult for any school, church, organization, or company that doesn’t identify as Catholic or bow to Catholic ideology. These organizations are slapped with backbreaking taxes and rent hikes when speaking out against Catholic corruption. We’ve known of many Christian groups where, suddenly, City Hall has misplaced documentation proving their ownership of Christian facilities and land. And if you can’t afford quality, trustworthy legal help, say goodbye to fair treatment. Even today, the Church has orchestrated boycotts of schools that teach parts of world history that might shed a poor light on the Catholic Church.
The following statistics are from 2015 and help shed some understanding on the culture surrounding those we are trying to help.
60% of teenagers do not use protection (condoms or birth control) when having sex because the Catholic Church forbids contraceptives. You can buy condoms at the local Pucusana pharmacy if you’d like to run the risk of your sex life being spread around town… So those who do choose to buy birth control travel to Lima city to buy it.
50% of all girls in Peru between ages 15-19 will become pregnant out of marriage.
75% of women (married and unwed) will have one if not two children before they are 20 years old.
60% of the teenage girls who became pregnant outside marriage will get married to the baby’s father during pregnancy solely because of their parents’ religious beliefs.
Over 60% of those marriages end in divorce, separation, or spousal abandonment.
Divorce is an expensive and long process that most people will not pursue. So, most marriages that “end”, just end by the man abandoning his family. Most mothers you meet in the slums will say they are married when they are really just living with a boyfriend who might be the father of a few of their children.
1 and 3 women are physically or sexually abused by their partners.
Most children are raised by one parent or a family relative.
The average family dynamic consists of an overworked, usually Alcoholic and abusive, often absent father; mothers raising anywhere from three to eight children on less than $5 a day; both parents most likely not happily married or living apart, and children being raised with little to no structure at all. This has led to an endless generational cycle of broken family dynamics.
New censuses in 2021 and conversations with young adults during my last trip in early 2022, are showing that younger generations are refusing to get married. They will live with and have children with their long-term partners, but they will not get married because of the toxic marriages the Catholic church forced their parents to have. It is not that young people are against the idea of marriage. They may agree with getting married and would if it was seen as legal in solely the eyes of the government. But Peru is set up to where you must get married legally with the government AND get married in the eyes of the Catholic Church. Two sets of papers, two ceremonies. But young people want nothing to do with the Catholic Church, so they refused to get married in it. This is seen as active disobedience to the Catholic Church and therefore these young people are publicly rebuked if they attend Mass. So, it should come as no surprise that over 70% of Peru’s young people (35 and younger) identify as agnostic or atheist.
And lastly, the Public School System in Pucusana…
Prepandemic, the public schools have an average college acceptance rate for high school graduates of 2%. Currently, attending University is the only way for individuals to step out of the poverty they were raised in. So, with only 2 out of every 100 students being accepted into Peru's free universities, leads to more generational poverty.
The acceptance rate is so low because of the poor level of education and care for students in the public schools. The average adult in Pucusana is at the literacy level of a 6th grader. This is because public schools’ teachers receive pay based on how many students are passing their classes. The idea is, if you’re a good teacher, then your students will get good grades. This concept leads teachers in the public schools to simply passing on all their students into the next grade no matter how badly they struggle in class. Students also struggle with grades and proper conduct because of their horrible family dynamics and home lives. They act out in violence and struggle with learning.
Most children and adults in Pucusana struggle at an elementary school level with reading, math and science and have no understanding of food nutrition or environmental health. Pucusana’s coastline and beaches are trashed by the fisherman who have no idea how much ocean pollution directly affects their trade. Countless people still suffer from waterborne illnesses because they drink unclean water. Lack of quality education is at the forefront of Pucusana's issues and unchallenged political corruption.
Now let's add in the issues caused by the Covid19 Pandemic. Children in Pucusana have missed two years of school and a chunk of their childhood because of extreme quarantine measures. Attending online was not a privilege these children had either. With schools reopening now, the public schools are overflowing with students. The average family cannot afford private schooling anymore because they've been out of work for two years. So even though everyone knows that the public schools are known for being insufficient due to the lack of investment from the State, unequipped teachers, and poor educational programs, it is their only option. Less than 2% of students from the public schools were accepted into universities prepandemic. How much worse will they be now?
The private schools that have reopened have had to lower their prices substantially to accommodate for the unemployment over the last two years. Making them cut programs, classes, and quality teachers from their budgets. So, in addition to the bad quality of education from the public schools, private schools are now becoming the same, leaving no good options for education in Pucusana post pandemic.
We believe education is the first step in overcoming all of the problems that plague Pucusana. That is why we created The Pucusana Project back in 2018 and that is why we are committed to helping now.
For more information check out our “About” and “Projects” pages to learn how The Pucusana Project is helping alleviate poverty, provide higher quality education, enable social and community change and launch businesses in Pucusana Peru.