December 26th, 2014
By: Jack Resnik
The tree and the trimmings, Santa Claus, presents and feasting—that’s all the same. But here in Southern hemisphere, celebrating Christmas differs strongly from typical North American traditions. For one there is no snow (except perhaps in the highest reaches of the Andes), for another the celebration begins at midnight, December 25th, precisely the moment when the city sky explodes with raucous fireworks and the families sit down to share Christmas dinner and open gifts. Drinks soon follow; here in Huancayo, the bebida of choice was piña colada—no eggnog here.
Sharing a midnight meal with our Peruvian host family to celebrate Christmas. Dec 2014.
In the light of Christmas Day, the unaware alien might not realize that a major Christian holiday is still in progress. Granted, more people than usual can be found picnicking in the park, or sharing cerveza on the street, but for a large share of workers, street sellers, construction men and more, the work that ended after dark on the 24th, continues in earnest on the 25th. While privileged Peruvians likely have more leeway that is not the norm. For these workers in the mall and on the margins these days are the same as all the others. The fresh food markets still open early, and the juice stands stay open late. When you live hand to mouth, what choice is there?
Children hawking trifles or holding down their mother’s stand are omnipresent in that street scene as well. In the informal economic sector, the child’s place is a perilous one, but there are some safe havens in Huancayo for such children of the working poor. Worker Kids, is one such place. A school, food kitchen, and more, Worker Kids is the only school in the area open year-round in the interest of providing meals, shelter, and education to the roughly 40 children, aged 6–13, who have too few of any of those things outside its walls.
The school is a remarkable example of a project that sustains the community and is sustained, in funding, by it. Healthyouth and our local partners Carisma Peru have been involved with Worker Kids for several years. On this day, however, we departed momentarily from our health and education script to indulge these children with our time
The presents came last, small gifts hauled cross-hemisphere by our volunteers, and for each child a surprise. They were small trinkets—stocking stuffers by U.S. Christmas standards—but to these children the bouncy balls, toy cars, and stuffed animals were small miracles. The thank you’s were profuse, and as we made to leave, there was only one question on the lips of every child: “Are you coming back soon?” Don’t worry niños, we will see you Monday. Feliz Navidad.
Healthyouth volunteers and the children of Worker Kids. The day after Christmas, our volunteers spent the morning playing and delivering presents to these kids, most of who come from impoverished
families that struggle to make ends meet.
Jack Resnik is the Global Health Fellow and Peru Coordinator for Healthyouth. He is currently living in Huancayo, Peru working with schools and medical centers to improve adolescent health through education and health campaigns. Interested volunteers should email firstname.lastname@example.org or our local partner Carisma Peru, email@example.com. Year-round placements available.