Peru (FH/MNN) — For most college and high school students, Graduation Day can’t come soon enough.
It’s the same for communities helped by Food for the Hungry (FH).
“Food for the Hungry goes into these communities with the exit plan in mind,” explains FH Media Resource Manager, Beth Allen.
“We go in with the intent that there will be a graduation ceremony someday.”
Founded in 1971, Food for the Hungry provides emergency relief and long-term development programs to help the world’s most vulnerable people.
In Santa Barbara, Peru, that involved more than overcoming the physical challenges of extreme poverty. Interaction between the 42 families who called Santa Barbara home was almost nonexistent.
Graduation Day: a precursor
That small hillside town in Peru was formed a mere 15 years ago. The aforementioned 42 families created it after fleeing violent terrorism in the Andes.
However, their desperate situation was soon replaced with another: abject poverty and hopelessness. The desolate area where these families put down roots lacked running water, electricity and sanitation services.
“It’s like a vast slum thrown out into the hillsides around Lima,” shares Allen.
In 2003, sisters Norma and Alicia saw FH trucks heading to work in a nearby town. After seeing the success of that community, Norma and Alicia asked FH for help.
“I’ve never heard another story like this,” Allen says.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years with Food for the Hungry, and I’ve never heard a story like this, where two sisters took it upon themselves to go and ask [for FH’s help].”
The journey to Graduation Day
Food for the Hungry worked with the residents of Santa Barbara to develop goals for improvement, then helped implement the plan.
FH helped with the initial construction of a community center and trained health promoters, who in turn helped teach people how to prevent disease and provide better nutrition for their children.
In addition to addressing Santa Barbara’s infrastructure problems, FH helped residents repair important relationships.
“You would think in a community of 42 families that they would know each other pretty well. But, the reality is that they tend to be very isolated; they don’t know each other, they don’t have relationships,” says Allen.
By facilitating interaction among families and addressing widespread domestic abuse through a violence prevention program, FH brought healing to Santa Barbara.
“Before FH came, every family kept to themselves. We didn’t know each other or how to reach out to help each other when in need,” said Alicia, one of the sisters who reached out to FH.
“FH taught us how to resolve conflicts without violence, how to raise and instruct our children and how to better relate to our spouses.”
Even more importantly, FH workers introduced Christ to the equation. Before FH’s involvement, few in Santa Barbara had ever heard the Gospel.
Today, families meet regularly for Bible study.
Graduation Day: Santa Barbara
FH enters a community with a plan to exit, complete with measurable goals for improvement. After 13 years of working with Santa Barbara, FH officially celebrated the conclusion of its work in the community with a Community Graduation Ceremony.
Accomplishments celebrated at the graduation ceremony include:
- Character development: More than a third of the children and teens experienced Bible-centered lessons in character and leadership, preparing them to lead Santa Barbara in coming decades.
- Stopping abuse: Families identified domestic violence as one of their community’s worst problems. FH trained parents in more than 70 families in how to raise children without hitting or verbal abuse, and left the community with trained leaders who will continue additional workshops and outreach to families.
- Spiritual development: 80% of children and adolescents participated in special efforts that helped them understand God’s purpose for their lives. This has helped children and teens dream of careers and new ways to serve their community and families.
- Improved education: 80% of adolescents are now finishing secondary school; of those, 60% have pursued either university or technical school training.
- Improved health: 80% of parents have improved knowledge of basic health and hygiene, including preventing disease through hand washing, treating diarrhea and parasites, and good nutrition.
- Improved infrastructure: The leaders have accomplished significant infrastructure improvements. The community now has potable water services, which are connected to the public system, sewage systems and electricity in every house. All of the families now own their land and have its property title, and therefore have more say in convincing local government to provide future improvements.
- Safer housing: In an area where earthquakes are a threat, 70% of the houses are made of stable building materials.
The party doesn’t stop here, though.
“We want our listeners to know about [this accomplishment] because, for one thing, you can be part of that story,” Allen shares.
“Santa Barbara has already graduated, but there are many more communities out there that need help.”