We talked to Carmen Parrado, general coordinator of ESCAES, a Peruvian NGO that fosters the development of rural communities through the training and promotion of peasants
28 February, 2023

We asked Carmen to tell us about herself and what motivations had led her to work in an NGO in development projects.

“I am María del Carmen Parrado Novoa, they call me Carmen, and I am Galician by birth”, are Carmen’s first words.

Carmen studied medicine in Santiago, she is a family doctor, “one of the first graduating classes”, and her vocation has always been clear to her,

“I have always done everything with a view to mission. I feel like a missionary from birth”.

She tells us how in her youth, in Galicia, she was always struck by the people who begged in the streets, and she dedicated her holidays to going to the old people’s home and helping the elderly. She also dedicated her time to children living in orphanages and to people with disabilities at the Cottolengo in Santiago. We could say that Carmen was a “volunteer” woman at that time.

When she finished her degree, she felt the need to go to other places, but “my vocation was faith”.

In those days she joined a religious congregation, and chose Peru as her destination,

“I was always very attracted to come to the Andes and I said I wanted to go there because, studying a little, reading, I saw that it was the poorest area”.

In 1987 she arrived in Peru. Once there, she realised that convent life was not for her “and I preferred the lay, lay missionary life”.

She began to work as a doctor in health centres in Andean villages. To do this, she had to do the SERUM, a rural, marginal urban service in the Sierra, and she was assigned to Cajamarca, in the province of San Miguel, where she found extreme poverty. Until then, there had been no medical care, and they had never met a woman doctor.

There, everything was needy, the population knew nothing of their rights. There was “a kind of machismo that is beyond me”, problems of domestic violence, alcoholism, etc.

A year later, she was assigned as head doctor in Ayabaca, one of the provinces on the border with Ecuador, where she found the situation of the population to be even more extreme, if possible.

Once there, she contacted Delicia Coronado and other companions who had taken the same path of lay missionary life.

“I told them, look, if you want to come to Ayabaca, it’s a disaster.”

Delicia agreed, she had a great curriculum in education, she had a master’s degree in education,

“I’m going, Carmen, I’m going to lend a hand, and she came as director of the technological institute”.

It was at that moment that Carmen and Delicia decided to found a non-governmental organisation. They began to find grants and, with those funds, to attend to needs.

Thus ESCAES was born, whose two pillars were health and education.

“I was the doctor and we had educators, especially Delicia, a quality educator who was a luxury in those rural areas. But she was also committed.”

We asked Carmen what led them to start working in the Bay of Sechura (Piura).

Once they had consolidated their work in Cajamarca, in Cutervo, the Bishop of Piura and Tumbes, who was familiar with their work, asked them to start working in Sechura Bay, one of the indigenous provinces of Piura, on the sea, on the coast,

“and there the poverty was extreme, we chose the poorest of the poor seafarers”. “There, all the (those who used their lungs) threw themselves into the water, they also threw the children into the water, brought by their uncles or their relatives from the Andes. They put them in, like in the movies, to make them hold on, until it looked like they were going to drown, to build up lung capacity”.

In Sechura, they encountered a very high morbimortality of 15- and 16-year-olds, who chose to go down for the scallop shell in background cultivation. They did not have any equipment for the dive. They saw that this was a field to work in.

All kinds of shortages had to be covered,

“when we arrived they didn’t even have ID cards, we explained to them that they didn’t legally exist. We helped them. We have photos of them getting their ID cards”.

The key in Sechura, says Carmen, is that the ESCAES team has always been integrated with the population to provide close and direct support to these vulnerable people.

“We have never lived in the city or in the centre. We are one of the NGOs that live there, we are there with the people, because everyone in Sechura knows us”.

Carmen tells us how she talked to health promoters in order to finance the purchase of sphygmomanometers and community health kits equipped with the minimum necessary for basic medicine.

“We started in Sechura by making a baseline, a diagnosis to find out how many children, how many older people there were, what their needs were. They live in shacks together and mixed together. There is no separation of environments. All this was a job we were doing, to get healthy housing, improved kitchens, drinking water.”

Another important problem was sanitation, she says that the water table is one metre below the surface and the population used to relieve themselves “on the pampa”, in the open field, and this was causing infections in the Bay.

Carmen points out that an important milestone was that a marine biologist, fishing engineer, started working at ESCAES, and with this they were able to set up a laboratory to analyse the shell larvae. Every day they are analysed, they are the reference for the population and they alert if the scallop shell is infected and if it can be extracted or not.

Another need to be addressed was the poor organisation of the fisheries in Sechura.

 “I was a little afraid, because at least in Galicia it is difficult to work with the fishermen, but here, although some of the leaders are a little angry, we quickly won them over when they saw that we were going to help them”.

Now, thanks to ESCAES projects, the divers are trained; to be recruited, their motivation to get out of poverty, to get ahead, is valued, and they participate in a strong programme of accompaniment and capacity building. Work is done on both the technical side and on rights and values.

“It’s about promoting an integral formation of the person, the person is the centre, and as such, we work with them on everything they need and that they also understand that what has to be done must be sustainable”. 

Carmen tells us that for the activities they promote to be sustainable, the rights-holders must understand that they are the protagonists of their own development, and that they have to work for it.

“We live in the area, we are anchored there. We don’t go phone to phone, there are many NGOs that work by phone, they are located in the city and they come from time to time, so they aren’t known by local people. Our house is there, it is our legal address, it is located there in Sechura, there is another recognised domicile in Cutervo and the one in Ayabaca, and we are anchored there and we work until we do the development”.

We asked Carmen to tell us about the situation of machismo in the rural areas where ESCAES develops its projects in order to know in what framework they develop this work.

According to Carmen, machismo is present from birth. Boys have all the preferences and girls have none. It is conceived boys as being able to study, to play, to go to school. Girls take on household chores, washing clothes, fetching firewood, cooking.

“In Peru, both in the Andes and on the coast, we are about 50 years behind Spain, to tell you something.”

There are also situations of abuse. And there is also trafficking.

“So we started to tell them that this was not the right thing to do, we have always thought that whoever educates a child, educates an individual and whoever educates a girl, educates a family”.

For ESCAES this issue has always been important, they started to give education to girls, they made starting projects conditional on girls being in school. They also worked a lot with the schools.

They are working on a programme called PRENATAL, to prevent motherhood before the age of 14. The programme is supported by participation in radio programmes to raise awareness on this issue.

Machismo is a structural issue, it is a long and difficult process. To combat it, they work with all members of the family.

Another very important issue in Sechura is the education of young women at the Higher Technological Institute.

Many of them decide to work at sea because they are fishermen’s daughters, and they have gone many times with their fathers, even if they did nothing on board. Today they are able to handle all the equipment: GPS, the secchi disks to analyse the turbidity of the water, the depth gauges. They are able to leave the dock with the boat.

In Sechura, they do not work with nets, but with sustainable cultivation techniques, such as the sustained cultivation of the scallop shell, in which ropes are suspended, lines marked with buoys, where they cultivate, so they do not have to go to the bottom to harvest.

On the relationship with Social Promotion Foundation and the implementation of the projects, Carmen comments:

“We have been working with them for several years, but it seems to me as if we have been working together all our lives. It’s a lot of hard work and it’s very necessary for what we do here to work, because without you we wouldn’t be anything. In the development projects with the Foundation, we feel very supported, a friendship has developed, a joint commitment. We are a great team.”

Currently, the Foundation is developing two projects in Peru, hand in hand with ESCAES; the first, in the Chipuluc micro-basin (Cajamarca), aims to promote access to the right to adequate and sustainable food for the rural population, and the second aims to contribute to strengthening the value chain of the scallop shell, to achieve economic, social and environmental changes for the benefit of the community of the Bay of Sechura (Piura).

Another project was recently completed in Sechura Bay, working with fishermen, fisherwomen, fish farmers and their families on the implementation of strategies to improve production processes and diversify production, thus enabling them to face the challenges of natural disasters and climate change.

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