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The Women of Villa El Salvador and the Volunteering "Bug"
25 November 2011
by Felien De Smedt and Nerea Varela

Lima, Peru: On the occasion of the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November), we invite you to read this collaborative piece--between UNWomen and the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers (IYV+10)--that celebrates the work of women volunteers in Villa El Salvador.

The women of Villa El Salvador are always at the service of their community. Speaking of volunteers, the work that thousands of women achieve everyday in their community is hardly mentioned. This is also the case for the women of Villa El Salvador, a district located in the South of Lima, Peru. Vaso de Leche (a food distribution programme for the most vulnerable communities), Community kitchens, Mothers’ clubs, the Women’s Community Federation, the Coordination Group for Gender Equality, the Women’s Commission are only a few of the spaces in which these women invest their efforts to assist their neighbours. If you ask them why, answers are multiple. Loyda speaks of the satisfaction one feels when they can do something for the community. She also values the training that her work within the community provided her with. Roxana sees volunteering as an opportunity to know the reality and issues in her district, an opportunity to learn. She states that she wishes to continue to give to her group, her area and district. Bertha Jauregui reflects on the important element of interpersonal relationships that volunteer work allows you to acquire. She says: “When you leave your house to do community work, you almost forget the problems you might have. Then you may meet someone who also has problems. When you share them, it feels like your own problem is not so important.” In Nelly’s case, her father taught her that “whenever the community needs you, you’ll have to get your hands dirty”. If as a teenage girl she didn’t find much fun in volunteering, little by little the “bug” caught up with her.

But the ladies’ testimonies also show the difficult side of volunteer work. Loyda explains that her children don’t understand her work for the community. “If you don’t earn any money, what is the benefit?” At one point in time, all of them have been confronted with such criticism. Nelly adds that “the women in Villa play a very important role. While men are at work, women stay behind and do the chores, the community kitchens, and fetch the water”. But they all agree in saying that what they do is not always recognised and visible.

However, it is clear in their eyes that such critics do not take away their enthusiasm to maintain their commitment to their community, their neighbourhood, and their district. Loyda, Roxana, Bertha and Nelly are living proof of the dedication so many women throw into volunteer work for a good chunk of their time and with their soul.

Loyda Yupanqui, volunteering for over 20 years

Loyda started working in a community kitchen and the Mothers’ club by necessity. Then she realised she enjoyed working for social good. She has been a member of the Participatory Budget Watch Committee.

Roxana Mansilla, volunteering for over 15 years

Roxana started with the Vaso de Leche and became leader of a community kitchen. She was a member of the Civic Commission Committee for Women, and has been an advocate for Health for many years.

Bertha Jauregui, volunteering for 28 years

Bertha is Head of the FEPOMUVES (Women’s Community Federation of Villa El Salvador) since its foundation. She has been President of the Coordination Group for Gender Equality, and is an active member of the Participatory Budget.

Nelly Huamani, volunteering since she was 16

Nelly started as Community Watch Secretary in her area. She was a leader in the Vaso de Leche programme and the FEPOMUVES. Currently, she is President of the Coordination Group.