Ayacucho, “Land of the Dead”
For my internship, I recently travelled to Ayacucho, Peru, a region whose name means, “Land of the Dead” in the local, indigenous dialect. It is called “Land of the Dead” because as far back as the rule of the Inca, many bloody battles took place in this region. In more recent history, Ayacucho has continued to earn the name “Land of the Dead”, for it was in a rural university campus in this region that Professor Abimael Guzman formed the Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path in the 1970s. What started as a revolutionary movement soon turned into an armed guerrilla organization that committed horrendous atrocities against political opponents and citizens alike. The Peruvian government responded by sending armed forces-which were equally brutal-into the region and between 40,000 and 60,000 people were killed or disappeared in the resulting civil war. Many of the victims were indigenous people from Ayacucho.
The aftermath of the civil war is still felt in Ayacucho today. Although in the last decade the region has experienced peace and is now safe for visitors, it still remains very poor. In addition to the poverty, there are a lot of social problems. Many people have turned to alcohol to numb the painful memories of the civil war and often times alcoholism leads to domestic abuse and incest.
The organization I am working with, CHIRAPAQ, is an indigenous-led organization that seeks to build up leadership potential among members of Peru’s indigenous populations. The project I am working on is a series of educational workshops for indigenous youth on sexual and reproductive health. The organization seeks to empower these youth with knowledge of their bodies and an understanding of their rights. CHIRAPAQ hopes that through the workshops it will help reduce unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, both of which are very high in Ayacucho. As sexual and reproductive health is still a taboo issue between parents, teachers and youth in this region, I strongly believe the work CHIRAPAQ is doing is both important and effective. This week I am off to the Central Jungle for our next workshop. I will keep you posted…