Uplifting Stories from the Slums in Lima Peru

A History of Slums in Lima Peru

Between 1940 and 1981 Lima’s population exploded from 645,000 to over 4 million. The following is an account from Ayacucho-born Mercedes Torribio, who was part of the 1968 invasion of Jose Oloya one of the many slums in Lima Peru. Like her story of invasion, millions more can relate to similar experiences including my own parents, who invaded the area now known as “Planeta” in which the Karikuy Volunteer House is located.

In these neighborhoods people are proud to say they have built their houses with their bare hands. The invasions and subsequent organizing of the “Pueblo Jovenes” or young towns of Lima have received world wide recognition as being one of the most complex and well organized social movements in the last 100 years.

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Slums in Lima Peru
Julio C. Tello is one of many Slums in Lima Peru (Young Town). Photo by Sean Hawkey

However, despite the success of these communities in organizing and building homes, many of the slums in Lima Peru still struggle with issues of poverty, limited access to basic services such as clean water and sanitation, and lack of educational and employment opportunities. These slums, often referred to as “Pueblo Jovenes,” were formed as a result of the massive influx of people to Lima between 1940 and 1981. As the population of Lima grew, many people, like Mercedes Torribio, were forced to invade land in order to build homes for themselves and their families.

Due to the rapid population growth, many of the slums in Lima Peru were built quickly and haphazardly, with little infrastructure or planning. This has led to overcrowding and poor living conditions for many residents. Additionally, because many of the residents of the slums in Lima Peru are migrants from rural areas, they often face discrimination and marginalization from the rest of society. Many Lima Peru Protests have materialized over the years due to these differences between the social classes inside Peru..

Despite these challenges, the residents of the slums in Lima Peru have shown remarkable resilience and determination in building homes and communities for themselves. Through their own efforts, they have created vibrant and thriving neighborhoods, like the one where the Karikuy Volunteer House is located. However, more needs to be done to address the ongoing issues of poverty and limited access to services that continue to plague the slums of Lima Peru.

Recipe for a House
By Mercedes Torribio

I was twenty years old in 1968. My family came originally from Lucanas province in Ayacucho, but I lived with my brother in a rented house in the Lima district of San Martin de Porres. One day my brother heard that a land takeover had begun the night before in the Payet neighborhood, a vacant lot that was going to be turned into a cemetery. We decided to join, and went right away to buy all the necessary materials. Four esteras for the walls. Four wood posts for the corners. Five longer posts for the beams. Cardboard for the roof. And wire to tie everything together.

We scraped together to money to hire a truck and had it take to Payet the materials for the house and all of our possessions: a bed, clothes, a couple of  chairs and some pots. We set up our house of straw mats on the hillside with the other squatters, because the flat part of the lot was too thick with loose dirt and dust. All of us flew little red and white Peruvian flags over our houses. On the third day, we made a list of all of us who had invaded and elected a steering committee. It was decided to name the settlement the  Pueblo Joven “Jose Olaya.”

Three months passed. One day a truckload of policemen arrived to evict us. They came with a bulldozer and engineers who were going to take measurements for the cemetery. But we had all agreed to carry a whistle to blow if anyone came to evict us. When the police arrived, one women saw them and started to blow. We all came charging out with our broom handles, rocks, and Peruvian flags.

Squatters Vs the Police who look to stop slums in Lima Peru from Spreading.

The women went first, because the police were not so likely to fire on us. There were a lot of us, 250 families, and we had all come out yelling. The kids started to pull up the stakes of the engineers and throw rocks at the bulldozer. When they saw our numbers, the police and engineers turned and ran.

The landowners filed charges against us for trespassing. But we scraped together money to hire a lawyer to block the case. Around that time, we hired a company to level out the ground. Then we divided up the land into square lots and distributed the lots by a lottery to build more permanent houses. We also started all the applications for water, electricity, and sewage, and a formal recognition of the settlement from the Lima municipality, the congress, and the president of Peru.

The Lima municipality formally recognized our settlement in 1984, under Mayor Alfonso Barrantes. Since water did not come for many years, we needed to pay cistern trucks to haul it up to us every month. The truck divers never wanted to come to our settlement, because it was so high up in the Lima hills. So the prettiest girls used to go down and talk to them, to persuade them to come.

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Dangerous constructions are common among the Slums in Lima Peru.

It took six years to get electricity and seventeen years for the water finally to arrive, in 1985. We also built a primary school during the 1980s, and a medical post. All the money and labor for everything came from us, without any help at all from the government.

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Independencia, Lima. One of many large Slums in Lima Peru. Photo by Sean Hawkey

My house has two rooms of brick and concrete. I want to build more, but with the economic crisis none of us has money for anything, sometimes not even for food. The settlement has new projects, too. Right now only Twentieth of December Avenue is paved, but we want to pave other streets. We also want to start a day care center for working mothers. All in all, though, considering we started with nothing, everyone is proud of what we have done for ourselves.

About the Author

Founder of Karikuy, an organization in Peru that brings travelers to visit and explore the country. Julio also runs the Karikuy Volunteer program and is the editor of this blog. Julio likes to write about his adventures in Peru as well as Peruvian folklore, mysteries and secluded locations.

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