In Lima, Afro-Peruvian youth mobilize to provide coronavirus relief

By Maria Creamer | May 29, 2020 | The Americas | Youth Empowerment

Ashanti Peru received an overwhelming number of calls from Lima’s Afro-descendent community when the coronavirus pandemic broke. The organization’s youth leaders knew they had to act fast.

Before the global pandemic, GFC partner Ashanti Peru focused on providing young Afro-Peruvians with a safe space to discuss and explore their identity and culture, while also combatting systemic racism, discrimination, and poverty. Now, the organization has shifted its activities to respond to new needs.

A group of Ashanti Peru's youth participants meet in 2017. © Estrella Vivanco-Stevenson

In Peru, 3.6% of the population is Afro-descendant. Many Afro-Peruvians live in extreme poverty, and the pandemic is hitting these communities particularly hard, according to Marco Antonio Ramirez, President of Ashanti Peru. The government’s suggested safety measures, such as repeated hand washing and social distancing, are nearly impossible for these communities to follow. Although the Peruvian government has provided many with food packages that include rice, sugar, beans, and salt, it isn’t enough.

“The clean water that exists is meant for cooking and drinking … hand washing is a luxury. Social distancing is also complicated because most of us have informal jobs that earn daily wages. People in these communities have to decide between staying safe from the disease or having food to eat,” Marco said.

As a local group that is highly trusted within the community, Ashanti Peru was the first place young Afro-Peruvians turned to for help. Embracing its history of resilience and determination, Ashanti Peru began reaching out to longtime allies for financial support.

“We thought of who would understand us and respond quickly: Global Fund for Children immediately came to mind. I think we had the additional funds within two to three days,” Marco said.

An Ashanti Peru volunteer distributes a hygiene kit. © Ashanti Peru

When equipped with an emergency grant from GFC, the organization sought special permission from the Peruvian government to package and distribute hygiene kits, along with delivering in-person self-care trainings related to COVID-19. In a single day, Ashanti Peru rented two large trucks and distributed hygiene kits to 300 youth and families in need.

The challenges don’t stop there. Ashanti Peru is a small organization that works not only with Afro-Peruvians, but whose youth members themselves are also Afro-Peruvians. They are personally identifying with many of the issues facing this population.

Looking forward, Ashanti Peru is beginning to think through the programmatic support it can provide young people in the community. As the pandemic results in a rise in unemployment and a drop in access to education, the organization’s focus on cultivating leadership and exploring cultural identities will shift towards ensuring young people have vocational skills and access to future employment opportunities.

The global community is collectively being impacted by this pandemic. In these times of extreme uncertainty, Marco shares some hope as he watches how more young people in his community are mobilizing:

“I think the best that can happen, in all of this context, is that we are seeing more Afro-Peruvians waking up and realizing that the normal we knew before was not okay. They are becoming more aware of the lack of education, health, and business opportunities. My hope is that this will produce a new generation that will be more aware of their rights, and that they will demand more. We won’t be quite like we were before.”

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