In Pamplona, Peru, Alicia Bravo Salinas leans over the giant aluminum cooking pot simmering on her stove, stirring the ingredients slowly before raising the spoon to her lips to taste them.
Perfecto! she thinks, hovering over the steamy scene.
Her kitchen is perched on the unfinished second floor of her family’s concrete and cinder block home, clinging to the side of a steep hill in the Pamplona area of Extension 6, a crowded working-class development of similar homes on the dusty mountainsides outside of Lima.
The mother of three cleans homes for a living. Her husband, Tito Carpio, drives a taxi. The couple lives in a modest home built block-by- cinder-block by Tito, as are most of the homes in this community, which is poor, but not as poor as nearby communities that are newer. While they have basic services like water and electricity here, Alicia said the area is still “dangerous.”
The dish she is working on, pachamanca, is a mix of spicy potatoes, peppers and chicken and often is served as a hearty comfort food. Its intent fits well with Alicia’s hospitable personality. For her, food is love.
But it wasn’t always so. Following the death of a child several years ago, Alicia and Tito were hurting emotionally.
“It left a big scar on my life,” Alicia said. “It left me introverted, negative, hard to communicate with. I was hard on myself.”
Likewise, Tito became emotionally walled off, investing in his job but not his family. The couple’s inability to deal with their emotions in a healthy way began to affect their daughters and son. But then Buckner opened the Family Hope Center – just outside the family’s front door. Hope had come to their family. Hope had come to Pamplona.
Alicia immediately became involved in the Family Hope Center’s resources, seeking counseling to help her through her pain.
“Before Buckner I was emotionally closed off. My problems were mine and mine alone. I lost a baby and my life was a torment because of it. I was always afraid something was going to happen to one of my children.
“With the help I received from Buckner, I learned to stop being afraid,” she said. “Now I understand my children better and I’m no longer a jealous wife ... or at least not that much,” she added with a smile. “Now there’s better communication between us.”
Tito has also embraced the Family Hope Center’s message. Yesterday, he attended “The Journey,” a one-day men’s workshop held at the Family Hope Center in nearby Villa Hermosa, which encouraged participants to be better fathers, husbands and community members.
Giuliana Mendoza, who leads Buckner’s spiritual development and missions initiatives in Peru, led the workshop. “We want men to express their emotions. In this culture, they don’t express themselves. They don’t cry. We want them to connect to their families. We want them to communicate.
“The purpose of The Journey was to make them aware of how important and unique they are and how much dignity they have,” she said. “They go to extremes in their feelings: ‘I’m macho’ to ‘I don’t matter.’ In some ways it’s poverty related, but the biggest weight they carry is bitterness from their childhood ... they don’t forgive their parents or themselves [for past wrongs].”
Like many who have come to the Family Hope Center seeking and finding the hope its name promises, Alicia and Tito have moved from clients to community leaders to promoters.
“Buckner brings many things to our community,” Alicia said. “It brings psychological and emotional help, parenting classes, healthy living, language skills, math tutors and more. There are many families that don’t take advantage of this help.
“As a leader, I see a lot of people participating, but I would like to see more people attending the Family Hope Center,” Alicia said. “I pray that more and more come, so they can bene t from it just as I have. I want to see not only the kids participating at the center, but I want to see their parents as well.”
Alicia and Tito now feel equipped to provide for their family as they have learned a multitude of skills and trades that may even help them open their own business someday.
“[Alicia’s] a community leader,” acknowledged Ana Patricia Navarro, coordinator of Peru’s Buckner Family Hope Centers. “It’s a commitment for Alicia to promote the Family Hope Center. It motivates her. The rest of her family has changed. Her husband’s family ties are stronger.
Because of Buckner’s [business development] classes, her daughters got a job through the “Tequenos” [food product] company.
“A big part of the Family Hope Center model is prevention,” Ana said. “We’re preventing these kids from ending up institutionalized. This area is quite dangerous, so there are teenagers active with drugs.
“When we started the Family Hope Center in Pamplona, we discovered four teenagers pregnant and the school drop-out rate was high. Now, 99 percent of the children who come to the program pass their school year and are not dropping out.
“Now, we have six teens who have finished high school and are studying to be professionals,” she continued. “One is studying nursing. One is studying in law school. Another is studying to be an architect – that is Julio, who was in a gang and into drugs.”
Alicia, looking up from her steaming pot of pachamanca, looks over her rooftop kitchen and toward the Family Hope Center, mere feet from her front door.
“Without Buckner, this community wouldn’t look the same,” she said. “Our community has come a long way, but it is because of Buckner and all the help we receive from mission groups and the staff that works at the center.
“The value Buckner has brought to us? I am with Jesus. God is first and with God I wake up every day. God is always first.”