A landscape in Peru, including a field and mountains in the background
Munk One, Munk School

Getting to know San Juan de Ihuanco: AWA’s interview with the community president

This week, our Munk One/Carey Projects group had a chance to sit down with Susana Romani Garcia, President of the Community of Ihuanco, where the group’s first water accessibility project will take place. The students leading the AWA Project have now launched a website: www.theawaproject.org. Below is a snapshot of the conversation.

Susana is the woman everyone in Ihuanco looks to when there is an issue, and she works tirelessly until she finds the answer. Water scarcity is one of those issues. We wanted to share her thoughts on the AWA project as we near the construction and implementation phase in April.

Andrea Caceres (AWA): Why don’t we begin with an introduction? Who are you, and what is your role in the community?

Susana: I am the elected leader of the Ihuanco community since 2018. My name is Susana Romani Garcia, I am pleased to be in this interview to talk about San Juan de Ihuanco.

Andrea: I’ve always been struck by the leadership of women in Ihuanco. What is it like being a female leader in Ihuanco?

Susana: As a woman, well, it is a historic event for our community, as there has never been a female authority figure here. People generally always turn to men because we see them as leaders, as powerful, more responsible than women, that they do things better, but that is not true. We as women have the duty and right to serve our people. I am thankful that I am the president now. I was convinced by the mothers from the community to run for president. I was questioned even by my husband, but I said: ‘no, I am a woman, I work at the school with kids, and I feel we need something new and someone that can help our community develop.’ Andrea, when I heard my name being elected, I was so excited! For the first time, I felt so important, as a woman, as a mother, and as a leader of the community where my grandparents were one of the first people living there.

Andrea: How would you introduce the community of San Juan de Ihuanco?

Susana: Our community was founded 86 years ago. It first started with five families, but now has 25 families and a population of 1000. Our San Juan de Ihuanco is made up of farmers, and we rely on agriculture and crops. The majority of the community identifies as farmers and we are proud to live here.

Andrea: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the community?

Susana: To this day, children are asking me “When are we going back to school?”  I need real strength when answering these questions. They also tell me about family members that have been affected by the virus. Some mothers tell me that they have three or four kids, in different grades, and they do not have more than one cell phone for them to all be able to attend remote classes. Mothers have adopted a new role [as teachers] due to the pandemic. We know it is difficult, the mothers know it is difficult, but we also know that with consistency and hard work we can get ahead and provide the best we can to our children. Throughout 2020, this was one of the biggest issues, but we consider that we have successfully overcome it.

Apart from education, older people have also been affected by COVID-19, and they have been abandoned by the authorities. They have been forced to knock on doors to ask for support because they are the most vulnerable and do not receive special care. We were in need of a census, to have a count of the elderly in the community and how many of them had people that could support them.

Due to the pandemic, we installed a program called “Zero Infection,” which consisted of reviewing every person that entered the community. This control had really good results, which were embodied in the very low number of people infected with the virus in the community. But after 4 months, people had to start to look for jobs [outside of the community] to bring money home. We have had four people die from COVID-19. The whole community knows that this virus is a constant danger to our health. Most of the time, we do not receive any support from the municipal authorities, and we do not receive any budget. Except for having each other, we are alone in this fight.

Andrea: We are always being told to wash our hands, to have good hygiene, and to sanitize frequently. How can members of Ihuanco do this without proper access to water? Can you tell us more about the water problem?

Susana: In this community, we are aware that water is life, water is irreplaceable. We don’t even have access to that basic need [of washing our hands]. We have been demanding the municipal authorities [of Cerro Azul] to deliver a solution for the community’s water access problem. There was a truck that brought water for the community every day, but do you think that was enough for them? Of course not, that was not enough to satisfy the high demand for water for the people in Ihuanco. When our pump broke, families had to survive without water for two months.

[The municipal government] was not able to see and feel the suffering of the people in Ihuanco, the children, the elders. The solution they gave us is rotating access to water which meant that sector 1 (the upper part of the community), has access from 8 am to noon, and sector 2 (the lower part), has access from noon to 4 pm. The problem is that the schedules are not reliable. For example, today the water started to flow in sector 1 around 9 am and was cut before noon. At one point, municipal authorities forced families to buy water in order to survive for 35-50 soles (approx. $15 CAD) for the day, sometimes even less than a day. This amount of money per day is totally inhumane.

Water is everything, and to this day, we are having difficulty getting constant access to water.

Andrea: What do you think will be the effect of bringing fog catchers to the community?

Susana: I am really thankful for this project. The fog catchers will mean a service of water that will actually be uninterrupted and community-owned. We would not have to worry if the service is working or not, because fog is something constant. When you presented this project of fog catchers, the first thing I thought was of the green areas and agriculture, this could mean the survival of these, which are considered an important part of life in the community. The fog catchers would also mean a warranty for the people in the community, because if the water service from the municipality fails (as it has in the past), we know that there is a reserve of water being provided by these fog catchers and we will not have to buy water from sellers who take advantage of people’s urgent need and sell it at surreal prices.

Water is life, and we need it so we can survive as a community. Thank you for choosing our community for this project.