Michiko is one of the five collaborators from the Japanese Province. She shares her experience as a lay missionary in Peru where she has worked for 38 years.
"In 1984, I arrived in Peru as a member of a lay missionary team. Peruvian society and economy were in chaos. I settled in Carabayllo, the desert suburb of Lima, where the shanty towns were spread out and where the communist guerrillas known as the Shining Path were hiding.
My first commitment: "The community kitchen”
It was created to help the poor of the area. Most families had many children. The parents had to work during the day to be able to feed them and the children were often left alone in the street. These children not only needed food but also a place to stay. Each family brought some of what they had at home to share with the "Kitchen" to feed their hungry children. At the same time, the younger children were taken care of on the upper floor of the kitchen. The families were very much encouraged by the warmth and tenderness which filled their hearts as well as having something to eat. As time went by, more and more neighbours began to join us: some came to teach, others to sew, knit or cook, others taught livelihood skills. People sold the products they had made together in the "Kitchen" to earn money to buy what they needed.
My encounter with Hipólito
One day, while walking along a dusty road, I stumbled upon a building with broken windows. It was once the site of a prison. As I looked inside, I saw a man who explained that the people there were making various items to sell in order to buy bread for the day. This was my first meeting with Hipólito, who had a dream of creating a vocational school at a time when there was a great demand for training. He finally created a school, CETPRO (Centre for Technical and Productive Education) in Carabayllo and he became its first director. The Centre began offering courses to give young students various skills: baking, hairdressing, shoe repairing and computer skills, alongside more traditional skills such as knitting and sewing, so that they would be able to make a sustainable living for themselves. The building was too small, so the students and neighbours contributed materials, bricks and cement, to renovate it and build extensions. Although it now has 11 classrooms, this is still not enough to accommodate the 750 students. The students are therefore divided into three groups, with each group attending classes in the morning, afternoon and evening, and new extensions are being built.
I have been stuck in Japan for the last three years because of Covid-19, but every Monday I communicate by phone with my Peruvian friends who give me news. Looking back on these 38 years in Peru, the most beautiful fruit of our prayers, our solidarity and our shared dreams is that we have managed to overcome many challenges together and have had many wonderful encounters. Every person, no matter who they are, needs others. That is why we need to support each other.