nightmeetingCommunity members gathered at a nighttime meeting in Villa Maria del Triunfo.
Photo by Benjamin Ostrander

The number of communities in need of staircases and other infrastructure projects in the shantytowns of Lima can be overwhelming. In order to decide where to work next, the main factor that MEDLIFE Peru Director Carlos Benavides considers is community organization. When the community can rally around a strong leadership, we know that they will be up to the challenge of building and maintaining a project with us.

Published in Community Profiles
February 19, 2013 10:45 am

Medlife Role Models: Meet Nancy

This past year, we've completed six staircase projects and numerous Mobile Clinics in the community of Laderas de Nueva Esperanza, in large part thanks to the persistence of the community's dirigente, or elected community leader, Nancy Helguera. Read more about how she is inspiring positive change in her neighborhood below:

nancy

Nancy came to Lima thinking she was going to retire. She had worked for years as a dirigente in her native Piura, where she supervised a number of public works projects and worked to reduce crime and help at-risk children and teens. When she arrived in Lima, she opened a small restaurant in Villa El Salvador, and planned to spend time with her grown children and grandchildren. But her calling soon found her again.

It was her daughter, Vanessa -- who had moved to a new community called Laderas de Nueva Esperanza -- who proposed the idea. Vanessa was serving as the secretary general there at the time, and told her mother about the problems the community was facing. "There were a lot of problems with stealing, embezzlement and corruption. People didn't trust the dirigentes," says Nancy. So she left the restaurant and moved in with her daughter in Laderas. Nancy found little resistance to her election among locals, who were tired of bad dirigentes and knew of her past experience in Piura.

But what Nancy found there was a harsh reality, with fraud, bribes, and other corrupt practices already in place. "It was very hard at the beginning, the damage had to be fixed from zero. That's why I understand why people are distrustful, even now, saying that I steal," she says. "But you have to understand, they were very hard times."

Nancy accepted the challenge, but first she had to clarify a few things. "I was clear about how things work. I have my own way of working, and if they wanted my help, they had to accept my conditions," she says. "Obviously they accepted; they did not have many other options."

With five years of hard work in office, she's overseen many finished projects and the community continues to grow each year. "Five years ago, we hardly dreamed of the stairs or playground that we have now," she says. Nancy's charisma and commitment got the attention of not only her community, but the municipal government as well. 

Published in Community Profiles