Back in 1994, aged just 11, a girl named Rosa decided to leave her home and family in the countryside and move – alone – to Arequipa. Rosa’s story gives an insight into a much bigger picture; that every year, thousands of people make the difficult decision to move to the city in search of better opportunities. In this week’s blog, we talk to Rosa, who is now an active part of the HOOP community, about her incredible journey and we look at the bigger story of migration in Arequipa and Peru.
There are many reasons why people migrate. But when young children migrate alone, it is often because they are sent by their families to the city to work and send money back home1. Rosa’s case was different. Coming to the city was her own decision, as she was determined to get a better education for herself and complete secondary school. However, she found Arequipa very different from the countryside outside Cusco where she grew up. “It was a scary situation. I arrived at the bus station in Arequipa, all on my own and first had to find a job and a place to stay. Back then people would come to this bus station to hire young women as maids.”. With few options for employment, Rosa worked as a maid to support herself all through secondary school. “I would often work with a family for only a year at a time, and then had to look for a new place to work”. After completing secondary school, Rosa continued to clean houses in Arequipa for a living.
Work and education are often important motivators for migration; a lack of opportunities in rural settlements leads people to migrate from rural to urban centres. In the last five decades Peru’s urban population has increased by more than 30 per cent2, with three out of four Peruvians now living in and around urban areas3. By 2050, it is expected that 86 per cent of Peruvians will be living in cities4. While the focal point of urban migration has been around Lima, other areas such as Arequipa are also seeing an influx of people. All of the families HOOP works with, for example, migrated to Flora Tristán in Arequipa searching for a better life and opportunities.
Rosa, who is turning 34 tomorrow, with three children, says moving to the city was the right decision for her. “There are many opportunities for children here in the city compared to where I am from” she explains. Living in the outskirts of Arequipa means her children have easier access to university, as well as high school. She also says it’s easier for her to find work, and she is currently working for the charity Pan y Vida, which helps provide free meals for schoolchildren. “There are different ways of living and thinking in the city. Some of my siblings who still live in the village where I was born have not made many new experiences or had many opportunities.”
Migration doesn’t just benefit individuals. It can have wider impacts on a whole country, such as improving the economy, and it’s easier to provide water and sanitation services to people living closer to each other5. This does not mean migration is without challenges. While overall effects may be positive, issues such as job security, problems of integration because of racism, as well as providing housing and urban infrastructure mean migration is far from straightforward. The effect of this in Peru specifically is that a lot of communities such as Flora Tristán are not legally recognised, as local governments struggle to provide these services. This means that these communities continue to suffer from lack of basic services such as access to adequate education, sewage systems, paved roads or safe drinking water.
However, Rosa is positive about the future. “In five years I want to have my own little business or store. And my kids will be in university. One of my kids even wants to go abroad!” The opportunities to study at university or travel to a completely different country were completely out of reach for Rosa when she was a young girl taking the bus by herself to Arequipa. But thanks to her hard work and dedication, for her children, these are very real and exciting possibilities.
Words and photos by Elise Fjordbakk