By Jake Lylle
Puerto Belen, a neighborhood in Iquitos, is a suburb of +/- 25,000. Sprawled out along the Itaya River just before it intersects the Amazon, Iquitos residents refer to Belen as the Venice of Peru, due to the heavy boat traffic along its shores that during the rainy season moves up around the thatched-roof shacks, making the neighborhood a floating marketplace. The slum is a series of twisted alleyways and market stalls that begin in South Iquitos at 104m above sea level and wind down a hill to the stilt-elevated town...
Because Belen is the hub of prostitution, drunkenness and gang life in Iquitos, local authorities and their contractors have long refused to expend resources to provide water, sewage or electric utilities to its citizens. It’s estimated that about 75% of people are living without running water in their homes, and many more go without electricity
Thick piles of garbage line the shores and alleyways of Belen and the riverbeds of the Itaya, as well as parts of the nearby Amazon. Trenches transport raw sewage from the farther areas of Belen into the river, though it shows up in the street sometimes as well. During five months of the year most of Belen is not accessible by motor car or foot, and canoeing is the only transportation method around the palm-thatched shacks and market stalls. However, many dwellings line the riverfront and are floating houseboats all year long. Outhouses are built alongside or in the back of the raft houses, emptying directly into the Itaya or into the trenches leading to it.
Given the conditions, it’s inevitable that many of the residents here deal with constant health problems. Among the most common are parasites, dysentery, venereal diseases, tooth decay (soda is cheaper than water) and dengue fever.
Only about 20% of the People of Peru Project’s work is done in Belen. They have outreach projects in other areas of Iquitos as well as in the jungle. “We focus on specific individuals, specific families, and specific communities, because if you go around dropping casual good works everywhere, you’re spitting in the wind.” says [Paul] Opp, referring to the “volunteer” teams that come down to Belen for a couple hours to hand out toys and (of all things) candy, or to put on a drama for a couple hours before retreating back to their air-conditioned hotel rooms.
People of Peru Project is officially a Humanitarian Organization, and teams from around the world come into Belen regularly to run children's programs and adult health education seminars. The children are taught proper health and sanitation practices and moral values to help them navigate the seedy and dangerous streets. Serving people in and around Iquitos of all backgrounds and orientations, People of Peru Project is able to learn through these school-based programs what kids are in abusive situations and what families are in crisis. Several girls from Belen have gone to live in the center run by the organization that houses girls who have come from abusive situations. Once girls at the center have finished their high school programs, People of Peru Project offers them an opportunity for advanced education. People of Peru Project is more than just a band-aid agency. Their operations address crises at hand as well as work through education to grow a better future.
Join us in our mission to install water filters to as many families in Belen as possible. Donate now.