It is with great joy that we are writing to report our findings and impressions following our family's visit to Arequipa in July. We spent two weeks with the church, and we took the opportunity to observe various aspects of CUDA's work and to discuss matters at length with Alfredo and some of our missionary volunteers.
Above all, we are excited to say that the Living Libraries program is doing extremely well. A couple of points we want to highlight were reported to us in Alfredo's quarterly reports to the board, but they didn't really sink in for us until our visit.
- Our first school to complete the program (2013–2015) is in a district in which about 40% of students meet reading standards in standardized testing. About 80% of our participant school's students met the standards after completing the program!
- This year's new school has a new principal: Miss Gina, formerly a teacher in our original school. She benefitted tremendously (including financially, since the Ministry of Education considers our training to be official professional development) from the the program and enthusiastically pursued its inauguration in her new school. Our teaching strategies were already being utilized there before the library was installed. This is the kind of organic growth we have prayed for!
- The agency that oversees international NGOs (APCI) conducted an audit of our work. The agent expressed astonishment at the quality of our program. After conducting student interviews, he was impressed with the effectiveness of Living Libraries, comparing us favorably with other NGOs that merely install libraries in schools. He suggested our only problem is that we underrepresent ourselves and need to let others know what we're doing.
- Alfredo has approached large businesses in Arequipa that might make charitable grants, without success. The problem is fundamentally that grant-making authority lies in Lima (along with many other businesses not in Arequipa). In order to put the APCI agent's advice to work, he will have to make various trips to Lima.
- Lucia and Nancy are functioning very effectively as a team. Greg enjoyed sitting in a staff meeting in which they expressed their frustrations with their own limitations, while voicing appreciation for each other and for Alfredo's leadership. Let's continue to pray for their relationship to God.
- Jeremy (at Lucia's request) now teaches an ethics class to participant teachers, similar to the one Greg taught in the microfinance program. Lucia identifies infighting among teachers in the work environment as one of the key issues to address. Christian work ethics will, we hope, contribute to the solution. They feel it may be beneficial in the future to work with a psychologist who can do more in the area of group dynamics. The vision of holistic development in Peruvian schools continues to evolve!
- Briana has been focused on a new baby. Lucia seems to have embraced full responsibility for the program, and Briana reports that they make good use of her as a volunteer in the ways she is currently able to help.
Greg was also able to visit a diabetes support group meeting facilitated by Jake and Jaclyn Blair.
- The preventative health program is in early stages still, and the missionaries who have propelled it are feeling the frustration of its slow evolution. We tried to put it into perspective by comparison with Living Libraries's fitful, sometimes imperceptible growth before we found a functional model. That is perhaps too abstract to be very comforting, and above all we think they need to have a furlough and dive back into the work fresh. They've been pretty beaten up by the cross-cultural experience and the bureaucracy of the medical system, so pray for their stamina and growth as cross-cultural workers.
- They have put together a really nice resource book for diabetes patients that, to our layman's eyes, seems useful. We are impressed by the work and the insight that has gone into it.
- Currently, 548 of 1465 patients screened had high risk of diabetes. 130 of the 1465 tested positive for prediabetes. 24 tested positive for diabetes and had no idea before. To give you a sense of the context, patients have limited access to meds, almost no access to equipment (such as glucometers, much less insulin pumps), a great deal of ignorance about the disease, and no support system for lifestyle change. The district health clinic out of which the program has been based does not even have the equipment to test blood sugar and, in one emergency, had to borrow CUDA's glucometer for that purpose.
- Having learned well the roadblocks in their current approach, they have some exciting ideas for adapting and advancing. Jake in particular has a compelling vision for the program as a whole. We are excited to see the program continue to develop.
Justin and Sarah Morgan's work with various orphanages has opened a conversation about the possibility of serving young people in the final years of their stay in these facilities. They are often forced out at 17 or 18 years old with no trade or skills and, of course, no family or social network other the orphanage. The new idea is to develop the sort of vocational training that was the final version of the microfinance program into something appropriate for these orphans, to facilitate their move from the system into society.
Overall, we were encouraged by CUDA's work. We're beginning to see fruit, and many new seeds are being planted. It was strange to look at things with outsider's eyes, but what we saw seemed healthier than when we left. I'm thankful to God for the work he continues to do through servants who struggle to find the path forward, and we are thankful to each of you for standing behind them.