In 2008 two families, the McKinzies and the Smiths, arrived in Arequipa with the mission of planting churches supported by several people and churches. They also wanted to work in development. Meanwhile, I was in Arequipa working in development as Coordinator of the Peace Corps. As a man of faith I do not believe in coincidences, I believe that God prepares us for what his work should be. That is why everything in my personal and working life worked together to stay in Arequipa and together we started to work to form what CUDA is today.
The Christian Urban Development Association works for justice, joy, and wellbeing in the city of Arequipa. Urban poverty is a different type of poverty. We want to break the cycles of poverty that don’t allow kids to have a chance. We’re training teachers to improve reading comprehension strategies so that the kids they teach will know how to read, and who knows, maybe they’ll grow up to be teachers that already know how to read and can teach reading—and many will experience wellbeing because of it.
It all started with a small community library in the “Señor de Huanca” area. There Megan McKinzie, founder of Living Libraries, elementary science teacher and curriculum specialist, designed Living Libraries’ work model until 2011. Then the experience matured, and in 2012 the project took a new direction, becoming an educational intervention a school’s reading plan. Our pilot program: the boys’ school Gerardo Iquira Pizarro in Miralfores. I joined Megan’s team and together we adjust the curriculum for this new experience and so began the project of Living Libraries with the stamp of approval of the Regional Ministry of Education who certified the teachers who graduated our program.
This is a time of year where I’m especially thankful for Living Libraries and the impact they’re making in the lives of kids, teachers, and their families here in Arequipa. Our team is phenomenal—Lucia’s leadership and Nancy’s artistic spirit combine with teammates and volunteers to make a huge impact. It makes me thankful for all of you who follow along and support us with your constant giving, donating books, and praying for us as you share Living Libraries’ story with others along the way. Thank. You.
We are nearing the end of the calendar year, which in Arequipa is the same as nearing the end of the school year. For CUDA and Living Libraries, that means we’re coming down the home stretch, teaching our last reading comprehension strategy in October before trying to synthesize a year’s worth of work with teachers and students during the month of November.
In March we started another school year with four schools, two of them in their first year! Our team is led as always by our talented director Lucia, assisted by Nancy and Miriam, who just finished 6 months of training. I’m also volunteering again this year with the team. Big thanks to Decatur (AL) Rotary Club for donating $5,000 to stock all of the books in our two brand new school libraries, as well as the supplementary books in our other two school libraries. Big thanks as well to the Bobbie Solley Foundation who is paying for our Living Library team salaries. And to many of you who donate monthly or at the end of every year—thank you. CUDA couldn’t go on without you.
Thank you so much for being a part of our work in 2017, and working with us toward the future. People are experiencing justice, wellbeing, and joy in Arequipa. Development is a slow process, but it’s transformational. What is now just a seedling of new life we believe is growing into something much bigger.
One of the funnest things I do each week is sit down with Alfredo, Paty, Lucia, Nancy, and Carmen and read through a few paragraphs of Cuando Ayudar Hace Daño—that is, When Helping Hurts. If you talk to any of us very long, you’ll know that this is one of Team Arequipa’s required books to understand what we’re trying to be and do in this city. The Spanish translation was published at the beginning of the year, and we’ve been making our way through it together once a week. I think of it in terms of staff development. As we work toward justice, wellbeing, and joy in the city, we renew the challenge to ourselves to continue to develop, to be repentant of practices that may have been easy but aren’t right, and to work together toward reconciliation.
I would like to share with you the story of one of our diabetes patients named Maximiana. Maximiana was diagnosed with diabetes about two years ago. After the diagnosis, she decided that she wanted to change her life and be healthier. She heard about our work at the local hospital and came to visit us. We enrolled her in our monthly follow-up program and referred her to the exercise group that Katie and I lead three days a week.