Story Publication logo March 10, 2021

The Endurance of Age

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A woman wearing a black hat, a pink shirt, and a dark skirt stands in the doorway of a shack on a mountainside. She is holding a rope attached to a white goat that is pulling away from her.
English

This project profiles six elderly residents of a shantytown in Peru during the pandemic. Like many...

By Marco Garro.

The lives of the elderly and their struggles with the pandemic in one of Lima’s poorest districts.

For the full interactive story in Spanish, click here.

Growing old in the hills of Nueva Esperanza, southeast of Lima, has never been easy, even before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a human settlement in the district of Villa María del Triunfo, which was established in a sandy area in the 1950s as a solution to the housing problem in lower-income sectors. Its name reflected a project: to build an industrial park on state-owned land. Attracted by this future, hundreds of tradesmen, welders, carpenters, and artisans—most of them Quechua-speaking—began to populate the land, especially in the 1990s. That promise of progress, however, was never fulfilled for them.

A long time has passed since then. Today, much like the more than a thousand human settlements that exist in Lima, Nueva Esperanza is, above all, an enormous handful of houses of plywood and calamine spread from the slopes to the top of the hills, connected by dirt roads and stairways that the neighbors built together as a community. Here there is no sewage system, water comes in tanker trucks, and the poorest homes are still lit at night by candlelight.

It is there, in those hills, where several of the more than 700,000 older adults who live in poverty in the country live (survive). Peruvians who could be our fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers. Peruvians who we count as part of that "vulnerable population," because they face the highest risk of illness and death in the days of the virus.

Their lives reflect what happens when society as a whole—the state, companies, citizens—does not take care of its elderly. Today, a year after the pandemic began in Peru and in the midst of the second wave of infections, of the 41,000 older adults living in Villa María del Triunfo (where Nueva Esperanza is located), 60% do not receive a retirement pension and 41% do not have access to a single health system. For many, working years beyond retirement age is normal (40% of Lima's elderly population still works), as is learning to live with chronic ailments, such as arthritis, hypertension, asthma, diabetes, tuberculosis, among other ailments that they cannot treat, because sometimes they do not have health insurance or cannot walk to a health post or because they only speak Quechua or live alone or do not have the money to see a doctor.

The COVID-19 pandemic—its strict quarantine, its very high mortality rate—has only deepened the cracks of precariousness in which they already lived. This is well known to the older adults of Nueva Esperanza, such as Paulina, Vicente, Lucila, Guillermo, Doris, and Justiniano, whose experiences during the pandemic will be told in this series. Unlike other Peruvians their ages, they were somewhat lucky: They did not suffer nightmarish circumstances, with hospitals overflowing, they survived. During this year, the virus has killed 65,000 older adults, according to the National System of Deaths (Sinadef), 70% of the total coronavirus-related deaths.

They are the "at risk population" who were forced to make more sacrifices in their already difficult lives. Some did not receive financial aid from the government, and the little money they received from their relatives was cut off due to unemployment caused by the emergency. So they clung to the communal meals and the solidarity of their neighbors, and planted more potatoes and vegetables in their gardens, and every day they watched from the top of the hill, waiting. Not for the vaccine—which, according to the government, will come very soon for them—but the day when they will be able to go out and live their lives—what is left of their lives—as before.

To continue reading in Spanish, click here.

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