Young Voices from Peru: “La China”
For this first post in a series, Peru Country Manager Daniel Salazar talks to a recent high school graduate, Mirtha Irene Escalante Cenepa, known as La china. Join Daniel to learn about her life before moving to the Community, and her hopes and dreams for a creative career ahead.
What caused you to move to Sagrada Familia? Where had you lived before then?
I came to Sagrada familia because my aunt recognized that there were problems between my parents. I come from Loreto, a large jungle region in the Amazon close to Brasil, but my aunt lived in Lima. She didn’t want me involved in the conflict, watching my family fight. She also knew I’d get a better education here, because over there the quality of schools is really low. I moved to the Community when I was ten, and since then, we only talk by phone. Now, I talk with my mom every two weeks or so – anytime I can arrange it.
What was it like growing up at Sagrada Familia?
There was lots of learning. I grew up seeing young people who grew there and are now professionals. I learned values, and about the many things that can happen to you outside, if you make bad decisions. I have one that really touched me, that changed my life. It was probably a month after I arrived. I missed my family a lot. I was at the dining hall at lunch. I didn’t like chickpeas, beans in general. I left the dining hall to throw up and I was feeling so sad that I just sat outside thinking. I was just missing my family, especially my mom. Then suddenly Ms. Lili came and gave me a hug that was just so special to me, unique. I am really fond of Lili because I feel that the hug really touched me, at that moment, at that precise moment. I was ten years old, and I still remember that hug as something really strong, and I will always remember it as something really sweet.
Tell us a little bit about yourself – what are your interests?
What I like doing the most is definitely reading new stuff, new trends, news. I like to get information online through social media. I like to be active and see what new things are out there, learning about new trends. I like reading too. I like playing soccer. It really relaxes me a lot. I also love listening to music. It relaxes me so much. I live in the La Molina district, south of Lima, with other girls from Sagrada Familia; alumni. We are renting a room there. Some of these girls are already working.
What career dreams did you cultivate as you graduated high school?
At Sagrada Familia, we had lots of visitors who came from the airlines to talk with us. Many were pilots. I would dream of being a pilot, conquering the skies. [Laughs] I don’t know what I thought. But I really loved the idea of flying and having control of things. So I would ask the pilots about it. Although they would ask if I wanted to be a flight attendant, I would say, “No, a pilot.”
So, when I finished high school, I wanted to get into the air force to learn how to fly. I also asked around to see if there were good colleges for me to study flying here. But they told me that I should look in Argentina. When I saw the costs, there was no way, no way the costs aligned with my dreams. I was just hanging there for a while, not knowing what to do because I really liked the idea of being a pilot.
How did your experience at Sagrada Familia influence your career choice?
There was this teacher at the Sagrada Familia school who taught literature. She told me that I communicate effectively when I express myself, or tell stories. I don’t know if that’s true. But she said that people connect with me. So she started telling me these things, maybe I could study communications. So my idea was to study that, but there were no scholarships available to study that major in college. There was only a technical institute that offered scholarships for audiovisual communications. So that’s how I chose my career. Now I’m studying audiovisual communications.
“There was no way, no way the costs aligned with my dreams. I was just hanging there for a while, not knowing what to do because I really liked the idea of being a pilot.“La china
Has your experience with Global Volunteers impacted your career choices?
I really like having them. We are constantly meeting new people. That’s a really good thing because you start getting to know them, their lives, how patient they are, how they treat people. You learn those good traits that you may not have. They travel from far away to work with us. It’s gratifying to us. They show us love and kindness. They teach us, but the biggest thing I believe is the love and kindness they show us. These moves their hearts to come to meet us and encourage us to study. Without this love and kindness, they wouldn’t come all the way here. There are so many little children here whose parents don’t come to see them. They get attached quick and learn from the volunteers. We also learn how to socialize as well. Unlike other people, who are surprised when they see Americans, for us this is normal. They teach us English, and we also learn to socialize with other people. I also want to thank all the people who we don’t even see, or know, but they are helping us. When they come, or donate, they have always helped us. We will always be thankful to them, always.
How are you preparing for the next stage of your life?
Thank God, I am truly fortunate and blessed. When I graduated, I waited for half a year to get the scholarship and started studying. I feel that I was able to adapt to school just fine. But, I was shocked at how many things I didn’t know. I didn’t know much about digital media, technical stuff, and I required people who had experience working with it. I needed help to do my homework. I needed skills that I had not acquired in high school. For instance, I didn’t know how to use Microsoft Word properly. I had classes earlier, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. Then, when I was in college, I realized I needed to dominate that and other software. So now when I come to the community, I tell the kids how important is for them to learn these things and pay attention. We must be up to date on the new developments and technologies. That’s why I’m always trying to learn about new things that come up. So this was something that played against me. But it’s something that I had to learn.
What are your plans for the future?
The market here for my major is hard. I knew that before I started, and I like what I do. But I would like to start with editing. I would like to direct a (video) short. I have always wanted to work with my classmates making movies, but we have never been able to do it. But I would like to work at a studio or any company that creates audiovisual content for online outlets or other channels. So, I would like to grow as a professional first. My goal is to have my own studio of course. I just dream of something like that. I would love to perhaps direct projects.
“I feel truly fortunate. I am fortunate to belong to this family, to have grown up here. Now the story that I’m telling you would have never been possible If I had not come here.“La china
Anything you want to add?
For all the people who have grown up here, we feel at home; this is our family. We identify with Sagrada Familia, despite where we go. Our sweetest memories are here. Our childhood and adolescence were here. I feel truly fortunate. I am fortunate to belong to this family, to have grown up here. Now the story that I’m telling you would have never been possible If I had not come here. I sincerely admire the work teacher Miguel and Ms. Lili do, their steadfastness, their patience, their drive, for so many things, for so many people who have grown up here. I myself came when I was ten, now I’m twenty, and they have helped me all this time. I see them, and now I smile at them so sincerely and thankful. I’m so thankful to this home.
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