Child to Child partner in Peru wins Human Rights Award from French Government

March 2016

By Celine Woznica

The Lima-based Centro de Desarrollo Étnico (Center for Ethnic Development – CEDET) was recently awarded the “Javier Pérez de Cuéllar” Human Rights Award by the government of France in recognition of its effective work in the “promotion, defence, and protection of human rights.”

The text on the tee-shirt reads: "The adolescents get organised and express their opinions."

The text on the tee-shirt reads: “The adolescents get organised and express their opinions.”

A Child to Child partner since 2014, CEDET is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the social and economic development of Peruvians of African descent (Afro-Peruvians) through research and community outreach. CEDET also strives to promote Afro-Peruvian culture and understanding to help eradicate the racism experienced by the descendants of African slaves brought to Peru between the 16th -19th centuries by the Spaniards. Slavery was banned in Peru in 1854, but Afro-Peruvians continue to experience profound discrimination in housing, education, business, and economic opportunities.

In presenting the award, the French ambassador to Peru, Fabrice Mauriès, noted CEDET’s advocacy work. This work entails ongoing monitoring of Afro-Peruvians’ human rights at the community level through participation in local Vigilance Committees.

CEDET’s work empowering Afro-Peruvians to recognise and advocate for their rights also extends to children and young people. According to studies conducted by CEDET in conjunction with Unicef and Plan International, the situation of Afro-Peruvian children is of serious concern. They are more likely to face discrimination, violence, poor health, and reduced social services. Since 2014, CEDET has addressed these concerns through community-based Palenques Infantiles, safe spaces led by children “in solidarity and friendship where they can reflect on what is occurring in their lives and take action to improve conditions for themselves, other children, and their families.”

Trained in Child to Child’s 6-step methodology, the Palenques Infantiles facilitators create safe places for ostracised and marginalised children to find their voice and create community. The Palenques Infantiles are not limited to Afro-Peruvian children, but all the children of the neighbourhood who represent Peru’s diverse ethnic groups with roots in the Andes, the Amazon, and the coastal areas. The children meet under a banner that states “Ser Feliz es mi Color de Identidad – Sin Racismo, Sin Discriminación” (“Happiness is the Colour of my Identity, Without Racism or Discrimination”).  In these safe circles children explore and take pride in their heritage, and learn acceptance and tolerance from each other.

Teenager Maria Jose enjoys attending the Palenques: “I learn so much, including handicrafts and how to express myself,” she told me. “My youth group has organised neighbourhood clean-ups and we also performed street theatre to respond to local issues.”

Ten-year old Jordan describes the Palenques as a “break from school” where he feels discrimination from his classmates, his teacher, and the school principal because of the colour of his skin. He said, “I sleep peacefully on Sunday nights, because I spend the Sunday afternoons with my fellow ‘Palenqueros’.”

Recorrida 2In preparation for their first anniversary in late 2015, the Palenqueros studied and created traditional Afro-Peruvian masks and musical instruments. Masks and music have a special role in society to construct and convey an identity, and by creating masks and learning to play traditional instruments like “boxes” and “mule jaws,” the children began to understand themselves and their communities within a historical context. They build their identity, and by doing so, build their resilience against intolerance and discrimination.

Sociologists describe three principal areas in building resilience that can be expressed as “I am,” “I can,” and “I have.”  The Palenques Infantiles promote all three areas as they help the children develop their identity, realise their potential, and become aware of their own personal and community resources, including the love and support of their fellow Afro-Peruvians.