Eliany Portocarrero Novoa: interview transcript

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Eliany Portocarrero Novoa: interview transcript

Eliany Portocarrero Novoa is a student from the village of Ramos in the province of Rodríguez of Mendoza, Amazonas region, Peru. She was aged 15 when she was interviewed on 22 April 2010 for the Rural Poverty Report 2011. The interview was recorded in Spanish and carried out by a staff member from Calandria. The interviewer had an existing relationship with the community but was not a professional researcher.

Interviewer's introduction: I returned to the community of Ramos alter some months. I was already familiar with the roads and the weather….However, this time the weather was not too kind to us, it was raining a lot and the access was therefore rough.

When we reached the gate of the house, the landscape was wonderful, brilliantly green; a huge meadow with horses grazing and poultry scratching holes in the earth. In the distance we could see Eliany's two-story house…the rain poured down onto our heads, and we found it hardgoing to get to the door. We decided to wait until the rain decreased in intensity. Some five minutes passed, we moved out of the threshold of the gateway that was protecting us…and then we saw Eliany coming out of the house.

Eliany looks thin. She was dressed in jeans, a T-shirt and a jacket, and she ran towards us with a big smile on her face. It was good to be by her side. The weather was treating us unpleasantly so we needed a little warmth. She welcomed us with a big hug, and despite the dampness of her clothes, we felt as if we were at home. She has big and lively eyes and is a pretty "musha" (a nickname for people with light skin, eyes and hair, which is a characteristic of the people from the province of Rodríguez de Mendoza, in Amazonas).

I started talking with her in one of the rooms that she shares with her brothers and sisters. There was intense rain outside. The room had two beds, a couple of benches and one table, all made of wood. The walls were plaster, painted white and the roof was made of logs covered with straw, wrapped with plastic sheets inside. I asked Eliany about her parents and siblings, and she replied that they were at the farm at that moment; they would return home at 5:00 pm, or when the rain decreases. The family farm is one hour away on foot from the house.

That day Eliany had got special permission to give us the interview. She receives support from the Catholic Church: accommodation and food while she is at secondary school. This represents significant support, taking into account that she will be the only child in her family who will be able to finish her basic education.

We have met Eliany, and we are going to ask her to tell us a little about her family, her parents, siblings and their ages… just in a quick way.
Well, my daddy is called Magno Portocarrero Arístal, he is 41; my mum is called Marisa Novoa Adela, and she is also 41. I have four siblings; we are five children in total: four girls and just one boy. My oldest sister is called Denisse, she is 21; the second is called Didani, who has just turned 20. My brother is called José Edwin, he is aged 17, and my little sister is Marielita, aged eight.

About your siblings that you have mentioned, are some of them working or studying? What do they do?
Well, all my siblings work in agriculture. I am studying in secondary school, whereas my little sister is in elementary school.

Did your oldest sister finish secondary school?
No, none of my older siblings wanted to study secondary school -- although our parents advised them to do so, they never wanted to. Our parents told them that studying is the best thing they could do, but they denied, they didn't ever want to.

So you are learning more, so to say?
Yes, I am…

And did your siblings attend to primary school?
All of them completed their primary studies.

You told me that your brother dedicates to agriculture labour?
Yes, he does.

And what about your sister?
Yes, she does too. Most of the time she is helping at the farm, and then she returns home to cook the meal because my little sister returns from school to have lunch.

Do your parents have a house here in Ramos?
Yes, they do 

Besides of the house that they have here, they own a farm… Do you know how many hectares does it have?
No, I don't exactly know…

What do you usually sow there?
My parents grow pineapples, they dedicate themselves to that cultivation. Other people here in the community of Ramos concentrate on growing sugar cane and coffee.

Now let me know a little about the topic of your education, how was your primary education?... you told me that you studied here at the school of Ramos.
Well, my primary education was not as good as it should have been, maybe because of the teachers, they didn't teach us well. When I departed to start my secondary studies, I suffered because the education was very different; in fact, the things that I had learned here were too simple compared to what was being taught out there.

That happened because the teachers didn't go to classes every day, or maybe what they taught was not so useful. How did you see that kind of education? Was it deficient on teachers' or on students' side?
It was deficient on the teachers' side; we did attend to school, but the problem is that the teachers only taught to us very basic things: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. That was very common, that is why our parents and many others only know that so far: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, they only know that, the simplest things.

Do you think that the secondary education that you are receiving now in Rodríguez de Mendoza, is benefiting you more? Do you think that you can move forward with the education that you are receiving?
Well, I think I can, because my present school is ‘emblematic'1 (symbolic of the best education); as a matter of fact, a school is called emblematic because of its outstanding students who have obtained high places. Some of our students have moved o the Major School of Lima2, founded by the president…

Did the president found a school?
Yes, he did, and 900 of the best, the most outstanding, and the hardest studying students have entered there. There are many children [ in my school] who are good in Sport, Mathematics, Literature, Chemistry, Biology, in all the subjects, so I think that I will certainly have a good future with this education.

Do you think that with this education - that you see as fabulous - you will improve and become better in your future?
Yes, yes, I can surely improve...

What should be improved?, in fact, what aspects of the education that you are being given at that emblematic school do you think should be improved?
What should be improved is… well, it will be improved during this vacation. There will be more computers, some of them in the lab, and there will also be more books; thanks to this we will achieve a better culture and learn what we lack.

Those books are free of charge for you?
Yes, because… you know, now there are many books in the library, but nobody reads them. And I wonder if you have heard about a project – that is being designed by my class – about a mobile library in the province of Rodríguez de Mendoza. The library will be at the service of the community from Monday through to Friday, from 3 pm onwards. It is a project that is just being implemented now, but the mobile library should be finished, and the books will be donated by the Municipality and other institutions.

Do you think that the education that you are receiving at school will help you with your work later on? Or do you think that you need to continue studying additionally at a technological or superior institute?
Yes, we have to study and get more prepared; for instance, there are many people who go to study to Chachapoyas, even to Lima. There is actually an institute in Rodríguez de Mendoza, but it's not so good. The students who attend there are not good students; that is, it's common to see that those students have an academically low performance. But I think that we should get more prepared and become more educated, so that you will get success in the career that you choose.   

Taking into account that you proceed from the community of Ramos, where people devote to agriculture, do you think that it's important to include those topics about cattle raising and agriculture in the secondary education, or do you think that it's not necessary anymore, that that is something that is learned and passed over from generation to generation?
Maybe to improve agriculture, because some people don't know how to utilize the resources of their own land, so that doesn't yield good harvests. But what do some of them do? They call some technicians, and they give them some kind of chemically processed fertilizer. But we have natural fertilizer here, maybe animal manure or some vegetables, with which we can improve the land to yield better. So, in my opinion, people should become more trained, so they will know more about the benefits, and also the wrong things that they are doing. 

Ok, we have already talked about education… now let's talk a little about your own contribution to the community, so to say. I know that you spend Monday through Friday outside Ramos, and only spend weekends, vacations and holidays here. So, during those few days that you live here in Ramos, do you assist your family with the agriculture works, or do you just devote to studying?
Well, I do assist, because I dedicate myself to study all week long out there, and I am a little tired of studying, so I want to come here to relax a little. Sometimes I distract my mind by going to the farm; it's a nice place for relaxing when you don't go often there, so to say.

Tell me something, what kind of work would you like to perform in your future life, what would you like to become yourself?
To follow some career.

And what career would you like to follow?
I would like to become an accountant or a policewoman. I'd rather become an accountant because I like to sit on my desk in front of a computer. It's a nice career because you don't suffer burning sun or pouring rain.

And taking about the career of Accounting, what features do you think a person who studies such career should have? How do you think you should be trained as an accountant, which one of your virtues should be improved? Could you contribute with some inputs to become a good accountant? Well, firstly I should stand out at the academic level, in the management of numbers.

Well, I have goals, so I should be good at numbers, acquire more practice to manage them, so I won't fail while performing my work, so to say…

And why would you like to become a policewoman?
Well, in my particular case, I have listened to some people's voices. I have been told that, to become a police officer, you have to pass just one test, and you will achieve a stable career. It's something quite quick, and you become a policewoman. And maybe later on I can follow a career, because a police officer has some spare time to devote to prepare themselves for other careers.   

What qualifications or virtues do you think you have?
To become a police officer?

Yes, for becoming a policewoman. What makes Eliany a good police officer?
Well, I have many friends who are police officers, and they have told me - taking into account the tests they have passed - that the basic requirements are being able to run fast, have stamina and speed.

And do you have all that?
Yes, I do. I'm outstanding in Physical Education.

OK, you told me that you are not assisting too much in the farm works, only in your spare time to relax yourself, aren't you? Do you think that your family feels comfortable doing the agriculture activities that they perform, or do you think that they could make up their mind about getting out of this? How do you see it?
Well, they were born and grew up in this place, and they are doing the same activities that their parents and ancestors did for years. If they said that they would leave aside these activities, I would think that it would be quite something, because they have been here ever since they were born, alongside the plants. If they ever left this, they would certainly improve their life quality. As a matter of fact, when people move out from here, they have more options to improve their financial income. I say that Peru is facing an economic crisis these days, prices are rising, and as you can see, peasants don't get many benefits. A time will come in the future when they will not even have anything to eat, so to say…

Do you think that your family will keep on doing this within 15 or 20 years from now?; for instance, your nephew will continue dedicating himself to agriculture, to grow pineapples, or do you think that he can improve himself? If you had to look at a picture of the future, how would you forecast it?  
That would depend on him, but I would give him some advice: change and become a better person. He will grow up into an adult, while his parents will grow old, so he will have to support them, help them. The land is becoming more and more infertile, and doesn't yield anymore. And it's absurd that a person is sowing and sowing without harvesting anything. [But] that matter would entirely depend on him… by studying you will get a good job and make money to support your family.

Shortly before you mentioned that the lands are becoming infertile, why do you think that that is happening? What is that occurring all around the world? Because this is happening not only in Mendoza or Ramos…
Yes, it's happening worldwide, and we are the ones to blame. We are not using the forests in an adequate and proper way; we cut  trees and burn down woods every day, we are plundering nature… what future can we expect that way? Within a few years we won't have even air to breathe, or water to drink, and you know that water is an indispensable resource for life; if there is no water everything will die.

Have you heard anything about climatic changes, what do you think about that?
Well, climatic changes are occurring for which we are to blame, with our activities we are causing that to happen, so the weather is not the same it used to be.  Now it gets sunny and rainy alternatively, and the seasons don't follow one another properly, so the crops get spoiled. As the years pass by, we will have more ultraviolet rays over us, and people will die because of cancer and many other diseases.

Do you think that the scenario that you are picturing could be tackled in the future?. Is there any action that we, citizens, could take? You, as a juvenile, what could you do to contribute that the climatic change won't keep affecting us adversely?
Well… firstly, we should receive some guidance through talks, so people would become aware of the damage. People should know what they can do; and then we should set goals and put them into effect; for instance, we could sow plants and reforest…

What else can we do… something that you and your family can do in your daily life, what could it be?
Take care of our home environment, protect the animals and the plants, so that vegetation won't be spoiled..

Now let's talk about the activities that are not related to agriculture, and that your family performs. You mentioned something about sugar cane and panela… tell us a little about this activity that your family performs...
Well, my sister's husband does that, it's an activity that is just starting here… so to say, something similar to sugar cane. We take the juice out of the cane, boil it, it's a process similar to that of making chancaca (raw, unrefined cane sugar). Then by boiling at a higher point and through other processes, it becomes almost like sugar. This project was inaugurated on November 14 [2008], and in my opinion, it's nice because people will benefit economically, because the product can be consumed. As you see, the prices of sugar and chancaca are rising, so the price of panela (processed chancaca) will also rise, because, as the prices of the other two products rise up, panela will also cost more and…

People will be able to consume it, and after that, it may be exported?
Yes, it may be.

Do you think that you could also become involved in this production of panela, as an organic product, so to say? I mean, besides wanting to become an accountant or a police officer, do you think that this stuff of panela that you are commenting to me would grant economic benefits to your family, and would grow in the market? Do you think that you could become involved in that? 
Yes, maybe, but firstly I would have to check if that so-called Association of Panela Producers is growing. We can see that nowadays there are many corporations that don't flourish, they stay just there, or many times they get smaller and they turn into a zero. If that association would improve, it would become a good choice [to make panela], so my family and I could become involved in it.

And do you think that these activities, the topics about panela, coffee, cocoa or pineapples, could help your family to overcome a situation of poverty, or do you think that it is necessary to involve in an economical activity other than those?.
We could improve our economy with these activities, yes, we could… and maybe with others too… but what kind of activities could they be?

Mmmm… I don't know, see, for instance you say: "We won't sell pineapples anymore, let's change our production and sell cherimoyas instead", maybe cherimoyas (fruit, also known as custard apple) are more welcomed. Then, do you think that, with any of the economical activities that your family is involved into, you will overcome poverty, or is there a need to become involved in another kind of economical activity?
If there is the necessity to become involved in other kinds of activities, it may be growing trees for wood, which is also profitable and can yield benefits; another area could be growing peanuts or other cereals, wheat for instance. Or also citrus, such as oranges…

OK, now tell me something about… once your family sows and harvests the pineapples, where do you take them? Do you take them to a specific marketplace? Is your investment recovered? How does the marketplace where you take the products look like?
Well, some people from the district of Guambo own a number of vehicles; they come here, buy the fruits and take them to Chachapoyas every Monday morning. Other times some people from Rodríguez de Mendoza, or Celendín [in Cajamarca], come over here and take the pineapples.

Tell me more… do you think that that marketplace is not direct, but that there are intermediaries? Would it be more profitable if the people of Ramos get organized and take the pineapples directly into the marketplaces instead?
Partially yes, but partially no. If our people had to take the fruits directly to the marketplace, they would have to pay for the transportation to take the products there, for their lodging and food, where they would stay to sleep, and the transportation back here. Besides, they could return to work in their farms and help by working in others' only once they had left the fruits there.

Well, now it's turn to talk a little about the places where you and your family have lived: Have you ever lived here, or somewhere else? Are you from Mendoza, Santa Rosa, or always from Ramos?
Well, my mom was born in Santa Rosa and my dad is from Ramos. When my mum got married, she came from Santa Rosa to live here in Ramos, and my siblings and I are all from here.

Have all your siblings attended school here? Are you the only one who moved out to study in Mendoza?
They all have studied here. I am the only one who moved out to continue my education in Rodríguez de Mendoza.

Tell us about this new experience of living in Mendoza -- in fact, this is a much quieter place -- if you were shocked, if you have grown up,  if you have gotten affected… maybe you felt  very nostalgic about your family?
Well, everything has both a positive and a negative side. There are many risks out there in Mendoza, lots of vehicles that carry freight… this is a very quiet place, no noise affecting us, no noise pollution, as  in Mendoza, lots of noise all around… the nice side is that I have met many people, we talk and socialize.

Now let's talk a little about your life at school, do you participate in some organization?
Well, I used to participate in a musical band at school before, but I withdrew. Now I am participating in a group called Juventud Estudiantil Católica (JEC; Student Catholic Youth), it is sponsored by the Church. There are also some other youth groups, like the Ecologists, but I haven't joined them yet.

Now tell me something about the JEC…
Well, the JEC is a group of young people that meet together every Monday; then we talk about very nice topics. Last year's topic was environment, and after that, we decided to start a plant nursery in our place. There are some green areas around here, so now we will sow our own plants, and support reforestation.

And the information that you receive… do you read on newspapers, on Internet, or where does the information come from?
Most of the time, the information comes from Internet and also from our companions.  As you know, they have relatives in other places, so they get informed faster about the things that happen all over the country.

And what about the radio?
There are two radio stations in Mendoza, and another one in Guambo.

What kind of information do you get from Internet, how do you use Internet?
The internet facilitates us a lot for doing our homework -- we also get information from there, and it's fun! However, we should use it properly, not only for chatting or navigating. Through the radio, we get informed about music, new songs of new genres.

Eliany, when you have any problem during the week, who do you share it?, because you won't see your family until next Friday…
I share it with my best friend Jenny, she was born in the province of Mariscal Cáceres. I see her every day at school, so we are always hanging around together. I also have another friend, she always tells me her thoughts, and I tell her mine; we always support each other.

And her opinions? Does she help you to take better decisions?
Yes, she does.

And among the leaders that you know, is there anyone that you admire, that you think: This is the kind of leader that I want to become someday?
Let's see… who I admire?... in religion I admire God, and there is also a priest at my church, we call him "Patiloro". He is a smart and friendly person, and I would like to become similar to him someday.

And what about your companions?
Among my classmates, I would like to be as hard-working as my classmate Sandra Marilia, who is attending the Major School in Lima. She is a good friend and a good student as well, and she also participated in the musical band; she is a kind of friend who is always there in both good and bad moments.

And is there any leader that you admire here in Ramos?
My cousin Litmer, he continued his education at the same school as me, and then he moved out to Chachapoyas. There he studied Education, and then he studied to become a policeman, both careers.

And at national level, is there any leader that you admire, or nobody? Maybe you admire nobody, you are not forced to admire anybody if you don't want to…
No, no…

What do you usually do when you are not studying, how do you use your spare time?
Well, I have a schedule in Mendoza… after school hours I usually listen to music, walk around with my friends… as a matter of fact, there are not too many things to do here in Mendoza.

Where do you usually walk around, the square?
Sometimes around the Square… other times we sit on the steps outside the radio stations, you know, we talk… and I usually watch TV in Mendoza.

Can you watch TV now?
Yes, I can because there is electricity now, or else I write poems too…

Let's see… another topic… education is a very significant topic, but however, I guess that another very sensitive topic for you is poverty… What does it mean for you to be poor in Ramos?
Well, being poor, very poor… I think that it would be something very sad indeed, because I couldn't fulfill my goals in life. When someone is very poor, no possibilities of improvement happen. Many times people discriminate against you, they move you aside, and that's very sad and humiliating.

Which do you think are the main causes of poverty?
The main cause would be the family's lack of attention to it. Sometimes there are no chances in the working field for improvement. Another cause is the laziness that people have, and which leads them into the path of poverty.

Do you think that your family, compared to other families, is less poor? I mean, are there poorer families than yours?
There are no extremely poor families here in the community of Ramos. But there are actually poor people; we know that everyone faces needs.

Do you think that your family is not in the group of those facing several needs?
As I told you, we all face needs here.

So you can say that you have enough for living, for feeding, for housing, everything which is essential?
Well, we do have the essentials...

But there are some challenges that your family should face. For example, if your little sister got sick someday, do you think that your family could take her to a hospital and pay for the medicines, or do you think that it couldn't be possible?
Well, there is an insurance called Integral Health Insurance, and all my family is registered with it, as well as other people here. If someone gets sick, we take him to Santa Rosa [district health post]; if the person doesn't get better, then he is taken to [a higher level health post in] Calhuayco, close to the town of Totora (in another district), and if the person keeps being ill, he is taken to Mendoza [hospital]. In my opinion, I wonder why people waste their time doing all this…

You mean in transfers?
Yes, sick people should be taken directly to Rodríguez de Mendoza because there is a better health implementation there, and the doctors are better prepared. Sometimes when we get sick, we go to the health post and it is closed, or there are no medicines there.

Tell me something to end this poverty topic: your family should have three meals a day: breakfast, lunch and supper. Do your siblings have these three meals, or do sometimes they miss one?
Well, people usually eat beans or yucca here, so nobody stays without having breakfast here. 

And the other meals?
No, you always find some fruits, or people assist you by giving you some food. I can say that no person has never ever missed any meal: breakfast, lunch and supper.

Do they at least have coffee and yuccas to eat?
Yes, eating locro (chicken and yucca broth, typical rainforest dish) is very common here, we're never without.

OK… moving into the last group of questions…about the future, how do you see yourself in your future life, within 10 years from now? What do you see yourself doing then?
I see myself working as an accountant at an office…

With or without children?
With children… let's see… at the age of 25, when I have already accomplished my goals in life at the academic level, when I have my profession, only then I will think about having a child.

And tell me, what do you think about other juveniles from Ramos, how can you imagine their future? Do you see them studying outside here, or still working at their farms here?
I imagine that I will see them studying somewhere else outside here.

So you think that they actually have possibilities?
I think that they actually have possibilities, and that they will improve their life quality, that is my opinion.

And do you think that the community of Ramos will continue like that, or do you imagine it in a different way?
Well, I imagine it different.

How different?
Well, improved, better, with less needs. Maybe the children will be already professionals, or continuing with their education. And when they get sick, they will go to a health post to be efficiently assisted in Rodríguez de Mendoza, in Santa Rosa.

Perhaps you have little siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews, aged 10 and younger. That is a new generation, who will be juveniles aged 14 to 20 within 10 years from now, right? How do you see this new generation in the future? Do you see them well, finishing their education? Or do you think that families need to give more priority to secondary education?
Well, the thing is that sometimes the children themselves don't want to go studying, that has happened in many former cases. They didn't want to go to school because they were afraid of separating from their parents, or maybe they were afraid of being rejected at school because their poor academic performance.

If the elections for mayor were held in 20 years, and Eliany were elected as mayor, what would Eliany do on behalf of Ramos or Santa Rosa?
I would try to help everyone, with no political or otherwise distinction. And I would put everyone to work, in shifts…

And what if you weren't a mayor but a congresswoman, what would you do? We are talking about the whole country, right? What would Eliany do on behalf of the country?
Let's see… firstly, I would support my hometown, I mean, Ramos and the whole district of Santa Rosa, and then I would help other communities in need, so they would improve their economic and educational levels.

How do you think that someone can achieve success?
Someone can achieve success, firstly, by proposing it, being positive, and then by studying hard: study is the basis of all the goals in life. We should study even to perform minimal things. One has to have at least completed secondary level to be given a job. So, without studies, a person can do nothing, study is the main basis, so to say…

What should the Peruvian men and women of the community of Ramos do to achieve success, beyond studying, which is obviously interesting, but maybe there is also something else that can be done?
OK, in the case of a person who has already studied, who is a professional and has achieved something, well, then he should put himself in the shoes of others, so he should see what suffering feels like. He would become aware and try to help others. Nobody in this life is perfect, but if we cooperate, we realize that we are as strong as a tree that wants to grow even stronger, wanting to improve our lives, and then we should help one another.   

Thank you very much.

1/ ‘Emblematic' schools are state schools that have students who are likely to become outstanding professionals. In Peru, most ‘emblematic' schools refer to the huge schools that were  the "Alma Mater" of Peru's current politicians and intellectuals, operating from the 1960s to the 1980s. After that, public education deteriorated, and private schools began re-emerging. 

2/ The Major School of Lima was founded by President Alan García [in 2008?] with the purpose of encouraging the best students at national level, and giving them a better education. These children have passed through a rigorous selection process.  For some students this has meant being uprooted from their families; however, their parents consider this as a minor sacrifice for the sake of a better education. better opportunities for their children.