Breaking Chains of Violence in Peru

In the sprawling slums where Food for the Hungry works in Lima, Peru, there’s no hiding the poverty that shackles millions. Bare wires propped with sticks bring electricity up the steep hill, pilfered from paying customers below. Mud is ankle-deep on the roads winding between flimsy plywood houses.

What hides beneath the physical poverty, what really holds many families hostage, is the crisis of family violence.

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Illustrations like this one in the family violence prevention curriculum show parenting methods that rely on abuse and violence  – and how it’s possible to discipline in love.

When FH surveyed parents in its Lima work zones, community members rated family violence as more worrisome than the terrorism that has plagued Peru for decades. More than 50 percent of the parents used physical violence and verbal abuse to discipline children. One-third of the children FH interviewed said they thought it was OK for a man to hit a woman.

With FH’s help, an army of volunteer mother leaders rose up to break the chain of family violence. FH trained these mother leaders in a violence prevention curriculum, developed especially for Peru. The mother leaders learned ways to parent without violence, setting their children on a lifelong path of a new way to live as a family. The mother leaders also learned how to spot children who are being abused in their community.

Since 2014, FH has already trained over 1,000 mothers, with the help of 243 trained mother leaders.

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Isabel and Benjamin, on the steep stairs that lead from the main road to their home.

Coffee and second chances

Moms like Isabel, a 37-year-old mother of three, responded when FH staff asked for volunteers to help end the violence crisis. Her violence prevention group meets over coffee in her home.

Isabel has two older teenaged children by a previous relationship, and a 4-year-old son named Benjamin with her current husband. She’s happy she got a second chance to parent with Benjamin, she says.

When her elder children’s father abandoned the family, she was forced to work outside the home, like many single moms in these neighborhoods. That usually means commuting several hours each way to work in wealthier parts of town. “I would come home and the children didn’t have their chores done, and I got angry. I had a hard job. I came home tired and I just wanted to rest,” Isabel said. “When I was bothered, I would yell at them.”

She saw that disciplining her children when she was angry didn’t work. They didn’t respond. FH’s program, Isabel says, helped her see what she was doing wrong and adopt better ways to discipline. Now, she leads a group of 10 moms who meet for coffee, fellowship and learning specific ways to channel their anger and discipline without yelling or hitting.

A better tomorrow for families

Ana (not her real name), a mother leader who lives in a nearby community, says she had the same problem, particularly with one son who is very willful. “I had a habit of shouting, I had no patience. Years ago, I had a child I would hit. But with this program everything changed, I don’t hit my children, although I still shout sometimes.”

Ana says that for her, the program’s suggestion that she walk outside the house and take a deep breath has really improved her home life. She has high hopes her children will follow her example. “We need to break the chain,” Ana said.

Alicia, age 29, says she too can become angry very quickly. Because she is a trained mother leader, she keeps one of the colorful flip charts in the house that is used to teach others. Every time she teaches, she’s encouraged that there are better options than shouting or hitting her children, including 8-year-old Marco.

“My son Marco has read the flip chart too,” she said with a smile. She says he sometimes reminds her, “You should not teach this if you’re not doing the same.”

Renewal and redemption

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One of the lessons in the curriculum asks the moms to take a simple sheet of paper and crumple it into a ball. Then the leader asks the moms to unfold the paper and try to take out all the wrinkles.

Of course, they can’t.

And they learn the lesson: Hitting your child, verbally abusing your child, leaves a permanent scar.

But the mothers and children working with FH also hear about a God who heals and forgives. Mothers in the violence prevention groups have children participating in FH Children’s Clubs, which preach the gospel through healthy, fun activities. Hearing about God’s grace from their children, and from FH staff, has often brought mothers into the church. They not only break the chain of violence but also break other chains of sin in their lives.

One way you can walk alongside families in Lima, and in other places where violence enslaves families, is to sponsor a child with Food for the Hungry. This allows FH to work in some of the world’s neediest villages and neighborhoods, with children and their parents.


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