The ancient capital of the Chimor Kingdom, the grand city of Chan Chan, has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. After 500 years of abandonment in the desert outside Trujillo, it has been damaged by 500 yearly rains that have washed away large parts of the walls of the adobe city. Restoration has been under way for years, but with limited resources it is a slow process. The site needs all the help it can get to avoid deteriorating more – that’s where the housewives come in.
Two years ago, the mud brick home of María Mercedes Mendoza collapsed, leaving her, her husband and three of her nine children homeless. She cried until she couldn’t cry any longer, as along with her home went her dreams for the future. She was forced to walk the streets looking for some kind of work to support her family – her husband, disabled after a terrible accident, couldn’t help her. María wanted to build a bigger and better house out of concrete, and went door to door looking for a job to fulfil her dream. She didn’t find anything. She continued to spend her days crying – until she hit upon another idea.
She approached the administrators of Chan Chan, on various occasions, to see whether there was work available in the restoration process. Eventually local authorities, with the aim of reducing local rates of unemployment decided to give María, and several others, an opportunity.
Known as the Ladies of Chan Chan, the project has trained them in the restoration process and they now form one of the restoration groups. Success has meant recognition from the government in the form of a prize for good governance in the social inclusion category.
Since 2006, the ladies have been working on Chan Chan, doing the same work as the other male labourers, including hauling heavy adobe bricks up ladders to raise the levels of the towering city walls. It truely is back-breaking work, but the women do not mind the early rise, journey to the site, or the hours of heavy labour under a hot sun. With steady employment, María has been able to access credit to build her new concrete home.