This week’s Expat Lives in the FT features José “Pepe” Alvarez, a former Spanish friar who moved to the Amazon 25 years ago. He worked with poor people on the outskirts of Iquitos city and with remote Indian communities, and is now based at the Peruvian Amazon Research Institute, helping to protect the forest and its wildlife. He won the 2006 Parker/Gentry award for conservation biology. There are some wonderful photos here.
His philosophy of life is summed up as follows:
“People in the US and Europe generally have more possessions but also more worries and less peace and happiness than many people who live a simple life here in the jungle. I have learnt some of the most important lessons of my life. People here are some of the happiest I have ever met even though they have nothing but a small hut, a wooden canoe and a paddle. Although they have many, many problems, they are happier than most of the people I know from Europe and the US. The key is enjoying simple things and every moment as it comes, and not worrying too much about the past or future”.
Peru has deep poverty, and very high inequality. Over half of Peru’s population is poor and about 20% are extremely poor, according to the World Bank. People in the Amazon and the Andes are worst off. People born in Lima can expect 20 years more of life than those born in the southern highlands, on average (go here).
Peru’s development has been highly unequal. The mining boom of recent years is not distributing enough of its benefits to the poor (if at all). However, Peru’s social movements are trying to rectify this. In the recent BWPI working paper, Mining and Social Movements, Tony Bebbington and co-authors discuss the fight-back by Peru’s communities.