Interview with Arissa Moreno

Interview with Arissa Moreno

Interview with Arissa Moreno

Pictures by Jesus Rengifo Saldaña & Otra Cosa Network

Arissa Moreno Ruiz is one of those selflessly driven human beings that just get things done. She’s a local from Trujillo, she’s 26-years old, and she’s the newly appointed Country Manager of CJF Peru. We sat down with her to talk about the Cerrito de la Virgen project location, which she will be managing once construction is done. Sit back, relax and learn more about CJF Peru.

Hi Arissa, thank you so much for your time! It's been almost a year since you started working with CJF Peru, and despite the pandemic you’ve certainly kept things busy. But let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved?

Thank you for inviting me to share about what I am passionate about :)

I grew up in Trujillo, but had the opportunity to study anthropology and environmental studies in the United States for a while. Here my interest in environmental education, community gardens, and socio-environmental justice grew. After finishing my studies, I realized that I wanted to return to work in Peru, improving the communities where I was born and sharing what I had learned. As soon as I arrived, I started looking for local NGOs working on educational issues and found the ‘La Rampa' project in Cerrito de La Virgen, Huanchaco with the NGO Otra Cosa Network (OCN). There, I had the role of project coordinator and was responsible for organizing and planning educational workshops at the youth center, coordinating local and foreign volunteers, and supervising the children.

I was introduced to CJF when they joined the project as OCN’s partner to share their Edu-Skate programme with the children of Cerrito. I loved CJF's mission and their emphasis on using skateboarding as a tool to promote both individual child and community development. Over time at La Rampa I had started to skate myself and experienced the positive effects of the culture firsthand, and so gradually, I started becoming more involved in CJF’s work too. The rest, as they say, is history, and today I work as Country Manager for the international NGO.

Arissa Moreno at a girl only skateboarding session in Peru

So, you were already familiar with the youth center in Cerrito de la Virgen before you got involved with CJF? For our readers who don't know Huanchaco or Cerrito de la Virgen, how can you describe this place: the youth center, the children and the daily life there?

At first sight, Huanchaco is a small beach town in the Peruvian coast that has become a tourist center thanks to the good waves, the nice weather and the good vibes of Huanchaqueros. However, the tourist area of Huanchaco contrasts with its surroundings where there are communities like Cerrito de La Virgen that do not have access to basic services such as potable water and sewage, access to community and recreational spaces such as public parks or sports centers, or diverse educational opportunities.

La Rampa started as a project in 2010 when the youth living in Cerrito de la Virgen did not have access to a particularly stimulating environment or recreational spaces. OCN saw a lot of potential in this area and created the HELP Youth Project. La Rampa is located up in the hills on the outskirts of Huanchaco in Cerrito de La Virgen. The project started out very basic as just a plot of land with a halfpipe in it, but over time it transformed and developed into a full social development project for the youth of this community. Before the pandemic, CJF and OCN offered a complete after school programme and a safe space where kids could come to have fun and enjoy our Edu-skate lessons, English classes, environmental awareness programme, arts and crafts activities as well as tutoring and homework help.

Unfortunately, however, the old La Rampa is no longer allowed to be used, as the original owner of the land has moved back into the space. This is why we’re currently working to build a new skatepark and youth space for the community!

Arissa Moreno teaching an environmental workshop in Peru

And how is the situation right now in times of COVID? How did the pandemic affect the situation of the families and children in Cerrito? And how did CJF address this?

When Peru entered into a full lockdown, a lot of households in Cerrito were affected economically as parents had to stay home and could not go to work as merchants, shoemakers and builders. Our project at the old La Rampa had to close together with all the schools. Our kids could not go to school and did not have a space to go after school to do their homework and have fun, so they had a lot of time in their hands at home. And they still have - schools are still closed after almost one year!!!

As we were unable to run our regular programmes this year, CJF looked for creative ways to keep in touch with the children and communities. This is how we created our Skater Booklet with a diversity of activities such as exercise routine for quarantine times, drawing and design activities, a how-to on making your own balance boards, as well as crosswords, fun facts and much more. The purpose of this booklet is not only to educate but also to provide an opportunity for the children to be creative and not forget about the magic of skateboarding during these times when opening our projects and skating together is not allowed.

Skateboarding Booklet to not get bored during the quarantine
Download the booklet

Fortunately, for August this year, CJF has been planning two projects in the north of Peru - one of them in the Cerrito de la Virgen. What will happen there?

Due to new Covid-19 restrictions and the end of the old La Rampa, our regular programmes remain closed for the time being. However, we have continued to work while focusing on the construction of the new Recreation and Education Center, where the skatepark will be built. We have already been able to build two new classrooms with proper lighting, a storage room for our skateboards and supplies, a multipurpose room that can serve as a tutoring space or as a kitchen to prepare healthy snacks, as well as a water-saving toilet and a new water tank.

Our local youth have been partaking in CJF’s apprenticeship programme to design the skatepark too, and it’s all done. By mid-2021, a team of skatepark builder volunteers from around the world will come to Cerrito de La Virgen and work with the local youth, including myself, on the construction of the new skatepark and community garden area. Can’t wait to see it all come together for the kids!

Skatepark Design La Rampa, Cerrito, Peru

After the construction of the skatepark, what will happen? Are there more actors involved in the youth center in the Cerrito? What are the plans?

As COVID-19 is still a daily reality in Peru, we need to be flexible and find ways to adapt our projects to this reality. We hope to develop a protocol that focuses on providing the Edu-Skate programme while being safe and following all the safety measures. After developing a protocol, we hope to open our new Recreation and Education Center for the community to enjoy.

Teaching the Edu-Skate programme during COVID-19 times will remain a challenge for some time, but I cannot wait until the day where our kids have a safe space to go after school again.

With the new Recreation and Education Center and the collaboration between OCN and CJF, our kids will have a safe place to go after school. Instead of going home alone while their families are at work, our kids will have the opportunity to enjoy English classes, environmental education lessons, a complete skateboarding programme, homework help and tutoring, arts and crafts, among many other workshops. Those three hours after the end of the school day can make a crucial difference in kids’ lives and soon we will have this enriching and safe space for the kids of Cerrito de La Virgen!

Homework programme by Concrete Jungle Foundation in Peru

Your main interest is to work with children. So, what do you like about working with children - and on the other hand, how does the work you do at CJF Peru impact them?

Everyday when I got on the bus after finishing a long day at the skatepark with the kids - teaching environmental education or english and skating together, I like to think of the children I saw that day. The best part of working with my kids is to think about the progress they have made through skateboarding. How they have made the skatepark into a second home and a safe space to have fun and be themselves in, and how they have learned to share and teach each other with respect and positivity. It makes me proud to see how they have improved and grown and I hope that when they have to leave La Rampa and move on to other experiences, they feel better, stronger, empowered and more positive. I believe education is one of the most powerful tools for change and I am so glad to be able to educate through skateboarding.

So, what will be the plan for 2021 for CJF Peru? Where does the journey go? And is there anything else you would like to tell people who are supporting CJF Peru? The floor is yours!

For now, we are focusing on finishing all the final details for construction of our skatepark and working on the programming and scheduling of the workshops at the new La Rampa. I cannot wait to open our project again and I feel so lucky to have been able to keep working together with such an awesome team of international and local volunteers with a lot of positivity, especially during these uncertain and challenging times. Thank you to all the people who share the love for skateboarding and believe in its power to change lives!

“The best part of working with my kids is to think about the progress they have made through skateboarding. How they have made the skatepark into a second home and a safe space to have fun and be themselves in, and how they have learned to share and teach each other with respect and positivity.”

-Arissa Moreno

Thank you, Arissa!