LIMA – Anchored in the tradition of imbibing the wisdom of the older members of society, a literary contest in Peru has brought forth hundreds of Christmas stories recounting the experiences of their authors, all of them seniors committed to providing a message of resilience to the young people of their country in these pandemic times.
The unprecedented contest titled “A Christmas Love Story,” sponsored by the Peruvian Social Security agency, known by the acronym EsSalud, spurred residents of the country’s 126 elderly care facilities to contribute more than 200 original stories.
From this initiative an e-book was created that, with the title “Christmas Stories and Narratives from Seniors,” includes 19 of the stories featuring “love, unity and family.”
Among the stories selected for the e-book is “Family United for Christmas,” by Amanda Emperatriz Pelaez, which tells the story of Flor, a young Lima girl growing up in a family “that was not her own, but who loved her and saw to her happiness.”
At the end of her school studies, Flor decides to leave the Peruvian capital to work in the southern city of Tacna, where she falls in love with a young architect, by whom she becomes pregnant.
Excited by the prospect of having a child, the young woman imagines a promising future with her daughter, who could provide her with “her own family” that she had never had. But she is mistaken, not knowing that the architect wants nothing to do with that idea and feels that his own “youth” and “freedom” are threatened by the prospect.
After four years in Tacna, Flor returns to Lima only to pack her bags again and head for Chile. There, she works for 15 years, earning money to ensure that her daughter – whom she leaves in Lima for her grandmother to raise – gets a good education.
Her return home, scheduled for May 2020, is derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and she postpones her trip until late October, fortunately spending an atypical but “marvelous” Christmas with her “united family.”
At age 71, the author of this story, a retired elementary school teacher, told EFE that she had “never” written anything more than “little children’s stories” for her students.
Pelaez got to know firsthand the situation that inspired her story about Flor, and the real story had an “impact” on her and motivated her to want to share that story via the contest as “an example for young people.”
“The message that I wanted to send is that many setbacks can suddenly separate us but you always have to think about getting together again. You have to think about being with family because it’s the strongest and most sacred thing in our lives,” she said.
The Christmas story contest arose amid EsSalud’s institutional desire to promote workshops of all kinds for the public “with the aim of improving their physical, psychological, mental and spiritual environment,” according to what Dr. Luis Quiroz Aviles, the general manager of EsSalud’s division for seniors and the disabled, told EFE, emphasizing the life lessons that the authors are offering to future generations.
“We wanted to rescue the story-telling tradition,” something that “in many countries ... has always come down from the grandparents to their children and grandchildren” and the result has been an online book of “rather friendly and adaptable” stories based on the “experiences of seniors.”
The initiative also was designed to “unite the senior and young people’s generations,” given that the virtual book includes the texts of seniors and the illustrations that they inspired among a group of EsSalud children and teens.
During the coronavirus pandemic, “the most physically and psychologically affected have been the seniors,” said Quiroz, who emphasized the resilience of the older adults and their “knowledge about how to get through such a difficult period” and “unite in solidarity with all generations, transmitting that hope via the stories.”
“Today, elderly adults are teaching everyone that the song titled ‘I will resist’ (‘Resistire,’ Duo Dinamico, 1988) is becoming real in people like them,” Quiroz said.
So, he added, “it’s important in a society like the one we live in for us to value seniors” because “their lives are ones that are worth continuing to live.”