Peruvian student starts fundraiser to help home country from afar

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In Leslie Anasu Espinoza Campomanes’ ’23 Zoom background, there is a photograph of green hills and rolling mountains: a picture of her home country, Peru. Thousands of miles away, Espinoza Campomanes is living on Stanford’s campus, where she will be staying for the spring and summer quarters. 

Despite the distance, she has been trying to help her home country minimize the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic by organizing a fundraiser, “Manos A La Obra.” The funds will provide essentials such as water, food, masks and sanitizer to vulnerable populations in Peru. 

Espinoza Campomanes was inspired to create the initiative after witnessing groups at Stanford conduct similar fundraising efforts to assist first-generation and/or low-income (FLI) students like herself.

“When COVID first started, I received an email from the FLI community asking if we had any special requests regarding food, supplies, housing [and] storage — I was very impressed by that,” Espinoza Campomanes said. “Why not replicate something like this with Peruvians back home? We have Peruvians that are financially stable and eager to support other Peruvians, so I wanted to be a connection [between them].” 

Peru was one of the first Latin American countries to address the novel coronavirus, implementing a strict, nationwide lockdown since March 16. Despite these efforts, the country has reported more than 50,000 cases and 1,500 deaths. This has led to both medical and economic struggles in the developing nation, especially for informal workers such as street vendors, who now have no way of obtaining a daily income. The problem is widespread: A recent survey revealed that at least 42% of Peruvians were currently unemployed due to changes from the lockdown.

The Peruvian government has been making efforts to help unemployed citizens, but the aid only applies to those who were counted in the most recent census, said Espinoza Campomanes. This leaves those who weren’t counted, such as recent rural migrants from the Andean highlands, without a source of income and ineligible for aid from the government. 

Espinoza Campomanes’s fundraiser aims to support “the people who do not have access to internet, people who live in isolated and remote towns, in the ‘corners’ of Lima and in rural areas of provinces, who do not have any other source of support,” according to its GoFundMe page

“I can speak to all of this because my family has gone through this as well — my parents are originally from the Andes,” Espinoza Campomanes said, adding that she had worked as a street vendor when she was younger. 

She views her insight into the different worlds of Stanford and Peru as a unique asset that could be used to bridge the difference between the communities, and to facilitate help where it was needed most. 

“It’s been really cool to see [Manos A La Obra] from behind the scenes — she’d be like, ‘hang on guys I can’t watch a movie right now’ because she’d be, I don’t know, talking to someone important in Peru. And I know she was just so happy when the vision actually got realized,” said Camilla Pernell ’23, a friend of Espinoza Campomanes who has also been staying on campus for spring quarter. 

Of course, being so far away from Peru posed some potential logistical challenges for Espinoza Campomanes’ initiative. Fortunately, she already knew a base of people who were interested in helping. In high school, she started a nonprofit called “Aunque Lejos Unidos Permaneceremos” (ALEUP), which roughly translates into “regardless of the distance, we belong together,” she said. 

ALEUP aims to connect students from various parts of Peru and the world, introducing them to peers from different geographic locations and socioeconomic backgrounds. Many original ALEUP volunteers are still located in Peru, near the regions that Espinoza Campomanes was hoping to assist. 

“I called my friends from ALEUP, and was like ‘what are we going to do about COVID?’ And they were like, ‘Leslie, we have been waiting for your call!’” she said, laughing at the memory. 

The Manos A La Obra campaign consists of 25 total volunteers: eight people working on the ground in Peru, and 17 organizers. The team includes ALEUP students, family members and two reporters. Those on the ground distribute the kits — which include water, food, masks and sanitizer — to the affected regions. 

“We’ve helped around 85 families — but this doesn’t mean it’s a family of four,” Espinoza Campomanes said. “Usually these families are around 10 or eight people each.” 

In addition to distributing essential goods, Espinoza Campomanes has also been focused on educating people about the virus. Those who live in the more impoverished regions of Peru do not always have access to the internet. This has created confusion surrounding the details of the coronavirus, and uncertainty about ways to combat it, she said. Subsequently, there is an informational note in each of the kits, which includes facts about coronavirus and instructions on how to best use the masks and sanitizer. 

In a video Espinoza Campomanes made to highlight the program’s progress, several families who received kits are shown on screen. There are clips of people discussing the details of the pandemic with Espinoza Campomanes’ father (who is recording the video) as part of their educational efforts. Other clips show people thanking Espinoza Campomanes and other volunteers, remarking that they hadn’t been able to receive any aid from the government. 

“I think education is the key because COVID came now, but imagine something in the near future comes again, you have to be prepared,” Espinoza Campomanes said. 

Her efforts have also served as an inspiration to some of her peers, such as Helen He ’23, one of Espinoza Campomanes’ friends. 

“I think it’s super inspiring that she’s taking action to make sure people from her home are alright, even though she herself can’t go home. And when I heard about her work, it really does make you ask yourself, ‘what can I do to help others during this time?’” He said. 

Although Espinoza Campomanes misses her family in Peru, she feels fortunate to be on campus with six of her good friends, who make the vacated dorms and empty buildings feel more like a “family environment.” And she is enjoying her academics, which she hopes to continue to apply to real world scenarios such as the Manos A La Obra campaign. 

“The beauty of being here is learning for the good instead of the grade,” she said. “Now that I have this access to education, I have so many more resources. So I try to communicate [things I learn] to my people back home.”

As of Tuesday, Manos A La Obra has raised $1,552 of its $5,000 goal. The fundraiser has received donations from professors, mentors and friends. Espinoza Campomanes is optimistic that it will eventually reach the target amount. 

“I know that at Stanford, I have so many friends that are very generous — they’re looking for ways they can do whatever they can to help,” she said.

Contact Meghan Sullivan at meghans8 at’ stanford.edu.

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