María Elena Moyano: a portrait of courage

María Elena Moyano: a portrait of courage

María Elena Moyano was an activist and a defender of women and the poor in slums of Lima, Peru.

She was killed on Feb. 15, 1992 by the Shining Path, a terrorist organization that wanted to destroy the government and cause civil unrest.

The story of Moyano is depicted in a 1999 film called "El Coraje," or "Courage," directed by Alberto "Chicho" Durant.

I heard Durant speak when I was in Lima earlier this month teaching a travel writing course to Columba College Chicago students.

Durant, who has made many films with political and social justice themes, came to speak to our class.

He explained that Moyano was a Peruvian of African decent and was the leader of a women's organization called the Popular Women’s Federation of Villa El Salvador.

She set up a program to ensure that children in her community had a glass of milk each day and also established communal kitchens.

"She had become a symbol of peace and she had enormous courage," Durant said.

Nobody dared to speak out against the Shining Path in those times but she did, Durant said.

"Everybody knew that sooner or later that she was going to be killed," Durant said.

He said it was a a difficult film to make because he had to tell the story of a real person.

"Telling stories is the art of telling lies," Durant said citing an essay "La verdad de las mentiras," by famous Peruvian writer and Nobel prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa.

"He says you are obliged to lie to bring out a greater truth," Durant said.

But when Durant showed this film to the women who worked side by side with Moyano they said it was like watching a home movie. You can watch parts of Durant's film on YouTube.

I had never heard before of Moyano's story and was moved to learn through this film of her courage and commitment to the poor.

Her story should not be forgotten.

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