Victor Alfonso Ramos Icaza: ¨Huaraz is not very friendly towards disabled people¨

The Huaraz Telegraph spoke with Victor Alfonso Ramos Icaza (67), who is the son of Víctor Ramos Guardia (1901-1992) after whom the local hospital is named. Mr. Ramos was born in Huaraz and is an electronical engineer by trade, although he is also a social communicator and despite being fully blind, he still successfully conducts two live radio programmes in Huaraz, which are aimed at disabled people in Huaraz and the Callejón de Huaylas. Additionally, Mr. Ramos is a diabetes patient who since the age of 11 had to take a daily shot of insulin, but this has never stopped him making radio. During the interview, we noticed that Mr. Ramos, despite having lost his sight, is one of the most positive people we´ve ever met and is still a very active member of Huaraz society. As we were about to ask our first question, Mr. Ramos received a phone call from a student who needed his help. After he hung up, he informed us enthusiastically about a project he is working on.

The phone call you just overheard is an interesting project we´re working on with the Health Directorate of Ancash (Dirección Regional de Salud de Áncash). We´re trying to make outdated radios work again, so that they can be used as emergency radios. The problem here is that there is no budget available, so the people of the Health Directorate need to be creative. For instance, if they would want to buy a new antenna, this would probably cost them 800 soles, which is a lot of money. So what I am trying to do, being an amateur radio-maker, is teach them how they can create their own practical emergency antennas. The idea behind this is to set up emergency contact points in the Callejón de Huaylas. Another interesting project I am involved in is with the Radio Club Peruano (Peruvian Radio Club), which encourages volunteers and amateurs to run emergency stations. This project will hopefully result in a workshop together with the Peruvian Red Cross and the Fire Department; it should lead to a network of emergency stations.

In 1970, for example, shortly after the earthquake, there was no Provincial Platform for Civil Defense in our city. However, thanks to many amateur radio makers, we were able to set up an emergency network. Even nowadays, a radio emergency system could be very useful in tourism and mountaineering for example. It would be a great help. Let me tell you that we have once rescued five Spaniards thanks to an old radio. One day, a person from Spain knocked on my door, he was desperately asking for the frequency we, amateur radio makers, were using. An accident had happened on Mount Huascarán and thanks to the fact that the mountaineers carried a small hand radio, we were able to locate them. I believe that this was back in 2001 or 2002. In the area, there was no phone network available but our radio repeater caught the signal of the distressed mountaineers. Without this, they would have been unable to get down as they were caught in an avalanche and would probably have died because of the low temperatures.

I like making radio very much. I still have two programmes on Saturday; one is on Quasar Radio, which is also transmitted live on local T.V. The other programme is on Radio Áncash. The advantage is that hanks to the T.V. stream, this programme reaches the whole Callejón de Huaylas, whereas the programme on Radio Áncash is transmitted on long wave, reaching mainly the rural area of Huaraz. Just like you, I also have my target audience. The message of my programmes is directed to disabled people. We do short interviews and like to demonstrate how we can help these people. The worst thing that can happen to a disabled person is holding up his hands; begging. It is much healthier to teach this person to be self-sufficient and offer him an opportunity to work. We try to explain to disabled people, but mainly to their families, that this is possible. However, we need society and the authorities to commit themselves. At the moment, in accordance with the Provincial Municipality of Huaraz, we are running a small massage centre for disabled people in the Cultural Centre. It´s maybe not really comfortable to offer this service on the third floor, but anyway, it´s a start and at the moment we actually have three blind people working there. We also have a small kiosk in front of the Municipality, where we sell some food and snacks. In the kiosk, we have two people working who, with help from their family, are able to make a couple of soles.

I am an active member of the Association of Blind and Low Vision people (Asociación de Personas Ciegas y de Baja Visión Huaraz, (ACYBVISION)) where we help mainly people from 20 years of age. Understand that Peru has special schools for disabled or handicapped children and youngsters, but what happens to adults who, due to an accident for example, lose their eyesight? We need to make these people aware that they need to be active members of society.

When I lost my vision in 2002 or 2003, it had a huge impact on my life. I became a disabled person and for example, had to close my radio broadcast businesses. It became very hard to handle the radio equipment properly and well, but not impossible! I donated most of the stuff to the community and am happy to still broadcast some programmes. I still work as a consultor and your boss (the editor of The Huaraz Telegraph is co-presenter of the local 7 o´clock news on Cable Andino in Huaraz) for example, often asks for my advice.

How do you perceive ´social acceptance´ within society and people’s behaviour in general towards disabled persons in Huaraz?

This is definitely something we need to address. As you know, to harvest something you´ll need to sow. I am trying to do this but it´s hard sometimes. Let me share to your readers a terrible experience I suffered last week. Every Saturday I get picked up by Hernán Figueroa, who is the producer of the radio programme I work at. So, he normally takes me by the arm and we walk, from my house, to the studio which is six blocks away. Halfway, a lady who apparently was very busy talking on her mobile phone bumped into us and pushed us towards the wall. She clearly wanted to pass by. I apologised and said to the lady, ¨Madam, I am sorry, but I cannot see¨. It is then that she started to insult me.

Are you kidding?

No I am not, I am very serious. Because she was female, she expected us to give way. So I repeated and said again that I do not see. I got insulted and was asked why I did not use dark glasses or a sign on my body that would say that I am blind. How do visually impaired people get recognised everywhere in the world? Because we all carry a white cane; this one (showing his mobility tool). This is something that we need to change, because it has mortified me. But, let this be an example. Luckily, I can still walk, but how does society treat people that are in a wheelchair in Huaraz? I can still step aside but people in a wheelchair face trouble as well, as they´re less flexible. Huaraz is not very friendly towards disabled people. What we need to create is respect for others. I refuse to say that this has happened because she was of the opposite sex, but maybe she was busy or with her thoughts elsewhere. However, it´s not the way to treat a disabled person.

Being visually impaired, how do you handle the terrible noise pollution in our city?

This is something that has increased dramatically. Mainly, when someone walks through the city, it´s impossible not to get bothered by drivers, who are hitting their horns all the time. They hit it all the time, and for whatever reason. It´s a problem indeed. It has to do with respect. Likewise, many local businesses in town, don´t respect their neighbours either. There are many discothèques and restaurants that produce much more noise than they should do. Respect earns respect! Maybe I should stop talking on this topic. Also, have you noticed that people aren’t able to speak anymore, most of them are really screaming. Well, this all has to do with education. It´s a problem for society and this is mainly created at schools where children aren´t taught about values anymore.

Changing the topic, we understand that you were involved with the introduction of radio in Huaraz

Well, radio was introduced in our city in 1958. A national chain called Radio Victoria introduced Radio Huaraz that was transmitted via long wave and short wave. It created job opportunities for people who had an established career but liked to make radio. At the time, Huaraz had a couple of newspapers circulating such as El Departamento and La Hora but there was no broadcast journalism yet. In 1963, Radio Huascarán was founded and this station became a decent competitor. I formed part of the founding members although the station was called OAX-3-O initially, the letters and digit are referring to the licenses at the time. It´s still the oldest radio station currently in operation in the city of Huaraz. From the year 1964 it transmitted in 1300 KHz of modulated amplitude, and since then it has played an important part in all the happenings of our city. The station was owned by Francisco Sotelo López and he was helped by his two brothers and although I was only 12 years old at the time, I loved making radio. As my father was a medic, l quickly learned about radio broadcasting and also communication. Having obtained a radio license at the age of 13, it was spectacular getting in contact with other stations all around the world via short wave.

My father was good friends with the Sotelo family and that´s probably how I got involved. I ran a music programme as a kid, which was a very interesting experience. I remember that while still being in school, it was I who rang the school bell and as quick as I could, I climbed on my bike and would race to the Plaza de Armas because I had a programme to transmit. My programme Micro Surco Musical was from midday to one, and at one o´clock, the local news programme would start. This is basically how I started my professional career. When I finished school, I went to Lima to apply at La Uni (Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería) to study electronical engineering. However, due to the Earthquake of 1970, my studies were interrupted. I had to go back to Huaraz. Because of my radio experience and contacts with Huaraz, I was caught by the military and sent on the first possible military convoy to Huaraz. My father was making radio as well at the time, but him being a doctor, he had to help the victims of the earthquake and he abandoned the radio. Interestingly, the first alert of the earthquake was communicated, not to Lima, but to the United States. Later, the US would set up communication and help as they contacted Lima. At the time, no one knew about the disaster in Yungay yet. I remember that night very well. I was at my house and a general of the military knocked on my door and instantly promoted me to communications lieutenant. It took two days to get to Huaraz from Lima, and only two of the six vehicles made it to the city. The airport of Anta wasn’t opened yet due to three years of bureaucracy but after the earthquake, it got enabled in only 24 hours and this way it could receive the first emergency sending from Lima.

Your father played a very important role during the earthquake, is this why they named the local hospital after him?

My father was the director of the Belén Hospital at the time and this hospital had 120 beds in 1963 and offered basic health services like surgery, medicine, gynecology, obstetrics and pediatrics. During the government of Fernando Isaac Sergio Marcelo Marcos Belaúnde Terry, together with some other important people, and thanks to Congressman Miguel Dammert Muelle, we were able to construct a new hospital. There were seven new hospitals to be built in Peru, and Huaraz was lucky to be part of that project. Despite the fact that Juan Velasco Alvarado´s military government, which overthrew Belaúnde´s one, didn’t do much good to Peru, the Hospital Centro de Salud de Huaraz was constructed, finished and inaugurated. Huaraz was lucky to have the hospital because the Belén Hospital collapsed during the earthquake. Many lives were saved thanks to my father.

My father was one of the founding members of the Huaraz Rotary Club and during a meeting at the Hotel de Turistas (nowadays known as Hotel Huascarán), the earthquake happened. My father immediately went home, grabbed some stuff and went to the hospital. He worked five days straight and came home completely covered in blood, to sleep for two days and left again, heading to the hospital. My father wanted to become a teacher and initially studied pedagogy and ended up teaching the courses of physics, chemistry and biology at the La Libertad College. He was the youngest of eight siblings and after teaching for a while, he was named Director of the primary school La Libertad. After a couple of years, my father gathered some money and left Peru for France. There he studied medicine at the University of La Sorbonne in Paris. Due to the war and the fact that his mother got badly ill, he had to return to Peru. He became in charge of the family business and also created his own company. It is also during that time that he founded the Chamber of Commerce in Huaraz. Also during this stage, he was named mayor of Huaraz and his main job became the installation of a tap water and drainage network, which Huaraz lacked at the time. After having founded the Chamber of Commerce and being a doctor, my fa ther finally got married. My father married my mother Sara Icaza Estremadoyro and they had two children; my sister Isabel and I.

My sister lives in the US by the way, but she visits us every year. Well, getting back to the earthquake topic, my father played an important role. Not only in the hospital, but also being the president of the Peruvian Red Cross in Huaraz. Together with Vice-president Doña Colomba-Maguiña they were able to distribute the help packages that were sent from abroad. The help supply was stored at her warehouses, which were part of the soft drinks and syrups company El Fénix. Finally, Doña Colomba- Maguiña would be in charge of the Red Cross and my father would become in charge of the hospital. On October the 17th, 1992, he died in the present medical ward of this hospital due to an illness, but he had always wished for that. I believe that he wanted to pass away in the hospital he spent so much time in and loved. In 1993, the hospital was named after my father due to his fruitful work of social good through the years. The proposal was done by the Medical Corps of the hospital on May the 31st in 1993 by Regional Health Director Dr. Myriam Bazán Torres and Director of the hospital Dr. Edgar Depaz Salazar.

Does it hurt analysing the current state of the hospital and its demise, and the health sector in general, being the son of a famous doctor who has meant so much for Huaraz?

I believe, sadly, that Huaraz has lost a great opportunity to build a new hospital. Many years ago, this was a serious option as the current hospital is outdated. Unfortunately, one group of people wanted to construct a new hospital at its current location, whereas another group of people wanted to build it somewhere else. In the end, nothing was built nor changed and the local citizens are paying the price. I think that this option should be analysed again, in benefit of the sector. The same is happening at the moment in the education sector. The children are paying the price for the fact that their teachers are striking. Something similar happened with the inauguration of the Santiago Antúnez de Mayolo University (UNASAM) in Huaraz. Back in the days, the government didn’t want to create a university, but the people wanted it very much. My father´s cousin Victor Valenzuela Guardia was the main drive behind the UNASAM and on the 24th of May, in 1977, the University of Huaraz got finally inaugurated. My father played a small role in this as well. Understand that after the earthquake there was an enormous pressure by the population because having a university meant that youngsters could study and get a decent career.

Apart from your passion for making radio, you have mainly worked for big television companies, right?

Between 1975 and 1980, Francisco Morales Bermúdez Cerrutti was president of Peru and I was doing an internship at Channel 7 in Lima. At the time they were looking for a person from Huaraz who could help setting up a T.V. station in Huaraz. Along with some technicians, I was asked to accompany the President of Peru. We installed an antenna near the Plaza de Armas where the Telefonica Company is currently located. This was the first ever T.V. station in our city and initially its broadcast was between 6pm and 10 pm. Like I mentioned before, your boss often asks me what I think about certain programmes. I am the founder of ATV in Lima, currently Channel Nine. I worked for ATV until 1997, I believe. I occupied various roles including T.V. management and operations and was the contact person for international broadcasters such as CNN and BBC for example. We became a national channel after we headed for the provinces and installed the channel on a local level.

Do you have children who have followed your steps and are working in the radio or television sector Mr. Ramos?

Well I have four sons, and one adopted daughter who is called Jimenita. My sons are working in different sectors. There is Alfonso, who is a music teacher although at the moment he mostly dedicates his time to internet and marketing services. It seems that he now feels a bit repented because teachers make a lot of money now in Peru. My second son is called Victor Henrique and he works at the prosecution office in Huaraz. My third son Álvaro has had a couple of sandwhich restaurants and is now in charge of a fast-food chain from Lima in Huaraz. My fourth son is called Roberto and he actually studied communications science and works at Channel 7 at the moment.

In Peru, I often hear that television is the main cause that people aren’t culturally educated. What do you think about this?

Well, as is the case with life itself, people always have a choice. Considering only the national channels, I believe Channel 7 (T.V Perú) is offering very informative, didactic and cultural programmes. It´s easy to blame television in Peru but people should realise they have a choice.

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