A view of Chaupamarca neighborhood and El Tajo.
A view of Chaupamarca neighborhood and El Tajo. (Stefano Sbrulli)

What life is like in one of the world’s highest cities

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The Peruvian city of Cerro de Pasco, about 165 miles northeast of Lima, sits atop the Andean mountains. At an elevation of some 14,000 feet, it is one of the world’s highest cities. It’s also known for its mines, including for copper, lead, gold and silver. In the 17th century, it was one of the world’s main sources of silver.

The mines help feed the economy of the city of more than 70,000 people. But that comes at a cost, as exposure to heavy metals can contribute to poor health conditions, especially for children. Research has shown that Cerro de Pasco “has been excessively contaminated with heavy metals due to high mining activities in the region.” The study, published in the journal Nature, adds that “heavy metals exposure contributes to the development of major diseases such as cancer and respiratory, neurological, and kidney diseases, and eventually drives to death.”

Photographer Stefano Sbrulli saw the consequences of such exposure on the people in Cerro de Pasco during the time he spent documenting daily life in the city. His project, “Donde los ninos no suenan” (loosely translated as “Where children do not dream”), underscores the suffering and even tragedy of living in a mining center.

But perhaps more heartbreaking, Sbrulli’s also camera recorded the small intimacies that are fostered when people live together in pursuit of family, friends, love, connectedness and community.

Life is difficult in Cerro de Pasco. The very means by which people make their livelihood also tears at them. Poverty is rampant.

Sbrulli, who spent two years exploring this place and its people at the top of a mountain range said: “Despite millions of dollars generated by over 400 years of mining exploitation, today Cerro de Pasco is one of the poorest cities in Peru. The health system is almost nonexistent, the educational system is close to collapse … The inhabitants of Cerro de Pasco live in a situation of social and economic exclusions.”

Yet Sbrulli’s work shows the indomitable spirit of people determined to push through life’s travails. Cerro de Pasco, for all of the detritus that decades of mining have produced, is still a place teeming with life.

You can see more of Sbrulli’s work on his website, here.

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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