Don't gain the world and lose your soul, wisdom is better than silver and gold.
-Robert Nesta Marley
18th August 11
August 14, 2011 marked the inauguration of TuPark. TuPark was a project worked on by Pisco Sin Fronteras, the Peace Corps and the community of La Villa, Tupac Amaru in Pisco, Peru. For months, volunteers and community members worked on creating a park/playground for the people in the community.
Thanks to everyone who contributed.
If you would like to donate towards similar projects or learn about other types of projects that PSF works on, visit our website www.piscosinfronteras.org
It was May 8, 2011. It was also Mother’s Day in the U.S., as well as Peru. It was also the day the original plans for “Percy’s House” were finally completed.
A general summary of Percy’s House is that PSF decided to help build a brick house from the ground up for a deserving family of three, which includes a disabled child, after the local municipality approached PSF and said that they would donate all of the materials, provide transportation, lunch and a construction professional (maestro), and all PSF had to contribute was tools and labor. We broke ground on the project on September 30, 2010 with me and my fellow volunteer/project leader, Cecilia at the helm of the project. We dug trenches, poured the foundations, laid countless amounts of bricks, and bent numerous amounts of rebar. We were preparing to form up the support beams, and eventually lay the roof and attach some doors and windows, but after the local elections for mayor were done, the project was put on hold at the end of October, because the new municipality decided that they no longer had enough money to finish the project. The project was eventually restarted in April 2011 as a fully funded PSF project, thanks to donations raised in the “Miracles From Melbourne” fundraiser held in Australia by fellow volunteer, Will Smith. This time around the municipality only provided transportation and lunch.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Percy and his family, here’s a little background on the family written on the initial application form:
Percy is a 13 y/o kid with one leg. He lives in a very basic house made of tarp with his mother (single mum) 4 people from municipality came and asked for our help on her behalf.
What the form doesn’t mention is the fact that Percy’s leg was amputated due to a blood disease he was born with. These conditions also mean that he has to be very careful of what he eats/drinks and generally does, because he is in a very fragile state still. The form also leaves out the tragic story of how the doctors amputated Percy’s leg without letting him know what was going on and then left it to his mom, Gumercinda, to explain why he only has one leg. The main thing that is left out of the form is the part that says this project was mainly picked up by local politicians as a political sob story for the mayor during an election year. Whether it was a campaign ploy or not, it’s hard to deny the fact that this family did, and still does, deserve better living conditions.
Here’s what I’ve come to realize about this little family in the few months that I’ve been around them. Percy is a young boy, left home alone most days, when his mom is working and his sister is at school. He goes to school twice a week for a few hours in the afternoon. He spends some of his weekends away from home, due medical check-ups or other reasons. He kind of lacks the sensitivity gained from consistent social interaction, yet when he gets to know people he becomes filled with endless amounts of curiosity and energy. He tends to gravitate more towards the male volunteers, especially those that stick around long enough. He’ll hop around to them and show them his toys or ask them millions of questions about what they’re doing. At moments it can be annoying, but at the same time it’s intriguing to see a young boy with so much enthusiasm despite facing so much adversity. The fact that he does show more interest in the male volunteers may or may not have to do with the fact that he doesn’t know his own dad and he’s never had a constant male figurehead in his life, but that’s just my guess.
Percy’s younger sister, Anghy, is also full of vast amounts of enthusiasm and curiosity. She’s only 6-years-old, but it is already very apparent how aware and smart she is. She would come home from school every day and watch us work on the house. She loves asking questions and helping in any way she can, whether it be moving a piece of wood or sweeping the floor at the end of the day. We grew quite attached to each other, to the point where she didn’t want us to leave at the end of the work day, and I didn’t want to say good-bye to her either.
The house was donated and built, because of Percy, but the “unsung hero,” and the glue that holds this family together is Gumercinda, the single mother of Percy and Anghy. She had a rough past, and I don’t think I can even begin to comprehend, nor do I think I will ever be strong enough to go through it myself. Her story is not my story to tell, but what I can say is that somehow she and her two young children ended up in a little shanty town near in Pisco with next to nothing. They have no electricity; they cook dinner in the dark on a small gas stove. They only have water at certain times of day; therefore they fill up big buckets at this time of day and use these buckets of water as their means of cleaning and washing water. They also have no proper bathroom, mainly because the community does not currently have any sewage, but they may in the future; their toilet consists of a hole in the ground. There are endless sand flies around, especially during the hot summers, and living in a chosita (a shack made out of woven bamboo, tarp and cardboard) can be cruel during the cold winter nights. I don’t know how any person would be able to live in these conditions every day, especially with two young children, one of which has a disability, but Gumercinda does it. She sometimes struggles to find reliable work to make money, but she still finds a way to get by and feed her family, and still makes time to joke around with Anghy and be there for Percy. Due to language barriers I regret not being able to converse with her more, but one of the days that stuck out most to me had to do with something she said. It was the last week we had working there and she said that she wanted to cook a lunch for us to thank us for building her house, but it would have to take some time, because she didn’t have enough money. This got to me, because I know that they struggle to get by as it is and a few weeks prior they couldn’t even go to Lima for one of Percy’s medical check-ups due to a lack of money, yet she was worried about feeding us some celebratory meal. It put some perspective on things for me.
I left PSF in mid-November of 2010, and the project was “on hold” at that time, and over the four months I was away, it became seemingly abandoned by the municipality. Before and then upon my return to PSF in mid-March of 2011, it was one of my missions to make sure this house was finished. I felt morally obligated to not let this family down, because I had a sense that they, especially Gumercinda, had been let down one too many times in the past. How can we expect to break the cycle of hurt, pain, and disappointment if we keep feeding into it, whether we mean to or not? As we came to the end of the project, I still feel like there is more to be done. For instance, making sure that Percy receives proper psychological, as well as medical, attention in the future. Handicap bathroom and shower anyone?
May 8, 2011 – Percy’s House completed for now. Another family can now move out of their sparse chosita abode and move into a more secure, warm and spacious brick house; an amazing Mother’s Day gift for one of the most resilient women/single mothers I have come across. (Also, we got that celebratory lunch thanks to Percy and one of his chickens)
A big thanks to every single person that was a part of this project, because without you guys none of this would be possible.
Another video filmed and produce by past volunteers, Carlo and Adele (check out their website www.thelongwayup.info). It’s narrated by current volunteer, Navin and it summarizes some of the rough conditions and situations that the people of Pisco experience. Here’s the story of Baby Norma.
At times it can be difficult for women to make headway in terms of equality and empowerment, and I’m talking about in well developed countries like the United States. However, when you try to address the same issues in a less developed, macho, religious country, like Peru, it makes it 10 times harder. Peru, like most countries in South America and around the world, has a strong sense of male hierarchy. Although there are some strong female figures within communities, a lot of the women are generally “controlled” by some kind of male figure. Currently at PSF, we are attempting to get more involved in the community and make more of a difference socially by creating a community liaison position. However, a few of the obstacles that has popped up for this position are the mentalities of “macho-ness” and “keeping it in the family.” One example is a woman (who I will leave nameless) whose family PSF helped construct a home for. She remained in contact with some PSF volunteers after the project was finished, because the volunteers were concerned about some medical conditions regarding her baby and were attempting to help. The main contact was with a male volunteer. Her husband became jealous of all of the contact she was having with this volunteer and beat her up. PSF became aware of the situation and a discussion between a select few was had about how to handle the situation. On one hand, some wanted to refer this woman to a local center, which deals with helping women in abusive relationships. On the other hand, some felt that it is not PSF’s place to get involved and the issue should be left to be handled within the family. It’s a fine line that we will walk if PSF wishes to further develop within the community. How “involved” do we get? We want to find ways to help the community in ways other than just construction, but we can’t expect to change the way people think overnight. It will take a lot of patience and understanding, especially in a place like Pisco, where everything happens at a slower pace and things hardly ever go according to plan.
It’s been about 4 months since I last stepped through the blue doors of Pisco Sin Fronteras. There are only a few familiar faces and the vibe is somewhat different from when I left, but that was to be expected. The common question is “how does it feel to be back?” And my answer to that is “it’s like coming home.”
I’m about 2 weeks into my current 6 month stint and things are coming along slowly, but surely, which is the PSF way. In this time I have helped to pour a concrete floor, gathered free donated wood, aided in tackling a database, and most importantly, I have began the brainstorming process of my community development project, which will focus on improving the sexual education programs/classes offered in Pisco.
I’m in the midst of reviewing and developing this sex ed project with a fellow volunteer named Allyssa, who has experience working in social work. An idea is being tossed around of creating community liaison position for PSF. This person will ideally correspond between local organizations and families; letting the locals know what services are available in Pisco in regards to areas, such as medical services, shelters for women, and education. We will stayed tuned to see how this progresses.
(Tentative job description of the community liaison):
Community Liaison Officer Overall Responsibility: To assess the social and emotional needs of the families that we work with and connect them with local resources available in Pisco. Key Areas of Responsibility:
To communicate with the families, forge a trusting relationship with them and give them space to tell their story. Then to identify needs of these families and find ways that Pisco Sin Fronteras and other local organisations can be a resource to support and empower them.
Initiate and develop a microfinance programme, working with volunteers from other organisations in Pisco, to fund raise for loans, and manage loan recipients.
Initiate and develop a scholarship programme for local students, financially supported by donations to Pisco Sin Fronteras; to work with local schools to identify candidates and monitor and support them through their education.
Working with Project Manager on monthly reports of finished projects and structural stability of finished projects.
This is a full time job, working in the office, on-site, in the community and attending meetings.
Problems met so far:
Having a good idea, but not knowing what the first step should be in approaching it now that I am here.
Time constraints; there are currently a few skilled volunteers in the area of social work, but they are not here for an extended period of time. Also, I have 6 months, but my experience working with PSF tells me that that time will fly by and making a lot of progress is not always guaranteed.
Ask for as much help as possible. In this case, having more pairs of helping hands and more brains to feed off of will be beneficial, especially in the moments where I feel stuck, lost and/or unmotivated.
Take advantage of the skilled volunteers while I have them; get as much information off of them while I can. When the time comes for them to leave, I will hopefully be able to correspond with them via e-mail. Also, the revolving doors of PSF presents the possibility of having more skilled volunteers pass through, whom will be advantageous towards this project as well.
All it took was 3 minutes. 180 seconds. One-twentieth of an hour.
On August 15, 2007 a 8.0 (reported as 7.9) magnitude earthquake hit the coastal areas of Peru. It reportedly lasted about 3 minutes, but I’m sure for those who experienced it first-hand, it seemed like an eternity. In just 3 minutes thousands of lives were forever altered.
3 minutes was enough for over 500 lives to be taken (519 confirmed deaths), more than 1,000 to be injured, and over 50,000 homes to be destroyed. To give you a bit of perspective, the population of Pisco totals around 120,000. More than three years later the survivors are still working to pick-up the pieces. None of them were prepared for those unexpected few minutes. Who would be? And can you really blame them?
Post-earthquake, a lack of structure, action and organization on the government’s part, led to many losing whatever faith they had left in their government. Many were displaced and given tents as a means of temporary housing. Three and half years later and families are still living in those tents. But it leads one to wonder what the living conditions were like before the earthquake. I’ve heard that some of the “shanty towns” in and around Pisco existed prior to the earthquake. During my time with Pisco Sin Fronteras I saw brick homes that were cracked, if not completely demolished from the earthquake, but I also saw a home made out of planks of wood, cardboard, tarp, and estera (woven crushed bamboo) that supposedly withstood all 3 minutes that the earthquake had to offer; it shook, but it didn’t fall…like Pisco and its people.
The after affects of those 3 minutes led to about 670 open-minded and open-hearted individuals walking through the doors of PSF in 2010 alone, and that was only its second year of operating. That’s 669 other people, besides myself, speaking about volunteering with PSF and life in Pisco. That’s 1,338 hands hammering nails, shoveling aggregate, digging trenches, and painting murals amongst other things, all because of those few minutes. So you see, those 3 minutes not only affected those who personally experienced the 2007 earthquake, but it also indirectly affected the lives of thousands of others. Many of us 670 had never heard of Pisco prior to volunteering with PSF, and now we can’t seem to get enough of it. Although there were 670 volunteers at PSF in 2010, I’m sure there were more than 670 good-bye speeches given, because for some of us, experiencing it once was not enough; in my case, twice was not enough either.
Who knew that so many lives could be impacted in such a short amount of time? Not me. But as much tragedy that came from this natural disaster, there has been just as much, if not more, hope and perseverance that has emerged from the rubble thanks to efforts from people and organizations like PSF.