Friday, September 21, 2007

Fifth Installment from Jacci

Jacci writes again about what what she has seen, heard and done for earthquake relief. If you would like to donate, you can contact La Cruz Roja Peruana or Caritas Peru (you can Google them), OR YOU CAN READ DOWN TO THE SECOND ENTRY WHERE JACCI INCLUDED THE ADDRESS FOR DONATIONS HERE IN THE STATES.
September 18, 2007

Dear Family and Friends,

This is my third attempt at writing this reflection. Hopefully you will receive this version.

I did not write before this because last week was an especially busy week but also I needed time to "process" some of my experiences of the previous week.

As most of you know, I went again to the devastated area. This time to the city of Chincha to spend a week there in the company of five other sisters. We were responding to a call from Confer (The Conference of Religious) to give a week of service in the affected area.The others are Peruvians and all are nurses. We all found more than enough to which our preparation could respond.

We were assigned to Cristo Rey Parish, a very large parish in the center of Chincha. It is the center of distribution of all the donations that come through the Catholic Church and in particular Caritas Peru.

So a grand part of our time was spent in receiving the donations as they arrived on trucks , sorting them and then loading them again on trucks - this time to the seven parishes of the city and, of course, to the Cristo Rey Parish which is quite extensive.

The other grand part of our time was spent visiting the "ollas comunes" (common pots). Because the parish could not possibly begin to respond to the nutritional needs of the people, these "ollas" were established - one every two blocks. This means that the families in the area could organize themselves, pool their resources, little as they may be, and ask to be recognized by the parish so that they could begin to receive supplies from the parishes. The aid they are now receiving is not sufficient but, at least, it is something and it is teaching the people how to organize and help themselves. It is a sign of hope for them as well as a means of taking the first step out of the terrible situation in which they find themselves.

Many speak of their experience: "I never thought that I would be doing something like this." "We never had to keep records before and so we are having difficulty with this. (The records are the donations they receive, the amounts of food from these donations that are used each day, menus of the food prepared and distributed, amounts charged for each portion, money used to buy "extras" that are needed for the preparation of the food, amount of food that they still have, etc.). This is a first step in learning how to organize and run a small business. For many of these simple housewifes it is a real learning experience.

Others speak of the benefits of solidarity. "I never really knew my neighbors. Now we are working together and helping each other, and not just in the preparation of food." "I know see that I can do something to help others." "Together we are going to start again and come out of all this."

All speak with gratitude for what they are receiving or for what the parish is trying to do to help them.

Each day the six of us would go two by two to the different sectors of the parish. There I would concentrate on the "ollas" while the other sister, being a nurse, would seek out the sick. I almost said "in their homes" but since so many of them no longer have homes or those that do many are not safe to be living in, this would not be the correct term.

Most are living in donated tents (and many of these tents were intended for the beach or for camping in the summertime - not for the large families nor the cold nights for which they are being used.). Many are living in estereas (Esteras are woven mats - meant more for the tropics.) or in makeshift structures of any materials that happened to be around.

Because the sites where their homes were are now heaps of rubble, many of these "living quarters" are now in the middle of the streets or the sidewalks. It is , therefore, very difficult to walk down some of the streets and impossible to go in a car or a truck down other streets. Some times we had to carry donations from the corners because the truck could not get any closer to the "olla" where it wanted to go.

These living conditions are causing problems. It is never easy to live in crowded conditioins- more so now when some are still experiencing shock and trauma. Another problem is that of hygiene; cleanliness and resulting illnesses. There are many children who are sick with respiratory problems, colds, diarrhea(the water is not clean because of many broken water and sewer pipes.), skin allergies and infections because of the dirt. Adults who suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. are no longer receiving their proper medications. Those who have broken limbs because of walls falling on them need crutches to help them navigate the piles of rubble.

Some buildings are still standing but they are dangerous to be near because of the continuing after shocks which are causing more walls to fall. I skirted city hall which is on the corner of the street where the church is. The cracks seemed to get bigger and one day a huge chunk did fall. The tower of the church has cracks also (They tell me they can be repaired but ...) and one piece of the tower lays on the sidewalk in front of the church. The sacristy of the church was completely destroyed.

The church itself isn't being used for religious services at this point. It is the storage room for the donations waiting to be distributed. But this too is religious service!

Just one more sentence to sum up some of the physical conditions of the area: Someone said, "It looks like one of the European bombed out cities after World War II."

Now for some of my personal experiences with the people:

*** Several times I passed a lot where an elderly man, alone with his wheelbarrow, was cleaning up his house. I never spoke to him because he seemed so intent on his work. I wondered though what it is like to clean up one's house in this manner. Clean up now has a new meaning for me.

*** I remember the little girl of four or five years of age who was crying because her mother had gone out (Actually the mother had only gone to the corner) and the little girl was frightened "because my sister is in bed and does not talk and the earth might move again." When the mother returned, we learned that the sister had been born handicapped from birth. In the beginning the mother brought the child to Lima to John of God Hospital for the Handicapped(a three hour bus ride followed by another ride on city buses) but had to stop because of lack of money. So the child who is probably about 12 now does not receive any therapy. I have a picture of her. If I ever learn how to download the pictures from a digital camera, you will get to see her - so beautiful and always with a smile.

*** I stopped one day to visit a handicapped boy, Walter, sitting in front of what was his home. His mother and grandmother soon joined us. The grandmother had experienced the loss of her home in the mountain area during the earthquake and had come to Chincha to live with her daughter, not knowing that that home too had been destroyed.

*** Another mother of two handicapped adult children told me of her experience in the earthquake. She knew that she could not carry her two handicapped sons out of the house in time so she enfolded them in her embrace, prayed and the walls of that room did not fall!

***Another women told me a similar story. She was with her elderly mother who had Alzheimer's and can not walk. She too knew that she could not get out of the house in time carrying her mother so she stayed with her. The walls of that room cracked but did not fall either!

***Other families were not as fortunate. One mother spoke of her six year old daughter, Joanna, a student in the first grade at Fe y Alegria. The mother was working in the market at the time of the earthquake but the father was at home with Joanna. He was sleeping though before leaving for a night job and awoke when the shaking began. He tried to find Joanna but could not. He escaped but Joanna´s body was not found until several hours later.

*** I did not meet another mother but I was told her story. She is a single mother with two small boys. Since she is alone, she has to work so she would lock the boys in the house when she went to work. She was working when the quake occurred. The boys were buried in the same coffin because there were not enough coffins available at that time because of the huge number of deaths in the area. Seven children died who were in Fe y Alegria, the school I mentioned.

***I recall the man I met who was trying to hammer (with a rock since he had lost all his tools buried in the rubble) a small pot into a usable shape. It had been smashed under a wall. Pots and other cooking utensils are some of the donations which are arriving slowly but are greatly needed. Among the other donations are: stoves, medicines, blankets, sleeping bags, diapers, clothing.

I could go on much longer but I think you can see the picture. The first step of just being alive has passed. Shelter and food - poor and limited as they are - have been found. Now it is the clean up stage. I only saw a bulldozer twice during the week I was there and this was in the center of the city. What are they doing on the outskirts?.

After that it is the future. Where and how can the people "resurrect" from all this. They have a wonderful spirit - I was so impressed by their determination, optimism and energy - which, hopefully will be sustained by their mutual support and solidarity as well as that of people like yourselves.

Let me conclude with a story that I heard yesterday. Saturday was the one month anniversary of the earthquake. I was not there but I was told that the "ollas" in Pisco decided to celebrate the event in this manner: Half of the "ollas" were to cook one part of the meal. The other half were to cook the other part of the meal. Then they all would come together in the main plaza of Pisco and put the two halves together and thus share the meal - a symbol of their unity in the midst of this destruction and suffering.

Beautiful, no?


Con cariƱo,

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Jacci's Fourth Earthquake Entry

(What amazes me about Jacci's observations is the amount of help coming from Los Martincitos. They have nothing themselves, but they can always find a blouse or a pair of shoes or a kitchen spoon to help those who have less than nothing. Anything we can send to Los Martincitos will help them sustain their effort to help those even worse off than they are! - editor)

As most of you already know I spent two days this past week in Pisco, one of the major areas devastated by the earthquake of August 15th. As in the other reflections, there will be no special order just a series of thoughts, reflections on what the experience was for me.

We - a group of ten - left Villa El Salvador at 6am Wednesday morning. We had been scheduled to leave at 5am but that´s Peruvian time! The group consisted of representatives from three organizations: Los Martincitos (our program for the elderly poor), Solides (a NGO in the area) (Non-Governmental Organization) and CIFO (a school in San Isidro, an affluent area of Lima).

We traveled in what is generally used as city public transportation. We needed the space as we were carrying: two stoves, four giant sized pots, other kitchen equipment, about twenty sacks of clothing, food to feed 100 families for two weeks, plus our personal supplies, such as ten sleeping bags since we did not know where we would be sleeping.

We did not arrive in Pisco until 1pm because we stopped for food (We were not certain if we would be eating for those two days or not ( The group that had gone over the weekend to search a place for us where help was most needed did not have a full meal while they were there.) and also because in some areas the Pan American Highway are in very bad condition causing the traffic to go very slowly.

We did not go to the center of Pisco because help has been arriving there but stayed in an area called Vista al Valle (Valleyview) which is more on the outskirts of the city.

The area has two parts, divided by a hill. The one side of the hill consists of a group of one hundred families that arrived there in March of this year. They are living in "esteras" (huts of woven mats), without water and electricity in an area of sand. The weather is hot during the day, very cold at night and has little rainfall.

The other side of the hill consists (I need to say consisted) of homes made mostly of adobe bricks and probably were there (in some state of building) for 30 or 40years. There was light, water and sewerage there.

Now the area is almost completely leveled and many of these families are now living with their children or grandchildren on the other side of the hill in the "new" area. This means that two, three and even four families are crowded into a very small living space.

I said the area was almost completely leveled. The few houses that were still standing will probably have to be leveled also since they are not safe. It is dificult to walk through the streets because of the rubble. Families have begun to "clean out" their lots - doing it by hand. What must it be like to take your home brick by brick and throw it out into the street?

It is strange how the damage went. One house was leveled except for the bathroom which was a separate structure located in what was probably the back yard.

In two houses, a wall was still standing and the portraits of the parents was still hanging on the wall!

In another lot, I saw a man lifting what was probably the frame of the front window. Some panes were naturally broken, others were still perfectly intact.

No machinery has come into the area to help clear the area. So the people are there working alone, trying to find some articles of use or trying to clear out some of the rubble.

Let me share some other painful images that come to my mind:

People waiting on lines for cooked food, with their plates in their hands, their children at their sides. This food has been donated or bought by the group and then cooked in a "common pot" to try to extend the food. The portions were not even half of what our people receive in the Martincitos' program. (One of the objects of our going there was to encourage the people to organize, form "common kitchens" so that they can help each other in a more formal way, be recognized by the government , and begin to receive supplies of rice, beans and cooking oil monthly from the government. It is the system that we use in Villa El Salvador.)

Food is the biggest need at this point. Water and food is just not arriving into these areas.

The fact that there is little water is a concern - without water, how can one cook, wash, prevent diseases, etc.?

When I spoke of the people working cleaning out the rubble, I was referring to mostly the elderly, children and women. The men were for the most part out looking for aid or work. The area is an agricultural area and this is the time of the asparagus harvest so that ,at least, is a help for the people. But it was so dificult to see the elderly doing the clean up work. (In reference to the agricultural work: the men get up at 3am, leave around 4am, arrive in the fields around 5am to begin work and probably return around 4pm. And this is not just the schedule for "earthquake time".)

We were there on the Feast of Santa Rosa de Lima, a national holiday but there was no holiday for the field workers.

There was dust, dirt everywhere. And little water to clean one´s hands with.

One of the most painful sights was on the road where we had to take a detour because of the collapse of a bridge. There was a strong smell in the area - decay? stagnant water? (One of the men who had gone into the area on the weekend said that they had gone further into the city and this smell was quite prevelant there.) Because the traffic must go very slowly through this area, the elderly, children, women with small babies have gathered there pleading for help from the passing cars and buses. It will be a long time before I forget the expressions on their faces.

Now for some of the promising signs, the signs of hope.

In our area, there are signs all over saying that donations are accepted here or remember our brothers and sisters in the South, pray for them, be in solidarity with them. There are monetary collections in many institutions and in all the churches. Even Los Martincitos added to the collection. We had planned a fund raiser for last Sunday but it was cancelled and the supplies that we had collected for the activity were sent to "the south".

In the Pisco area, some of the signs that gave me hope were:

Sembrando Esperanza, (Planting seeds of Hope) - This sign caught my attention as we walked down the street. A mother with her two adult daughters were using the money that they had received from two daughters living in Europe to cook everyday for their neighbors. They were receiving nothing in return except the satisfaction that they were doing their small part.

The laughter of the children - It was so good to see them laughing and playing in the midst of so much suffering.

The laughter of the adults - We had a meeting with the community - in the dark - and before the meeting actually began, I could hear the chatter and laughter that was coming from the groups as they gathered.

The eagerness of the women to learn how to organize their "common kitchens" and their joy in the moment of the inauguration of the kitchen and the distribution of the meal (spaghetti with tomato sauce - which we had brought with us).

Their openess to receiving us into their community and giving us space in their already overcrowded homes. We slept on the ground alongside of them. (But we had our sleeping bags while they were sharing thin blankets.)

Their spirit - I did not hear anything of "Poor me" nor "what are we going to do?". But rather how can we begin? What can we do to hep each other?

It is this spirit that is going to help in the long haul that they have before them. I know the shock will wear off, the reality will set in and it is then that they will really need our help and support. That is why our group is going to continue to go into that area to try to see their needs and hopefully respond to them. It is not a work of a few weeks but rather of months and perhaps longer.

Your continued support in prayer and concern is a blessing for all of us. Thank you for this!

May God reward you as only God can!