We have spent the last 2 months in Pisco, a small city in the desert coast of Peru. Pisco has spent the last 5 years in ruin after a 8.1 magnitude earthquake destroyed 80% of the city.
After the earthquake, Lima and other countries sent aide money for the victims, but it was stolen by Pisco’s local government officials (no, I’m not kidding- the local government actually stole the disaster relief money from their own people). No one affected by the earthquake received anything. Many people lost their homes and jobs, but with a corrupt local government providing nearly zero assistance, recovering from the disaster has been really difficult for most people.
This is why, 5 years later, Pisco still struggles and why some streets look like the earthquake happened yesterday.
I’m not sure what we were expecting, but were really upset by how little the government had done to help their own people. Many people are still living in homes made of tarp and palm fronds. Rubble and trash line many of the streets. In some neighborhoods, people live on dirt floors and the ones with concrete floors are considered the lucky few. For many, a concrete floor and sturdy walls to shelter them from the cold nights are things they to aspire for.
Pisco Sin Fronteras (Pisco Without Borders) was started by a few Americans right after the earthquake in 2007. It started small but has grown into a well-established NGO that does everything from building modular homes, constructing parks and schools, teaching English, and other community development projects.
Ben and I worked on a few projects during our time with PSF. One project we both really like was constructing compost bathrooms for a small neighborhood outside of town, called ‘El Bosque.’ There are over 100 people living in ‘El Bosque’ with no toilets or waste-management system of any kind. The organization promised to build 11 compost toilets for the community.
The last 3 weeks we have been building a house. This was really special because the company I work for, Sarasota Yacht & Ship, donated the money for the project. Ben and I were able to manage its construction from beginning to end. After looking at the applicants for housing, a woman named Maga and her 9 year old daughter Karol were chosen. They lost their house in the earthquake and for the last 5 years were living in the tent donated by a relief organization.
On the first day we met Maga, Karol, and their 3 dogs and 2 cats. We planned to help her move her things out of the tent but when we arrived, she had already done most of the work. All that was left was a rusty frame. They watched as we disassembled the frame that had provided their home for the last 5 years.
Over the next few days we marked the dimensions of the house, leveled the ground and laid concrete that would be the foundation and floor of their new house. Throughout the first week, Maga remained very serious, never smiling or saying much at all. I can only imagine how nervous she was. We were complete strangers who had come in and disassembled her home and I could see the stress of it all in her demeanor. In those first few days, she must have been so worried if this would all work out and we would fulfill our promise.
But after the walls started coming up and the roof was constructed, Maga became more relaxed and smiled a lot. As soon as she began to trust us, her true, happy nature came out. One of the volunteers had a birthday during the project and Maga made her a cake and told us all how grateful she was. She explained how cold the nights have been since they lost their home and how tired she was of living in the dust and dirt. You could really sense how extremely tired she was and we were all so happy to be able to help them.
After the roof was finished, the doors and windows came in. Maga and Karol settled on a Lime color for the house, which actually looks really good! We all painted the house together. On the last day, Karol painted her bed with the group. She had been sleeping in a double bed with her mom, probably since she could remember. They were both really happy to have separate beds.
The house construction finished a couple weeks ago. On our last day in Pisco, Ben and I went to visit them to see how they were settling into their home. They both seemed so happy and peaceful. Maga told us if we ever came back to Pisco that we always have a home with her and many delicious meals waiting for us(Maga is an extremely talented cook). I am sad to leave Maga and Karol. I don’t expect to see them again but it feels really good to leave knowing they are sleeping warmly at night.
It’s crazy to think how much we accomplished in only two months. One of the great things about PSF is that it is 100% volunteer-based. Not one person is getting paid down here. To have that many people in a small city that most people have never heard of, who are working for free is pretty incredible.