Volunteeers and Marta's family
Well, this time I think some of you have already had a peek at what we've been up to for the past two weeks because we posted another photo album to facebook. Tim and I spent just under 2 weeks volunteering in Pisco, Peru with an organization called Pisco Sin Fronteras (PSF) (www.piscosinfronteras.org). PSF has been working in Pisco for just about 3 years now after a 7.9 (but probably bigger, as Peru would have been obligated under UN international relief guidelines to declare a major disaster and provide increased relief contributions for any earthquake 8.0 or higher...) earthquake hit the city basically leveling it. Around 200 people were killed in the church alone, as the earthquake struck during evening mass, leaving hundreds dead, thousands wounded, and the majority of the city's 110,000+ population without a proper home.
PSF was formed out of an org called Burners without Borders which I incorrectly assumed had to do with fire department/disaster relief volunteers. In fact, it's a group of people from the Burning Man festival (big hippie kinda art music festival in the cal/nevada desert) that got together after Hurricane Katrina to help in 2005 and conitunues going to disaster areas to offer help. Anyway, they came to Pisco in 2007 to help and have no plans to leave. All the money they have to buy equipment and materials and pay the housing rent and buy food comes from donations from volunteers - anywhere from 5-15 soles per day (about US $1.45 - $3). We were so happy to find them because the group really has a strong commitment to the people affected by the catastrophe, and it was an affordable way for us to volunteer and live in a city for a bit to meet the people and to really pitch in.
Each morning would begin with a morning meeting to figure out what projects everyone would be working on that day (there were 85 volunteers there when we were there, a number which fluctuates daily because volunteers just roll in and out). Tim cooked dinner with 3 others the first day...sounds easy, but cooking for 85 is hard work - lots of chopping and peeling. I broke up wood palletes to save the good wood to be used to construct basic modular homes - I was handed a chisel and hammer and just told to hit the wood as hard as I could without splitting it. Over the next two weeks I volunteered twice at the "Ludoteca" which is a small daycare center that PSF built for children so they would have a place to play that was not a dirt floor and that had actual toys. We also had the opportunity to do computer literacy classes with 5 local fishermen who met us at the Pisco Fishermen's Association. They were eager to learn how to open, save, and edit word documents, and how to use email.
The primary mission of PSF is to build homes for the people of Pisco. Most of the families that lost there homes in the earthquake are still living in these makeshift shanty towns with dirt floors and walls made of "estera" which is just heavily thatched together bamboo strips. That means these houses are super hot during the day and freezing at night...and not particularly sanitary either.
Tim and I spent the majority of our time working together on the same project jokingly referred to as "Marta's Empire." Marta and her husband and three daughters live in a sort of "compound" where the perimeter is formed by the existing brick walls of their neighbors, as well as a rat infested, improvised landfill behind her property (there were many such "improvised" landfills throughout the neighborhoods in which we were involved). Unfortunately, the family lost their facade during the earthquake. Within this space, the family shares a cramped area consisting of a small cooking/eating area, a vacant front room and a "back yard" containing bits of rubble and building material mixed together. While all of these rooms are dirt floor, PSF was able to provide the family on a previous project with a smaller modular bedroom with a cement floor and a fairly sturdy roof. Before the earthqake Marta ran a restaurant, so the focus of our second project with the family was to rebuild the front facade of the space, lay concrete flooring, and provide another walled space in the rear of the house where Marta could reconstruct a proper kitchen. Ceilings would either need to be a future project, or completed by Marta on her own due to resource constraints. PSF generally provides the free labor of the volunteers and on certain occasions will help buy the materials for the families ("Miracle Projects") because the families are in such desperate need. Marta's family was able to afford the materials so we just acted as labor doing whatever she and her husband asked. Jorge, Marta's husband, was super quiet around us, unlike Marta who acted as the foreman some of the time. However, Jorge was definitely a hard worker and often we would leave for the day at 4:30pm and come back the next day at 9:30am and it was clear that work had been done throughout the night.
Eash day we headed out after morning meeting to the worksite. Our mode of transportation was either the back of the PSF pick-up truck or the oh so comfortable "tuc tuc" (moto with a little cage attached to it). Our work consisted mainly of removing the contaminated old dirt floor (which consisted of both rubble and sea debris from the raised sea levels that followed the earthquake) and replacing it with fresh dirt (tierra buena), digging three to four foot deep trenches, cutting and preparing steel beams, and pouring concrete to set the foundation for the floor and walls to come. We also had the chance to just carry rocks from one side of the property to the other...sounds simple, but it's definitely tedious and tiring (and gross when you uncover a village of cucarachas, spiders, and rats).
Marta's middle daughter, Rosio Cristina, is 7 years old and was there with us most days just content to watch and chat while we worked. I was often asked to come into the house and carry around Elisabel, the 4 month old baby girl who was quite a little gordita, but so incredibly happy - she smiled and giggled constantly. Marta was totally dismayed that Tim and I are married and don't yet have kids. We tried to explain that if we had kids we wouldn't be able to be there helping out and she said that was no problem and we could start our family in Pisco. We politely declined.
PSF was a lot of hard work. We truly did learn the definition of back-breaking labor. But it was also really fun. Every night after dinner people just go buy beers (from the "cake lady" who also, believe it or not, sold lots of cake and pastries) and hang out around the firepit. Occasionally people really went all out and went to the clubs in Pisco (Copa Cabana for Pisco Sours followed by dancing at Afro Cafe). Dancing arm in arm with about 40 volunteers from all over the world while belting out "Hey Jude" at the top of our lungs was an awesome highlight.
All in, our time at PSF was well worth it. We were humbled meeting the locals and families who were so tragically affected by this earthquake but who are proud of the homes they do have (or are in the process of building) and so appreciative of the help PSF offers.
We arrived in Cusco yesterday and spent the day resting and wandering around. It's a beautiful city (oldest continuously inhabited city in South America). We have a few days here to explore and acclimate to the altitude (11,000 feet) before we head out EARLY Tuesday morning for our 4 day Inca Trail hike to Macchu Pichu!
Lots of love!
Tim & Kate
Kate and Cement Mixer
Tim and sunset
Tim and Kate at site