Pisco Sin Fronteras-Earthquake Relief

Hola Amigos! We have just finished our week long volunteer experience with in Pisco, Peru (coastal city) with the organization Pisco Sin Fronteras. We were blown away by the people and the experience in general.  It is amazing what a can be done with limited supplies but limitless energy. We decided that this entry needs both of our inputs  so please enjoy stories from both of us.

We arrived in Pisco after a 18 hour bus ride from Cusco feeling a little shaky and bus sick (those dang switchbacks are killer!). We really didn´t know what to expect except that there was work to be done all throughout the city since the earthquake hit in 2007. Before the earthquake, the city was doing OK but it still was not considered one of the wealthier places in Peru. After the earthquake, the city was devastated and it would not have started to recover without the help of many different volunteer organizations like PSF.

Just to give you a quick background to what happened in Pisco since many people only vaguely remember seeing it on the news….The 2007 Peru earthquakewas an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the moment magnitude scale and hit the central coast on Wednesday August 15, 2007. The earthquake was quickly followed by a tsunami and many tremors. The damage done was unimaginable, totaling 80% of the city and killing over 600 people. One of the biggest tragedies was the hundred people who were killed while in church when the entire roof collapsed. Their houses made of adobe mud crumbled and left many injured.

So, Pisco Sin Fronteras was born when a local Peruvian Harold (current director) spent twelve months volunteering with Hands on Disaster Relief and Burners Without Borders, two organisations which preceded PSF.  He then created PSF to continue to help his community.

So we arrived at PSF headquarters in the heart of Pisco and felt immediately at home. People are free to come and go as they please, some volunteering for a day and others for a year. We met Dragonfly (a fellow Chicagoan) and were told to get ready to get dirty. We got to choose from two different residences that PSF owns that were both some kind of business before the quake. Any available space was used for something and every room had as many bunk beds a possible shoved in them. They both are rustic, but are safe and with roofs. We were excited to be a part of this little travelers community with people from all over the world. On a good day, PSF will have around 40 volunteers. There are many stories of people coming just to try it out for a week and staying 3 months or longer! The veteran staff is proof that the work was addictive and the people amazing. We were ready to go bright and early Monday morning.

Everyone eats breakfast together and you are expected to be ready to go at 8am for the morning meeting. After a quick introduction and head count, we got to hear about all the different jobs we could choose from for the day. A few choices included cement pouring, dirt removal for a house, trench digging, teaching english, and site assessment. Its up to each person what they would like to do. You simply raise your hand and bam! you are ready to go. The energy of 40 people sitting around and fighting to go to work on certain jobs is contagious. On the first day, I counted people from 12 different countries sitting around the table, eager and willing to put in a hard days work.

My first day was with a team of 8 people doing a cement our. We arrived on the site to  be greeted by a family of 7 living in a single room in their unfinished house. There was only 2 beds. We were pouring their roof with the help of their brother and dad. What we provided was two key things, manpower and a cement mixer. The family had ordered rocks, cement, and sand so all we had to do was show up. Soon we were hard at work, mixing the cement and then filling buckets to haul up to the people on the roof. If you wanted to learn, someone was there to teach you. I learned how to fix the overworkd PSF mixer in the first 15 min! Soon after we began I started getting the technique down so I didnt hurt my forearms from the bucket pressing into them when I had to get the cement from the mixer. Bucket by bucket we hauled and poured, not breaking so the cement wouldnt set in the wrong place.  The deal the family makes with PSF is in exchange for a full days work, if possible, the family feeds us lunch. After lunch, we got back to work. I cant tell you how much respect I have for anyone in the construction industry. After a 7 hour day of hard labor, I fully understood for the first time the need for a cold beer after work! In total, it took 30 bags (100lbs each) of cement to fill the roof. The family was ecstatic and so were we.

I wont go over each days work but I did participate on two different days in a 20 person roof pour which took about 6 hours to complete. We had two cement mixers that ran constantly and a huge assembly line of worker ants. It was thrilling to work with so many people and have so much fun doing so. After working with the cement so much I feel I could see myself wanting to do some of it back home. I also collected algae for a composting and fertilizer project, removed the biggest pile of dirt/weeds/garbage for 2 days, and worked with a small community of special needs people.

The last project Jason and I had the chance to work on was brand new to PSF. Just before we came our friend Dragonfly came into contact with a small community within Pisco that was truly forgotten. Jason will give details of their living situation.  We were asked to meet with some of the community members, all of which had a disability or someone in their family with a disability. Armed with fluent Spanish speakers, we showed up at an empty town hall room and were told to make the best of what we could.

The people in the community were told that some experts from the US were coming in to help them with their problems. We each set up a table with chairs and began to see people as they filed in with hope in their eyes. The variety of their problems were shocking. My first person had her daughter with her and at first asked me why her daughter forgot things. After talking with the mother and daughter for a few more minutes, the real questions began to come out. The daughter had a mental disability and the mother had no idea what to do. She complained that she acted younger than her age and didnt know her math well. She then revealed that she wasnt actually her mother so she didnt know what the real mother did to make her like this. I had to hold back tears as I had my translator explain to the mother about disabilities and how she could help her daughter. I then talked to the daughter about her likes and dislikes only to discover that she loved make-up and hair. Her eyes lit up and she said she often cut peoples hair for 1 sole (35 cents) because she couldnt count any higher with money. We quickly problem solved that her mother could write down the prices and work on counting money. The biggest thing we did was assure the mother that her daughter was special in a good way and to keep treating her like every other 18 year old. Then we reassured the daughter that she was very smart and to keep working on peoples hair because she loved it.

I saw 4 more people that day. Two had to do with children having disabilities like developmental delay, a speech impediment, and a brain injury, and all the parents were struggling not knowing what to do. It was pure education for all parties involved. I had a few people who mistook me for a dr. , asking me questions about their kidney stones and blood pressure! But most questions were easy enough to answer and I even gave out some physical therapy advice. By far my favorite person was the 69 year old women who had what looked like hip displasia on the one side which made her one leg about 2 inches shorter than the other. She came walking over with a cane and in 3 inch heels! After taking off her shoes her gait improved so much but she acted shocked. She was so grateful for the exercises she insisted I write my name so she could put it in her prayers. When the two hours were up, we saw between the two of us 10 people and their families. We left smiling and on cloud 9.

The week quickly flew by, and before we knew it we were saying goodbye to all the friends we had made. We ended the hard week with drinking Pisco sours, singing by the campfire and then dancing till 3 am at the local disco tech. All I know is that after one week at PSF, we will never be the same.

One Response to “Pisco Sin Fronteras-Earthquake Relief”

  1. cindy -mom / myna bird says:

    Dear Ashley and Jason, OMG! I cried through your whole journal from Pisco! Those wonderful people are so blessed to have you and the other volunteers helping them. I wa especially moved abt. the people with dissabilities and you both giving your time to help them with your proffessional experience and knowledge! (I loved the woman in her eighties with the 3in. heels and cane)! I can`t tell you how proud we are of you two(peas in a pod). My heart just screams with joy abt. how joyously giving and selfless you are. I am so lucky that God has blessed us with you and what you do. I miss talking to my beautiful daughter like crazy! It`s easy to take that for granted when your here or a phone call away. I love you so much! I love you both and look so forward to talking on the phone over the weekend! May God and your Angels keep you safe and continue watching over you! All my love, Mom / Myna Bird

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