An update from our missionaries in Peru

Fr. Ed O'Connell in Peru provides another update and explains how he has visited several of the communal kitchens in San Benito and delivered fire extinguishers.

At long last we have a president, primary school teacher Pedro Castillo, with an MA in Educational Psychology. He took over on 28th July, coming to power on the 200th anniversary of Peru as a Republic. He is seen by the ordinary people as one of them and who represents their interests: need for food, health, education and also pensions. These needs were central to his inaugural speech. There are many powerful people and institutions lined up against him, waiting to see him fall or more precisely wanting to push him out by getting the new congress to vacate him before the year is out!

On the 29th July Castillo named his ministers, with little attempt to integrate other left wing or middle of the road right parties’ possible candidates for ministers, giving preference on three occasions to his party‘s hardliners. This means that possible allies will now vote against these appointments when Congress, within 30 days, has to approve or reject the new cabinet. Pedro has got off to a rocky start, but he is determined man and not to be underestimated. Some on the extreme right would see him as a nobody, often expressed by them in very racist terms!

The total number of cases of coronavirus on 9th August was 2,125,848 and the number of deaths 197,029. The number of cases are now higher outside Lima (51.7%) and the number of deaths also are slightly higher outside of Lima (50.5%).

Peru is improving on the vaccination front, with weekend all night long vaccination campaigns, resulting now in 27% of the total population with the first dose, and 19% with the second dosage. These are figures are from 9th August. The distribution of vaccinations proved highly unequal, with much higher rates in Lima and Callao than in the rest of the country. The new Government is running  campaigns in other parts of Peru as well and the late 30s in age are now being vaccinated. The push on vaccinations is with the hope that the third wave (delta variant), expected in September, be prove less lethal!

I accompany Manuel Duato Special Needs School, a Columban project. The teachers have been in “virtual” contact since March 2020 to today with the parents, and through them with nearly 400 children. The new school year, 2021, got underway in mid-March with teachers working virtually, with 428 students, the highest number we have had, most of whom are severely disabled.

We helped 55 families of the students on five occasions during 2020, with amounts around £25 each time and at Christmas we gave £50. Again, in February this year we gave out larger amounts to eight families, who either have a special needs child with Covid-19 or are families with one member or more with Covid-19 or another serious illness. Smaller amounts went to a further 32 families, all in dire financial difficulties. In June 2021 we helped again, with similar amounts to 41 families.

The Warmi Huasi project, accompanying children at risk in both San Benito, in the Lima districts of Carabayllo and San Martin de Porres, and in the Province of Paucar de Sara Sara, high up in the Andes mountains in the department of Ayacucho, continues to produce amazing results. Our Warmi Huasi teams are in touch constantly with the parents and teachers about the welfare of the children. We have given out all the books from the reading clubs so that the children can read at home. We also have radio programs with the children in Ayacucho, with bio-security advice, parenting advice and story-telling with the children sending in their stories.

These days we have teachers visiting homes, in a very limited way, respecting protocols of bio-security and safeguarding, to help children in Pausa and Lampa, Ayacucho, and in San Benito in Carabayllo, Lima. These children have dropped behind in their schoolwork. Our three psychologists are working full time supporting emotionally the children and their families and also improving the social skills of the children and adolescents and the parenting skills of the parents.

In San Benito, the mothers continue with the five communal kitchens and in Misiones parish, San Martin de Porres, the pastoral agents run one communal kitchen. The figures for all the above in June 2021 were: 211 families helped, with an average of 5 persons per family, means a total of 1,055 people receive a meal each day, plus 120 social cases – a grand total of 1,175 meals a day. We have helped each communal kitchen with the purchase of vegetables, chicken or fish, gas and bio-security equipment.

I visited the leaders in San Benito on 28th July, taking to each communal kitchen a fire extinguisher. The leaders had a surprise breakfast for me, to celebrate their first anniversary and I was able to congratulate them personally on serving meals to the most vulnerable for over a year now. Amazing women! They are the true heiresses of the Kingdom of God but with a wicked sense of humour!

Much thanks to all the families in Ireland, England, United States, Australia and New Zealand who have helped these families in Peru in our ‘solidarity between families’ program.

May the Risen Lord be near to us all, love and blessings, Ed.

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