In August 2007, an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the moment magnitude scale hit the central coast of Peru. UNICEF responded to the emergency by providing critical lifesaving supplies in the immediate aftermath, and has led longer-term efforts for recovery and rehabilitation in the earthquake zone. Kendra Flowers works with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF at our national headquarters in New York City. She’s currently in Peru visiting UNICEF programs.
Monday we drove south along the Peruvian coast for three hours from Lima to Pisco, perhaps the saddest stretch of road I’ve ever encountered. Mounds of rubble line the sides of the road where walls and structures once stood, absurd in their perfectly neat organization, considering the total destruction and chaos they represent. The closer we came to Pisco, the more densely these mounds were organized, awaiting removal trucks that never come.
Pisco, over a year after the earthquake, still looks like a disaster zone in many places, and hearing stories from the children and parents makes one realize it still feels like yesterday to them that the earth was shaking for two solid minutes while their worlds collapsed around and on top of them.
|© US Fund for UNICEF/Flowers|
|Mother and child in Chincha, Peru|
We began our day at Wawa Wasi, a daycare center in the District of Villa Tupac Amaru. These centers are essentially 10 x 12 makeshift shelters attatched to the homes of families who, for a small reward”prestige in the community and possibly a practical gift for their home”volunteer their care for the children in the community while their parents are at work.
The kids took to Chuck instantly! The language barrier was not an issue, as he and the children were speaking a language entirely unique to them. The kids entertained themselves with musical instruments, games and educational toys, all provided by UNICEF. They also washed their hands dutifully before eating (using a water tank and soap provided by UNICEF), and sang a hand-washing song while doing so.
Next we headed to School No. 22540 “Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe” where temporary classrooms and latrines were installed by UNICEF to replace the original earthquake-stricken school. Reconstruction of the new school is underway and were were shown lots of drawings the kids did showing how they’d like their new school to look. Here I have to mention that these kids are really a bunch of future architects! When I saw the rubble of the collapsed school my heart lurched, until I remembered with relief that perhaps the only possible silver lining of this entire disaster is that the earthquake struck after 6pm so no children were inside the schools.The children here were still however deeply traumatized. As in emergency situations all around the world, UNICEF recognized the need in these children for the immediate return of normalcy. In that spirit, and with the help of the local community, UNICEF built Ludotecas (or play rooms) designed specifically with fun in mind. We visited the very first of these Ludotecas to be constructed after the earthquake, and were treated to a re-inauguration celebration in our honor!
The kids danced, sang and put on wonderful skits for us inside the brightly-colored structure, no larger than 20 x 30, while those who could not fit inside filled the windows from the outside to see the show. With the joy of the celebration inside, it was hard to believe the devastation that awaited us just outside the Ludotecas’ walls.
We then traveled to a module for integral protection of children under age three, including stimulation and vitamin supplementation. The children here covered us with hugs and kisses, and many “muchos gracias” for UNICEF’s support.
|© US Fund for UNICEF/Flowers|
|Young girl heading to a UNICEF primary school in Chincha, Peru|
Tuesday, after a much-needed good night’s rest we headed back north about an hour’s drive to Chincha, another town devastated by the earthquake of 2007. Our first stop was to the Nueva Canchamana community where we learned about water and sanitation facilities implemented by UNICEF, the local community and Italian NGO COOPI. These families were relocated inland from (Old) Canchamana where their homes were either washed away or buried by the huge wave that followed the earthquake. (The epicenter of the earthquake was actually not under exposed land, rather under the ocean floor off the coast. So much of the devastation occurred after the wave receded.)
In partnership with COOPI, and with the help of the families themselves, UNICEF installed plumbing and latrines. It must be mentioned that these 25 families of Canchamana were remarkably proactive after this disaster, raising funds on their own and working hard to gather 50,000 soles (nearly $17,000) to buy the land and materials for new homes and latrines. The resilience and determination of these families and children is a thing to behold, especially considering the horror of the circumstances from which they have emerged.
Finally we traveled to Ciudad Satellite School, also in Chincha. What struck all of us was how well constructed and organized the school and latrine were, in stark contrast to the meager straw shelters the kids go home to after classes. Clearly, the priority of these communities is their children, “human capital” as Guido the UNICEF Peru Country Representative put it.
Presently we’re driving 7 hours to Ayacucho through hairpin Andean mountain passes. (If only you could see the handwritten version of this long entry… very scribbly!) We will climb to over 12,500 feet! I must thank our driver Señor Julio Baserra for ensuring our safety during this arduous drive. More from Ayacucho after visiting programs Wednesday and Thursday.