Lockdown in Peru | A letter from Fr. Alex

Dear friends,

First of all, I hope and pray that this finds you safe and in good health. Today I would like to share with you what is presently going on in Peru, Arequipa and in our mission in Alto Cayma.

As for today we have just passed 100 days of quarantine, meaning lockdown, and curfew from 9.00 pm to 5.00 am. The numbers of positive Covid-19 cases are slowly coming down in Peru as a country, though at a very small pace. The latest figures as for the 24th of June are as follows: All over Peru there are 264,689 active positive cases and 8,586 deaths. Please bear in mind that the U.S. has a population 10 times that of Peru. In Arequipa there are 10,034 positive cases and 248 deaths. In Alto Cayma where our mission is, there are 527 positive cases with 8 deaths.

In the first 2 months of the pandemic in Peru, the worst hit areas were Lima and the north of the country. As from about 2 weeks ago the virus has shifted towards the south and numbers are growing alarmingly in Arequipa.

We as mission in Alto Cayma are very much involved in helping the community in various ways. First of all, one must understand why the infections are spreading rapidly. As mentioned before, we are now just over 100 days under lockdown. This means that many day workers cannot go out to earn their daily bread and provide for the family. The government has done big efforts to support economically the poorest but after 100 days even that support has vanished. People are forced to go out to look for whatever can earn them a cent. Besides that, there are realities that expose the precarious situations in which the poor live. The authorities insist that only one person should go out to buy the basic necessities such as medicine and food, and once a week. That is ok if you have electricity and a refrigerator in the first place. Another thing is the importance of hand washing, and again that is if you have access to water. Wearing a mask is also a luxury because people are poorer than ever and cannot afford to buy masks regularly. Then there is also the lack of education, and that means that the people do not really know how to take care of themselves. On the other hand, the 2 general hospitals cannot cope with the number of patients needing care. In fact, even before the pandemic, both hospitals were declared under emergency because of lack of equipment, medicine and staff. Now even the medical posts spread around the country are practically closed down, with some exceptions, mainly because of lack of staff. The medical staff above 60 years of age are prohibited to report to work. The police and the military were sent on the roads to control the lockdown, but even they themselves started to get infected and therefore had to limit their presence. So far around 240 police have died because of the virus and there are around 800 in hospitals.

We as mission in Alto Cayma have organized ourselves to see in what way we could give a helping hand, even though this means exposing ourselves to the virus and its consequences. First of all, we organized a number of community kitchens run by the people themselves. At present there are 9 of them and soon there will probably be 12. Through these kitchens we are reaching out to over 1,200 people every day from Monday to Friday. There are around 500 people who do not pay anything (mainly single mothers with their children, large families and the elderly). The rest pay around 30 cents of a U.S. dollar, depending on how the people themselves consider appropriate. We are basically providing foodstuffs and cash to subsidize these kitchens. Now we have been doing this for about 5 weeks and 80% is subsidized by the mission. Besides supporting the kitchens, we have so far distributed over 1,500 food bags to around 1,200 families ( benefitting around 6,000 people ). Another help is that of supporting a number of families with cash, depending on the situation we adopted various ways of giving cash. In some cases, it is a one-time support, while in others on regular bases depending on circumstances. Even the health clinic we run had to get involved. Since as I mentioned before most of the public health centers are closed, including the 2 in Alto Cayma, our clinic has become more important than ever. We have adjusted the care hours and organized the necessary protocols to protect patients and our staff. When we get Covid-19 suspected patients, we direct them to a lab with which we have agreements to give special discounts on all lab work, including Covid-19 tests. This is also of great benefit to our patients as tests are not easily available and are very costly if done privately.

Besides all this we also have the children’s home where we have 32 children from 3 to 18 years old. These children are under our care 24 hours a day, and we have to look after all their needs; be it, food, health, clothing and all it takes to give a proper and happy upbringing to the children under our care. This means that besides the usual care, we have the great responsibility and challenge to keep the home virus free. We had to adopt a number of protocols and adjustments, that came along with a considerable cost, to ensure the safety of all under our care.

Also, as many of you may know by now, we are celebrating the Eucharist through social media on Facebook (Parroquia Santa Elena Cayma), on a local TV station and 2 Radio stations every Sunday at 9.00 am Peru time. We estimate that there are almost 60,000 people participating from around 12 different countries through the different social media platforms. On Thursdays we are also celebrating the Eucharist in private, in a community center on speakers over the community. So far, we are doing this in one settlement but will include other settlements if need be in the nearby future as a number of settlements are asking us to do the same thing in their settlements

I think we were able to strike a good balance in being with the people in both their material and spiritual needs. As we all know the virus has brought with it all type of problems, including sickness and death, psychological and mental issues, increased family violence, economic difficulties, etc. On the other hand, it has also brought with it a lot of solidarity and compassion towards those in need. Many generous people stepped forward offering their time, skills and material means to give a helping hand.

Finally if you would like to be part of our efforts in these very difficult times for the needy around us, please get in touch with me at fralexperu@gmail.com for direction.

Please keep us always in your thoughts and prayers and know that you are always in ours too.

United in one mission of building Peace on Earth through Faith and Service, may God bless everyone and keep you safe.

Fr. Alex Busuttil mssp

There is a BBC news article from 26th June 2020 regarding Coronavirus in Peru, you can read it at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-53150808 Please click on the image to enlarge

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