Update from Fr Ed on Peru’s desperate Covid situation

The total number of cases of Covid-19 on 31st May was 1,961,087 (49.9% in Lima Department and Province of Callao); authorities recently updated the figures by 184,507 deaths, writes Fr Ed O’Connell. The number of cases in Lima are now equal to outside Lima and deaths outside Lima are a little more than half. This change has been gradual over the past two months.

Dan Collyns, Lima correspondent for the Guardian and BBC two weeks ago talked about Peru having the highest mortality rate in the world. Peru has a population of 32,625,948. This has just been confirmed with the Peruvian authorities updating the number of dead as shown above. The number of cases could be multiplied by four times at least.

The vaccine that arrived from China were used on frontline workers. Pfizer has also arrived from the US. The over 80s and over 65s are mostly done, at least in Lima, and the over 60s will be beginning soon. Roughly 3.7% of population have had both jabs, 8.6% have had one jab. The percentages are slowly but surely improving, thanks be to God! It is saving the lives of elderly people.

People waiting outside the chapel to collect their meals.

According to Peru’s National Statistics Agency, INEI, nearly a third of the population of the country are now unable to meet their basic needs, and Covid-19 has contributed to three million people being pushed into poverty. According to a report published on 19 May, the increase in poverty, measured in terms of the ability to pay for a basket of essential goods is most notable in Metropolitan Lima.

The proportion of the population in poverty there has almost doubled from 14% in 2019 to 27.5% now. However, as always, poverty is most widespread in rural parts of the highlands. More than 40% of the population live in poverty in six regions (Huancavelica 47.7%, Ayacucho 46.4%, Pasco 44.8%, Huánuco 42.6%, Cajamarca 42.5% and Puno 42.5%). This is a big increase on pre-pandemic levels.

We had the first round of the General Elections in late April, now just two left of the 15 presidential candidates. The run off between the two takes place on 6th June. These two candidates between them secured a combined vote of only 30% of the overall vote. There were as many spoiled and blank votes. The people have no confidence in politicians and voted for extremes, a radical left wing candidate and a right wing candidate, whose father was previously president but is now in jail for corruption and human rights abuses.

Cruz del Norte preparing the lunch.

A tough choice for the people, most of whom do not want either candidate. At least one of them has questioned neo-liberalism as the way forward. This extreme form of capitalism has been questioned also by Pope Francis, as needing to change for the sake of the common good and the future of the planet. With a week to go there is little between the two, with the left-wing candidate just in the lead but a lot could happen yet.

I accompany Manuel Duato Special Needs School, a Columban project. The teachers have been in ‘virtual’ contact since March last year, and throughout the summer of 2021 (January to mid-March) with the parents and through them with nearly 400 children.

Queue outside the chapel for food.

The new school year, 2021, got underway in mid-March with teachers back to work albeit virtually with 425 students, the highest number we have had, most of whom are severely disabled.

The impact of the pandemic revealed in March that 56 of the 425 students have or have had the virus. Of their parents, 116 fathers and 106 mothers have or have had the virus, and sadly seven fathers and one mother died.  Of the teachers, 28 out of the 70 staff have or have had the virus with two in critical condition. 46 of their close relatives have or have had the virus, including seven who have died. It is all so sad. At present 69% of the parents are out of work or have occasional temporary work, no safety net here!

Waiting for the meals outside the Cipreces communal kitchen.

We helped 55 families of these students on five occasions during 2020, with amounts around €30 each time and at Christmas we gave €65. Again in 2021 we have given out larger amounts to eight families who either have a special needs child with Covid-19 or are families with a member or more with Covid-19 or other serious illness, and smaller amounts to a further 32 families, all in dire financial difficulties. We will need to do so again soon.

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, is producing 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 send in their stories.

Cruz del Norte preparing the lunch.

From February through March this year we arranged for teachers to visit homes, in a very limited way, respecting protocols and safeguarding the children of the primary school in Lampa, Ayacucho. These children had dropped behind. We managed to turn things around for most of them with individual tuition, literally on their doorstep! Likewise in San Benito, help is being given to those children who have dropped behind.

In San Benito, the mothers have continued the five communal kitchens into 2021. The figures in May 2021 are: 191 families helped, with an average of 5 persons per family, means a total of 955 people receive a meal each day, plus 111 social cases, a grand total of 1,066 meals a day. We have helped each communal kitchen with the purchase of vegetables, chicken or fish, gas and bio-security equipment.

In all Lima, affected populations now depend widely on communal kitchens for food. According to one account there are communal kitchens in 30 districts of Lima, 2,034 in all, feeding over a quarter of a million people. In many of the kitchens there are serious problems in accessing sufficient quantities of food. The municipalities are supposed to distribute rations, but supplies are reportedly chaotic in many places.

Cruz del Norte (Northern Cross) homework club where the mothers cook and prepare meals.

There is a new communal kitchen in Misiones parish, where I used to work, set up by parishioners who have worked for years in a group to protect women from violence. They are serving 40 meals a day, Monday to Friday, and hope to get up to 50 or more before long. It serves mostly migrant families from Venezuela and some social cases. A Venezuelan woman, Ingrid, is on the organising team, and that is a big help.

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” programme.

May the Risen Lord be near to us all.

Love and blessings, Ed

If you would like to support Fr Ed O’Connell’s work in Perus, please send your donations to the Far East Office, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co Meath C15 AY2Y. Mark it for Fr Ed O’Connell. Alternatively, you can donate online at www.columbans.ie or call 00353 46 909 8275.

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