Finally after almost 4 months of continuous holidays (well more than that for some…), we thought it was about time to do some actual hard work. We had heard about a disaster relief organisation in Peru called Pisco Sin Fronteras (PSF) through the charity I used to work for in Australia and arranged to spend two weeks volunteering for them way back when we were in England. So we caught a bus to a small town on the coast called Pisco (way off the gringo track), and turned up at their door not really sure what to expect.
On the 15th of August 2007, Pisco and the surrounding region was struck by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake which killed nearly 600 people and destroyed approximately 80% of the buildings in the city, including tens of thousands of homes. PSF is as an organisation which emerged out of the repair efforts, and four years later, continues to work on the reconstruction and betterment of the community by building housing, schools and sanitation units as well as assisting with community-based initiatives.
When we walked through the doors of the organisation on a lazy Sunday afternoon, we were greeted by about 40 different
people, young and old and from places all around the world. Later we found out that everyone else was actually sleeping off a hangover from a volunteer’s party the night before and indeed there were actually 95 active volunteers at that current time. 95 people living and working in the same place? WOW we were in for an experience. We found a room in the “penthouse” (20 bed dorm with about 30 peoples stuff on the ground) and then headed into the city to check it out. Pisco itself indeed is a city, with western banks on every corner and the like, however the levels of poverty is much larger than what we had seen in Peru. Piles of rubble littered the streets and when I asked what they were from, I was shocked to find out that they were still remains of building which had fallen in the earthquake. Four years on and the government still hasn’t gotten around to clean then up!
We got a good nights sleep, ready for our first day of work and the next morning were surprised by a breakfast of scrambles eggs, fresh fruit, coffee and cereal (imagine cooking for 95 hungry
volunteer), Masterchef quality compared to the shitty hostel brekkies we had become used to. At 8:15am it was time for the morning meeting where we heard about all the projects that PSF were currently involved in, and decide what we wanted to work on for the day. A school, construction of three houses for separate families, teaching English, construction at a community centre, a wall mural for a local soccer field and building walls out of recycled wooden creates….what weren’t they doing? I was amazed at the number of projects they were working on and the families they were helping, it was incredible. With so much man power, and funds raised from volunteers, they were operating at full steam. I signed up for my first project and headed out with a friendly American to paint the walls of a house which has just been recently built.
Zack, being a mechanical engineer, was automatically in high demand for jobs as PSF volunteers do all the work themselves so people with a trade are relied on to pass the skills down the line. For example within 48 hours of being there, I had been taught how to use a circular saw
and chop saw by an ex-carpenter. On the Wednesday we went out to a family house together and I let Zack boss me around for the day, handing him tools and holding stuff while he worked. Her kids tried to help us with the work but ended up distracting me with games of duck, duck, goose!
Unfortunately, before we arrived at PSF, Zack and I hadn’t realised that the Easter weekend was coming up and the whole organisation was shutting down for 4 days! It is a major holiday in Peru where the locals stop working to spend time with their families, so PSF respects this. So after three days of work, they gave us four days of vacation… not a bad life. Not really sure what to do with our four days, we made the snap decision to head to Ayacucho for what was apparently Peru’s biggest Easter celebrations. And were we in for a treat or what?
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