We are at the end of our first full week and so far we have had a wonderful time in Peru! Until last Monday, we were enjoying Peru to our hearts’ content – surfing, eating ceviche, speaking Spanish, shopping in the local convenience stores. Tuesday, we finally started to get our hands dirty [literally].
That day, we commenced construction on the medical clinic in the Bello Horizonte and although it was Day 1, it was a rather slow one. After greeting the maestro (the head honcho at the site), we were put to work cleaning the trenches around the clinic. We picked up trash and moved heavy rocks out of the ditches dug for the foundation. We lifted rocks, pushed rocks, rolled rocks, threw rocks – we basically spent all morning manhandling heavy rocks! That was it for Day 1. Day 2 consisted of some hole-making (for the electrical outlets) in the walls the old fashion way — with a hammer and large nails. Thursday and Friday, we plastered the ceilings of the two existing rooms and we painted over graffiti on a wall across the street from the clinic. Although we accomplished several tasks over the past week, I felt like we spent a lot of our time thinking about what we could do next with the few materials we had.
Within the first week we experienced something that just about every other non-profit is familiar with: that work is never steady. Work is never steady because it depends on how many funds are available to a non-profit’s disposal. After finding out last week that we would not receive the money we had been expecting from the local government in Bello, our first few days on the job were a bit lackluster. We didn’t have the money to bring in much needed construction materials. (definitely no hard hats, dynamite, drilling or wrecking balls!) In fact, we actually had quite a bit of downtime at the site. But instead of lying around waiting for word on what to do next, we decided that our downtime would be the perfect time for building community relations.
After meeting several community members this week, I got the impression that the community is somewhat skeptical of our work in Bello. It seems contradictory that a community would not fully support the construction of medical clinic, but it also comes as no surprise. The Peruvian people, especially those living in the rural Andean Mountains, have often been promised many things by the Peruvian government but have seldom ever seen the objects of those promises. Knowing this, we ourselves have discovered one more challenge in addition to the challenge created by our low funds. We are trying to do something good for the community, but the community doesn’t seem to be with us. Oh dear…
So why do we have this apparent lack of support? I would think that medical attention would be at the top of anyone’s list! For one, the community may simply not know what is going on and thus not show any support. The two clinic rooms have been sitting unfinished on the west end of the town for almost a year now. Second, the local government may be telling us that the community wants something that, in actuality, they do not. While talking to people around town, we learned that many wanted a secondary school in the community because right now they only have a primary school. No one mentioned a medical clinic. And third (also what I find the most unsettling) is that the community may just not have enough faith in the project. Our group works seasonally, with student volunteers only coming once a year – some of us coming once and never returning. Not only is the clinic taking longer to complete than it should (a year is really too long for the type of clinic we’re building!), but each year a new group of students come with apparent interest in the community.
We have thus learned very quickly that our work is really two-fold. We are no longer just building a medical clinic in the rural Moche Valley. We are also restoring faith to a group of people who have too often been misled or felt forgotten.