Report on Earthquake Relief to Sacuaya

(October 22, 2001)

Last July the Mary Bloom Center delivered aid to the victims of the June 23 earthquake in the district of Carumas (Moquegua) comprising donations from the parishes of St. Rose, Longview; St. Brendan, Bothell and Holy Family, Seattle. (see July Report) Subsequently St. Cecilia Parish in Stanwood, WA, sent a further donation of $2,800. With it we bought food (rice, sugar, canned tuna and pasta) for the community of Sacuaya, also in the district of Carumas. The food was divided into about 300 shopping bags, each one with four kilos of rice, four of sugar, four cans of tuna fish and three bags of pasta. Each family was to receive one shopping bag, although a double portion was to be given to the elderly, large families and pregnant mothers. (There is some sad news regarding the latter, but first the report.)

Having loaded two trucks with the food stuffs, we celebrated a Sunday morning Mass and left Puno at 9:30 a.m. We took the highway to Desaguadero, on the Bolivian border, then the road through the Andes Mountains leading to the coastal city of Ilo. We did not go all the way to the coast, but at an altitude of over 4,000 meters, we took the detour to Carumas. It was already dark so I did not notice how treacherous the road the was. We arrived at the town of Sacuaya about 10:30 p.m. and began to search for the family of Manuel and Julia Quispe who were to give us lodging. Not having electricity, the whole town was dark, so we banged on doors until we finally located our hosts. In spite of the hour, they were most cordial and after telling them news about the Bruneau family, we went to bed.

At 5 a.m. we got up to begin the food distribution. Some families had already gone to work their fields, but the majority formed a line to receive their foodstuffs. We began the distribution with a prayer and a blessing in the plaza of the town. When I saw the long line, with more people arriving each minute, I was worried we would not have enough for everyone. Nevertheless, the people were very orderly and within an hour and a half, we finished the distribution with forty bags reserved for those who had gone to work their fields.

The distribution was carried out by Obst. Luz Marrón, director of the Mary Bloom Center, with the help of Isaías Roque and some folks from the town, including Manuel and Julia Quispe who kept the list of the recipients. The amount received by each family was relatively small, but appreciated, given the very difficult circumstances of their lives.

As I mentioned earlier we gave a doubt portion to large families and the elderly. As far as expecting mothers, we received a big surprise. There were none in the entire town! The previous government had launched a very agressive "family planning" campaign. Many were given norplant, depo provera or an IUD. We also know from documented testimonies given at the Mary Bloom Center that pressure and deceit were used to convince women, sometimes in their early twenties, to have a tubal ligation. Later in the day we talked to a primary school teacher who told us the number of children in kindergarten and early years of primary has dropped dramatically in recent years.

For some this reduction in population is a triumph. However, one must ask about the cost in terms of family values. Also one could question whether overpopulation is really the most basic problem in Peru. The country has only twenty four million inhabitants and is twice the size of France which has sixty million. Peru has enormous natural resource of minerals, petroleum, ocean fisheries, jungle, etc. If its population does not increase, will it ever reach a "critical mass" necesary for development?

An important element in development is the relation of Peru to other countries. When I visited the chapel of Sacuaya, I noticed they had this saying on the wall: the future of humanity depends on solidarity. The donations from St. Cecilia Parish were a small, but real form of solidarity.

Besides the earthquake, the townspeople had suffered another loss - the death of their pastor. About a month earlier he was in his car travelling along the mountain roads. A car coming from the opposite direction struck him and his car went over the cliff. Everyone asked me if I was the priest who was going to replace Padre Giovanni. It was tempting. The people were quite friendly and I am sure the mountain roads would motivate me to stay in the state of grace.

The people affected by the June 23 earthquake continue to need outside assistance. If you are able to help, please send a donation to:

Peruvian Earthquake Relief
Holy Family Parish
9622 – 20th Ave SW
Seattle, WA 98106


Footnote: From October 30 to November 2, I visited San Miguel Parish in Ilave. Its pastor, Fr. Narciso Valencia, informed me that after the June 23 earthquake they collected aid from parishioners: potatoes, quinua, chuño and other foodstuffs, as well as blankets. School children and townspeople of Ilave donated a total of fourteen metric tons! By way of comparison, we brought about four metric tons of food to Sacuaya on October 22. The collection from Ilave is a beautiful example of solidarity within the country. The foodstuffs were delivered to a poor barrio of the coastal city of Tacna for use in the soup kitchens.

Pictures of Earthquake and Relief Effort

Catholic Relief Service Report on Earthquake

Homily mentioning Earthquake