By Sisters Juana Rivera Jara and Evelyn Fitzke, SNDdeN
El Niño rains hit the Pacific coast of Peru in March and April 2017. In the rural north, the Piura region, where two communities of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur live and minister, the devastation was particularly damaging. Floods devastated whole villages; they washed away houses, schools, and health centers; they destroyed roads, bridges and vast areas of crops. During the heavy rains and flooding, the Sisters in the Tambogrande Region rallied to help people suffering from the disasters to their homes and property. Everywhere, destruction and disease pervaded an area where many people are already vulnerable!
Sr. Juana Rivera Jara, SNDdeN is a nurse, living in Tambogrande in a community of four sisters, and working in the town’s health center. She talks about the pain and suffering that she is witnessing daily from those who are ill, living in poverty and at great distances from medical resources. “The torrential rains have brought diseases, especially dengue hemorrhagic fever and chikungunya (deadly viral diseases transmitted by mosquitoes), and also the threat of cholera. There have been many deaths,” she says sadly. “In my work as a nurse, I care for people with these illnesses. They are mostly those living in poverty in flooded rural areas.”
Sr. Juana comes from the village of Miraflores, high in the hills that border the town of Tambogrande. “I was born in the rural area, I grew up in the campo,” she tells us. “I appreciate and enjoy the countryside and nature and all its beauty. But there also have been moments in 1983, 1998, and now 2017 that frightened and saddened me. I feel now the suffering of the people from the disastrous flooding: whole villages cut off by damaged roads and bridges, mudslides, crops completely lost and domestic animals carried away into the rivers and mudslides.”
Sr. Juana realizes the challenges. The people who come to the Tambogrande health center are very poor, and often come great distances, from the rural communities that surround the town. With rivers and creeks swollen, roads and bridges destroyed, to reach the health center presents major obstacles for travel. In several rural communities, the small health clinics are completely washed away, so people have to make the long trek into Tambogrande.
Sr. Juana understands the problematic situations, hurdles and frustrations experienced by the people in the travel through raging waters and thick mud:
♦ parents bringing their child with a high fever and convulsions;
♦ the family transporting their grand-dad whose speech is slurred;
♦ the man and woman carrying their brother who fell and now is unconscious.
Once the people arrive, they need to pay for basic supplies, such as needles, IV equipment, bandages and medicines. They do not have health insurance; they do not have any money. With the bean fields washed away by the floods, the livestock drowned in the rivers and mudslides, these desperate people search for medical help for loved ones in this humanitarian crisis, caused by the severe flooding. Tambogrande’s health center, made of brick, is still standing, but desperately under-equipped and under-staffed. The flood waters are reaching the walls of the health clinic, and are now a focus of mosquitoes. There are not enough beds or mosquito nets or other essential equipment. When the emergency room overflows with patients, the medical staff must attend them on stretchers and benches in the hallways.
For the doctors and nurses, the situation is extremely difficult, Sr. Juana explains: “The hours are long, 12-18 hours per shift, which is longer than normal, due to the shortage of medical personnel. The conditions are not safe for the healthcare worker, either! I have often been afraid of contracting these illnesses, because we work surrounded by the mosquito that carries the virus.” The biggest challenge now facing Sr. Juana and the other medical staff at her health clinic is the current outbreak of deadly dengue hemorrhagic fever, carried by a mosquito breeding in the flood waters. In fact, Sr. Juana heard that 3 young healthcare workers, 2 nurses and a pharmacist in the neighboring city of Piura, have died from these illnesses.
Assistance from a Community of the Sisters of Notre Dame
How do we help? In any way we can. Sr. Juana often finds she has to help discretely, out of her own pocket with Notre Dame funds, to make up what is lacking in terms of medicine or critical supplies. Sometimes it may be only her own bottle of drinking water that saves the day.
With Sr. Consuelo Zapata Crisanto, SNDdeN, a nursing student, Sr. Juana conducts home visits in some destitute neighborhoods.
Sr. Miriam Montero Bereche, SNDdeN, a psychologist, provides post-traumatic stress
counseling to individuals and families traumatized by the flooding.
Sr. Evelyn Fitzke, SNDdeN, visits the elderly through our St. Julie Senior Adult Program and ensures that they have essential medications and food.
Sharing is a primary value in the Peruvian culture.
During the recent floods, the SNDdeN community as a whole worked in coordination with the local parish to obtain and distribute supplies of food and medicines to devastated neighborhoods of people living in poverty. Recently, Sr. Miriam accompanied the members of the parish youth group to the town of Catacaos, which was completely
destroyed when the Piura River overflowed. The group distributed emergency packages of food to families camped out on the side of the road or to whole families living under plastic sheeting or in tents. This project, initiated by people who themselves have lost so much shows how even the most vulnerable find some way to reach out to someone who has even less. Through their involvement in the parish, specific experience and training and the generosity of donors, the Sisters feel blessed to share and to offer some relief in a humanitarian crisis.
Please show your support for the people suffering from flood damage and serious illnesses.