By Sisters Juana Rivera Jara, Consuelo Zapata and Miriam Montero Bereche, SNDdeN
Two communities of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) live
and minister in the area around Tambogrande, Peru. When the El Niño rains hit the Pacific coast of Peru in 2017, the flooding and damage were severe. The rains devastated whole villages of houses, schools, and health centers; destroyed roads, bridges and vast areas of crops. During the heavy flooding, the Sisters rallied to help people suffering from the disasters to their homes and property. Everywhere, destruction and disease pervaded an area where many people were already vulnerable! Three sisters living in Tambogrande are all involved in healthcare in some way: two nurses, Sisters Juana Rivera, LPN, and Consuelo Zapata, RN, and a psychologist/therapist, Sr. Miriam Montero Bereche. They reach out to the parish also in teaching catechetics.
Sr. Juana has worked in the town’s health center for nearly 20 years. Living in poverty and at great distances from medical centers, people face illnesses and injury, and often do not have the resources they need. During the annual rains, deadly diseases pervade the area, especially dengue hemorrhagic fever, viral diseases from mosquitoes, and the threat of cholera. “Every year there are many deaths,” Sr. Juana says sadly. “I care for people with these illnesses who are mostly those living in poverty.”
Sr. Juana comes from the village of Miraflores, high in the hills bordering 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.” Some moments do sadden her: people suffering from rural flooding, swollen rivers and creeks, villages cut off by destroyed roads and bridges, mudslides; crops are completely lost and domestic animals carried away into the rivers.” Sr. Juana understands the challenges. The people who come to the Tambogrande health center live in poverty. They come great distances, from rural communities. To reach the health center, they face major obstacles for travel. Small health clinics in rural communities get completely washed away and force the people to make the long trek into Tambogrande. Sr. Juana understands the hurdles and frustrations experienced by the people as they travel through raging waters and thick mud.
Challenges for Care
Once arrived, the people need to pay for basic supplies, such as needles, IV equipment, bandages, medicines. Many do not have health insurance or any money. With the bean fields washed away by the floods, the livestock drowned, these desperate people search for medical help for loved ones. Our health center, still standing, is desperately underequipped and short-staffed. We do not have enough beds, mosquito nets or other essential equipment. When the emergency room overflows with patients, the medical staff attends to them on stretchers and benches in the hallways. For doctors and nurses, the situation can be extremely difficult, with long hours and a shortage of medical personnel. The conditions are not safe for the healthcare workers either, often afraid of contracting these same illnesses.
Sr. Juana also has responsibility for the rural catechesis programs of St. Andrew’s Parish, which provides education for Baptisms, First Communions and Matrimony. Sr. Juana uses every opportunity to educate about caring for the environment. Recently, her group of catechists from 80 villages pledged to reduce the use of plastics, using reusable glasses for drinks.
Community of Sisters Assists: Fifty Years in Peru
Sr. Consuelo Zapata is a registered nurse who recently completed her nursing education. Like all health professionals in Peru, Sr. Consuelo is required to offer a year of professional services in a medically-underserved area, such as in the mountains, or in the jungles on the other side of the mountains. While she is awaiting the start of her year of service, Sr. Consuelo is helping out in the health center where Sr. Juana works. The staff and patients greatly appreciate Sr. Consuelo’s presence and professional skill. She is also a coordinator of the town’s Confirmation program. Last year, nearly 500 teenagers were confirmed!
Another Sister in the Tambogrande community is Sr. Miriam Montero Bereche, a psychologist and therapist. In addition to individual and family therapy, Sr. Miriam offers post-traumatic stress counselling, workshops in schools, to parish groups, and for parents of specialneeds children. She has a program in the rural areas; she accompanies families of mentally ill individuals, assisting them to obtain professional help and medications needed. With Sr. Evelyn Fitzke (dividing her time between Tambogrande and Lima), through the St. Julie Senior Adult Program and Notre Dame Mental Health Program, Sr. Miriam is able to provide much-needed medications and groceries to the elderly and the mentally ill.
Fiftieth Anniversary in Peru
In 2020 year, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur will celebrate fifty years of presence in Peru (1970-2020.) Through their involvement in the local parish, formal education such as the Fe y Alegría schools, and healthcare, and with the generosity of so many donors, the Sisters feel blessed to be able to respond to the needs of the Peruvian people over these many years. God is indeed so very good!