JOURNEYS

A Greater Purpose Amid the Rubble

Against the backdrop of a tragic earthquake, two Peruvian mothers experience a new level of hope and faith.

Marisol Ochoa Omeda and Carmen Quispe live in the community of Salto De Liza in Chinchathe, which was hit by an earthquake and are now rebuilding their lives, through the help of Food for the Hungry. © Elgin MacMillan 

As I walked through the doorway of a newly built adobe home that stands on the side of rubble-filled dirt roads in Chincha, Peru, I came face to face with two simple women who have experienced radical hope in the midst of a horrible tragedy. Marisol Ochoa Omeda and Carmen Quispe live in the community of Salto De Liza in Chincha. One evening in August of last year, a big earthquake rocked this community and killed more than 600 people, mostly school children attending class when the roof collapsed on them.

Now, this community is home to nearly 90 families. As I surveyed the area, I could see trails of earthquake destruction. For every two or three standing houses, there is a huge pile of rubble that was a home before that fateful night. But some good things can also come out of tragedy. Marisol, who is now a leader of a group of mothers that was formed as a response to the earthquake, said through an interpreter, “The community was not very organized before the earthquake and most of the people who lived here kept to themselves and worked for the survival of their family.” Marisol is a single mother who supports a daughter who is also a single mother. She also takes care of her elderly parents who do not have any type of pension. To make ends meet, Marisol makes tamales, sells fruits harvested from her garden, and does other small jobs. When the earthquake struck, Marisol was having dinner with her family. She said that when things around the house started to shake, she thought that it was just a small tremor. Her mother, however, started running to the door with one of the grandchildren, and fell in the doorway, blocking the rest of the family from getting out of the house. Thus, they all got stuck in the living room! The walls started falling down and one of the main support beams from the roof fell at an angle onto the kitchen refrigerator. That made a small space for the family to huddle into to keep safe until the earthquake stopped. When they finally came out of the house, they saw that many of their neighbors were walking out of their homes into the streets very dazed and confused. “But in the midst of the tragedy of the earthquake, the community has pulled together and really benefited from the work that Food for the Hungry has provided,” Marisol said. “The community is much more unified and beginning to address issues that face families and their children.” Community Initiatives Marisol was referring to the mother-leader initiative and the psychosocial support to earthquake victims – two programs that were established to help address various needs. The mother-leader project was birthed as a result of the community members’ efforts to pull resources together in order to help neighbors in need. When the tremors died down, the community stood still. The markets were closed down and there was nothing to buy. The needs were overwhelming. But several families gathered their resources together and started cooking in a “common pot” soup kitchen to feed those who had no access to food. Three days later, Food for the Hungry’s relief unit arrived to assess the situation and determine the best way to help the victims. This marked the beginning of the mother-leader program that would eventually be put into place. Working with community leaders, Food for the Hungry helped provide organization, management and training to the 32 mothers who stepped up to the plate and volunteered at the kitchen. Marisol is one of the leaders of the ongoing soup kitchen project. She helps plan and serve the meals and oversee the daily operation. This new role has helped her realize that she can reach out to her neighbors and encourage other families to work together. And by helping meet the pressing needs of the people in her community, her dream to rebuild her damaged house also came to pass. Food for the Hungry and Project Concern International built Marisol’s model home of reinforced adobe in cooperation with the Canadian embassy in Peru. Marisol helped build her home as part of the construction crew. Marisol is also involved in the psychosocial support initiative that Food for the Hungry put into place to help children and families who may have been traumatized by the earthquake and may need counseling, prayer and compassionate care. Spiritual Awakening For Carmen, the “blessings” of the earthquake go beyond any physical benefits. She said she knew that Food for the Hungry was not only concerned about delivering physical help to communities, but also offering opportunities for spiritual growth. Carmen said this has impacted her so much in learning about faith. “I grew up hearing about God, and I believed it, but then when the earthquake hit, I found myself asking where God was then,” she explained. But since the earthquake, Carmen said she has been learning a lot about God and how to put her faith into practice. “The Lord has really softened my heart,” Carmen added. And she believes that her husband, who is the president of the community, has also come to embrace the love of God. As a result, their relationship as husband and wife has become stronger. Carmen also admitted that she has learned to forgive and accept forgiveness from God and from others. Her trust in God is also fortified, Carmen said. Carmen and her husband had just finished building their house when the earthquake struck. However, Carmen said that her hope became stronger after losing her home because she saw the love and compassion of the Food for the Hungry staff and other community leaders. And this renewed spirit of unity, camaraderie and care is what this community needs to rise above the rubble of life and into a stronger future. Source: www.fh.org