After the Flood: Our annual Wellspring visit to Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones)
As we drive south from Arequipa after the usual long, night flight to Peru we were all uncertain what we would find in Moquegua, just weeks after a devastating flood ripped through the city, taking out bridges and destroying farms and properties in its path. We knew the Sisters and the children were safe and had been evacuated from Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) when the river broke its banks. We knew the animals were also safe, but suffering with a shortage of food. And, we knew everyone was now back on the farm, although there was still no running water -save for what they could pump from the neighboring farmer’s irrigation channel. So, the big question was “What would we find?”
Of our team this year Sally Ann Frank, Michael Lust and I have multiple visits under our belts, while for our fourth member, Rebekah Samples, it would be her first. Thanks to your help, our fundraising goals had been met, exceeded actually, and we had much needed money to apply to the most urgent projects, whatever they might be. We were still apprehensive, though, as we came out of the barren desert on the outskirts of Moquegua, the only signs of the flood being a new bridge into town and tons of fresh boulders piled in the river bed – now with only a slow trickle of water, so everything appeared almost normal. Five hundred yards from the farm it all changed and the shock set in. The damage to the neighboring farms was evident, and then the road became almost impassable. Putting the truck into four-wheel drive, after hopping out and removing a few dozen boulders from our path, we were able to limp along a narrow, rock path between the river and the road and make it to the entrance of the farm. Large machines were cleaning the riverbed, digging and clearing masses of boulders. The road to the farm was gone, as were all the walls, and the pasture was a wasteland of silt and boulders as the cows grazed on the small island of grass left by the buildings. Mercifully the water didn’t go any higher and take out all the animals and the living quarters, and while all the buildings had taken a significant pounding, there was no permanent damage.
Since our last visit, the home has received eight new residents and we arrived to find everyone as busy as ever with the business of life. Fabiola, Maria and Josephina greeted us looking extremely tired from the weeks of non-stop work, but happy to see their friends. There is always a lot of hugging at Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones), and with our greetings finally done we slipped off to check into our hotel. Three full days of travel, with very little sleep, made for a quick dinner and early night for this Gringo.
Our first order of operation the following day was to tour the farm, learn the needs from immediate to long term, and put a plan of action in place. With just six days on the ground we all felt we needed to move fast, so it wasn’t long before there were Gringos going one way, Gringas going another and the Sisters always somewhere in the mix. And that’s how it was until we rolled for home on a cool, clear desert morning, under the bluest of blue skies imaginable, exhausted but smiling inwardly from the joy we all felt.
We initially helped Fabiola battle the water company to come out and give them running water, after we purchased all the supplies for them to connect it all together. Sally and Rebekah cleared out a room and decorated it for Samuel, who is now seven years old, so he could have his own bedroom. Multiple shopping trips to the local markets stocked the Sisters up with everything from adult diapers for the handicapped to laundry detergent, light bulbs and cleaning products. With more than 20 people at Hogar it’s overwhelming to think about all the things they need on a daily basis, but the Sisters are so incredibly organized and resourceful it’s humbling. We are all happy to be able to relieve that burden for a short while.
Oscar, Angel and a team of “old boys of Hogar” went straight to work building a secured play area for the handicapped and the young children outside the Sisters common living area. We purchased all the metal and supplies in town, and soon the farm was alive with the sound of cutting and grinding, with the flash of the welder going non-stop as they custom built the fencing from scratch. It’s the same team, mostly, who did all the remodeling projects for us two years ago, so it’s wonderful for us to spend time with our friends and know they can always use the work.
We developed a plan to raise and re-roof the digital literacy study room, and add a proper drop ceiling and lights. It’s a much bigger project so the “boys” will start it after they finish the playground. Michael and I dived into the bakery and started hauling stuff to the city dump, with the help of Manual and Zackerias. With all the changes and upheavals at the farm the bakery is not in operation at the moment and has become an impromptu “storage,” so after a few dump runs, and much cleaning, the Sisters can now get in there and start to think about a plan to get it operational again. It used to bake all the bread for Hogar over the years, and we remodeled it and put a new oven in six years ago so hope to get it back up and running soon.
One of the most important aspects of our visits, I personally think, is the time we spend with the Sisters, the workers and the children. They deal with so much on a daily basis without being evacuated for the flood, we decided to take them on a mini vacation for the day. During a scouting run up the mountain Sally and I found a beautiful, peaceful and very authentic Peruvian village in the surrounding area called Torata, and just on the outskirts of this little town is a resort style hotel.
In total, there were 27 of us in two vehicles that made the trip. With nineteen adults and children, and four-month-old Abraham, in the Hogar Van, and six adults and one lad, Joey, in our truck, it was a totally Peruvian experience. On arrival we had the whole place to ourselves, which included two indoor swimming pools, children’s playground and a catered lunch. The views from the terraces over the surrounding mountains and down into Torata were stunning, and we knew we had made the right decision to bring everyone as they all got to relax and enjoy a special day out. The local tourist board lady then invited us to tour the small town, and showed the children videos and took them on a tour of the cathedral and the local catacombs. It was just one of those days you’ll never forget; and rolling back to the farm as the sun was sinking low, there were some seriously tired, but happy children that fell out of the van and went straight to their rooms that night.
Our Wellspring team was excited to see a new shower/toilet project for the children that had just been completed – not operational, of course, with no water – as well as a major project next to the dining room featuring a laundry room, two toilets for guests and a storage facility. Your donations at work again.
Even though the first couple of days were tough seeing the devastation and hearing the stories from the flood, it was so encouraging to see all the progress that is being made. With the flood now behind them, we are hopeful the Sisters can continue to not only survive, but thrive, as they work tirelessly at improving the lives of the abandoned children of Moquegua.
The time to leave came too soon, and our drive back to Arequipa was a lot more animated than our drive in. We talked excitedly about the children and how much happier and settled they all are this year. The full-time caregivers are certainly bringing a new dynamic. Our conversation inevitably leads to the many needs they have, and we will be launching a new and ambitious project in the next weeks to re-roof and remodel the kitchen, dining room and storage area. It’s all in dire need of upgrading, but on this day, spinning through the amazing desert landscape under a crystal blue sky we were all happy to see life getting back to normal for the amazing people of Hogar Belen a Community of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions (Nuestra Señora de las Misiones) after the flood – thanks, in part, to all your help and support.