Visits To Desert Homes Bring Hope and Care
Joyce Ann Hertzig, OP (Grand Rapids)
Joyce Ann Hertzig, OP, a member of the Grand Rapids General
Council, visited Peru in January/February 2007 and brought back
several stories about the people she met and the ministry of Dominicans
in the mountains.
CHIMBOTE, PERU -- Dominican Sisters from Grand Rapids, MI, have
found creative ways to serve and respond to the medical needs
of people in Chimbote for over 40 years. It started in
1965, when two Grand Rapids Dominicans began to deliver babies
in women’s homes. Today, The Maternity Clinic (Materindad)
meets with 250 mothers and children.
The Postamedica, the
outpatient service, treats about 150 persons each day. A clinical
laboratory and orphanage bring healing and hope as well. The
Center has raised the level of health-care in the fishing town
of Chimbote and presently has 96 persons on the payroll. The
current unemployment (or underemployment rate) in Chimbote is
estimated at 70% for a population of 350,000. Floods, earthquakes,
violence and shifts in the el Niño current which
caused a change in the fish supply contribute to the immense
poverty. Any health care professional will tell you that
poverty promotes malnutrition, illness, and disease.
There are a number of slum sections in the city with sandy roads. Woven
straw mats serve as walls for the houses, buckets hold the water
supply and stone fire stoves are used for cooking.. A few homes
are made of dried adobe. Others have metal sheets for walls.
The large majority are made of woven straw mats held upright
by long narrow cane poles. I was amazed that an ocean breeze
or a faulty pole didn’t collapse an entire village. This
did not happen while I was there, but I was reminded of the fairy
tale of the three pigs, who built their houses with straw, sticks
We travel the roads and visit the people in these straw, stick
and brick houses.
Sisters Margaret Mary Birchmeier and Lillian Bockheim believe
that their continued home visits encourage people to come to
the Maternity Center for visits and follow-up care. This allows
the sisters to extend hope and healing
Each morning at least two workers go out to visit in the slum
areas. I accompanied Elizabeth, the “Outreach Child Malnutrition
Coordinator”, and Sister Lillian.
We first visited an “at-risk” baby
in La Caletta Hospital. One year old, Jesus was brought to the
Center on the previous Thursday. As a severe hydrocephalic child
who was very malnourished, Jesus was alive but there seemed to
be little hope for his recovery. The hospital needed to
do some lab tests and they did not have the equipment. His mother
could not afford to take the baby on the six hour trip to Lima
for the tests. So Elizabeth called the Maternity Center to have
Manuela send someone to the hospital to take the tests. The hospital
staff agreed. Meantime, Sister Lillian prayed with a group of
three mothers in the unit and asked Jesus’ mother if she
wanted Baptism for her child. Another mother was prompting, “Oh
yes!” Lillian asked me, “Did you bring any water
with you?” I had a water bottle in my bag which now became
Baptismal water for baby Jesus.
Next, we went to an outlying area where four-year-old, Talia,
answered the door and went to fetch an uncle and grandmother. La Abuela
(the grandmother) tightly held Rosaria, the baby and hesitated
when Elizabeth motioned to hold her. But soon the grandmother
brought in a tub with a small amount of water. Elizabeth gave
Rosaria a bath. We learned later that the mother, who was suffering
from depression, was sleeping and on the previous day had wanted
to kill the baby. Luckily, the Center follows-up on a baby until
5 years of age and a mother for one year after giving birth.
Reminders for baby wellness and postnatal care are given.
Next three children playing in the street recognize the workers
and lead us to their home where we meet dad who had a brain tumor.
Later we visited a house where a baby has had diarrhea for five
days. Elizabeth tells the mother, “It is not good to have
the animals in the house. Try to keep the dog outside.” We
leave and are greeted by a neighbor who wants us to look at her
3 year-old daughter who has the final stages of chickenpox. After
a short conversation, the mother agrees to bring the child to
the Center that afternoon.
A 13-year-old boy, Roberto, had difficulty
walking because of the pain in his legs. We visit and talk while
we hear the rooster crowing in the background. The mother is
to bring him to the Center the next day.
Near the edge of the city dump, we find cobbler Jose and his
family. He had TB and recovered because of the help provided
by the posta-medica at the Center. He needs the same
treatment for his son, Martin.
After a ride in the moto-taxi we make another stop to find a
young 15-year-old mother with her baby. Baby Isabella, one-year
old, had a cleft palate operation but soon afterward an infection
caused the incision to break, now continued care is needed. I
observed her sister washing clothes in a small tub using a scrub
brush and wringing them out. The water would not be wasted; tennis
shoes were immersed next.
Walking back we saw a young boy fetching water in his wagon.
There were eight five-gallon buckets of water. I asked, “Cuanto
questa?” (how much?) He responded, “tres
soles.” I inquired, “uno”? He
said, “todos”. All eight buckets cost three
soles which was less than a dollar. (At the airport a 16 oz.
bottle of water costs $2.95.)
Again on our return we noticed a new settlement. Elizabeth said
that it was not here two weeks ago. Sr. Lillian explained that
mountain families come to the city, a desert area, to lay claim
to land. They gather the materials to put up their tents, shacks,
houses. Overnight the “invasion” happens; a new slum
section, El Milagro comes into being.
In our home visits, I could see the hope brought to the people.
An encouraging word, a smile, joy, the love of Christ was a blessing
for each of the people we met. Prayers for each person came easily
on our journey. Walking in the desert sun, the feeling of the
sandy ground and the needs of the people spoke to my heart. I
sensed the Dominican presence in the Sisters and the others who
have joined with them. Every day daily bring hope, compassion
and care. It is what Dominic would do.