October 22, 2007

After the Earthquake…Life amid the rubble

By Sisters Patricia Mulderick, Alita Sánchez, Roxana Conteras, Erika Miñano, Janet Fernández and Blanca Quintana.

Spanish (Espanol) Version

The earth shook and in less than three minutes life changed dramatically for the people of Chincha, San Clemente, Pisco, and Ica. Their houses, and for most, their lives, were left in ruins. What was to be done? For us the only way to answer that was through Mercy… to go in solidarity with those who had the greatest needs having suffered in the worst possible way. So, we communicated with CONFER (the Conference of Religious) in order to find where the greatest needs were. We went to San Clemente, a large, poor area, fifteen minutes from Pisco, where the epicentre of the earthquake had been. We brought with us some basic foodstuffs and toys for the children, who had suffered great trauma. This was all thanks to donations from you and your benefactors. We also brought hands ready to work, and open hearts, ready to listen with our sisters and brothers of San Clemente, knowing what Catherine also knew, that “God blesses us when we serve the suffering poor”. The following are personal accounts of the lived experience of Alita, Roxana and Erica (novices), and of Blanca, Janet and Patricia.


We arrived to San Clemente on the morning of the 10th of September and the first shock we got was to see many women with exhausted and frightened faces who, on seeing us bring our bags and provisions, which they helped us, unload from the van. Because we wished to find out what was really happening among the people, we went everywhere with Luz, a young girl who was very much part of the people of the place, and we saw the places which were most affected.

My heart throbbed as we passed each house, each devastated street; many questions arose for me as I faced the reality of “the poor and extreme poverty”. The cries of the people still remain with me when, on seeing us, they cried out to us, “Come! Come here! This is where we are!” from where we could barely make out groups of small tents in the sector called Los Andes 1 and 2. What remains forever in my being – faces of women and men, girls and boys, struggling to survive, with their greatest need being to share their stories, to talk and be listened to, so simple, so strong, so generous, so together and as fragile as a crystal, about the smallest sound which frightened them. I think this made me aware of the fragility of all of life.


This experience was enormous. I felt that they were living at the ultimate limit where the basic necessities had to be prioritised such as, for example, washing every day when every drop of water had to be minded. Reality was there in its naked, vulnerable raw state. It was hard to know where to start and the first point was just to listen, look and think. To visit the corner kitchens, bind up wounds, treat pain, were actions which helped me to feel useful in the face of immense problems that I heard from them. The help that came from Cuba and from Doctors without Borders could not be calculated. Thanks to donated medicines which came, we went on to organise them and to share them so well that the doctors congratulated the people. It was wonderful to see this, where there were no toilets, dust everywhere, no way to clear the debris etc. We encountered lung problems, digestion problems, various wounds and this continues to be the reality there.


The lived experience of San Clemente, especially with the elderly, was for us a call to be there with the most fragile and vulnerable amid a delicate situation, in which the earthquake had left our country. Our presence close to them created a climate of solidarity and invitation to their neighbours to help our elderly in whatever way was possible. It has been a personally challenging experience that has brought me to opt for those in most need at this moment. In the midst of discouragement, I can say that my Sisters and I are left without joy, faith and hope in how these elderly people we know as they gave us a lesson in strength and life amid the rubble. In so far as, with respect, we continue to broaden our hearts, calling for justice for those who, having a voice, are ignored and are not taken into account.


From the time we decided to go to Pisco we thought about the children and decided to look in places where nobody had gone to offer something to them. We arrived at a place called “Nazario Palamino”. I was impressed in particular when we arrived at a spot where there was a “communal pot” (food). A group of young people and myself wanted to coordinate something for Friday and we told the women what we wanted to do for the children. One of them told us this was necessary and important and she began to relate how it was for her children at the time of the earthquake and how they felt at this time – frightened and confused. We met and shared with the children one evening – seeing their faces filled with Joy and enjoying LENTEJITA (that was me acting as a clown). I was shown the face of God in the smallest of the children and they filled me with hope and they inspired (encouraged) me to continue sharing and giving my whole life and my “lentejita” (clowning) for all who need it.


Fro me, the experience of going to Pisco was an experience where it was possible to touch (experience) the desire of my people to live – the gestures of solidarity and this great spirit of detachment and of support for those who are worse off than themselves. It was also possible to see the inefficiency of the central and local government, the bureaucracy which persists even in situations of emergency and the evidence of selfishness in some people who take advantage of the situation for their own benefit. The best and the worst of humanity are evident. One great sign of hope I encountered was among the young animators who work with the Dominican sisters; young people who give their time and their presence to other young people and to children with whom they work. I felt it was a good time for me to offer my knowledge of psychology together with another colleague, Sister Nery (of the congregation of Our Lady of sorrows) in order to give the young people the opportunity to share their experiences of the earthquake in group and individual listening. We worked with them for two days because, having concerned themselves with others, they did not have time nor space to process their experience of the earthquake. I worked in the psychosocial area with other groups who had come to help. I am very touched buy the attitude of a people who are pained and who suffer because of this earthquake and yet who continue to dedicate themselves to like, who continue to share that which remains with others; who continue to love and believing that there will be a better tomorrow and that they will build it by their simplicity and solidarity.

I give thanks to God for this experience, even when it was intensive and challenging, to my community of Mercy which sustains, strengthens and accompanies me on my journey.

Yes…..the earth shook…and our hearts also, as we walked through the debris with our sisters and brothers of San Clementa. Yes, we encountered a lot of misery but we also were witnesses to the life which flourishes among the debris.

Messages to Pat Kenny rsm Institute Communications

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