January 18, 2022

Mercy Sisters Help Climate-Displaced Persons in Peru

In 2017, Peru faced unprecedented amounts of rainfall. The rain emerged from El Niño conditions, which occur when surface water is warmer than average causing droughts, floods, and intense rainfall. Despite El Niño occurring every 3-5 years, 2017 was a particularly devastating year with ten times more rainfall than normal generating rising waters, mudslides, and flooding. The floods destroyed farms and neighborhoods, creating food insecurity, and displacing an estimated 700,000 people. Peru is still facing the ramifications of this event and has seen conditions get worse with the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Leah Schiffman from the Mercy Global Action office was privileged to speak with Mercy Sister, Veronica Aucoin (Verna), about her experience serving people who were displaced by the 2017 flood in Huarmey, Peru. In Huarmey, which is around 250km north of Lima, there are four Mercy Sisters who work with and support people experiencing homelessness. At the beginning of the floods, Verna went out with other Sisters with a truck full of water to the desert where many of the displaced population lived.  She described the scene of people crowding around them in need of not only water but shelter and furniture. Verna and the other Sisters took it upon themselves to fulfill these needs by providing mattresses, mini stoves, and small shelters. 


During her work with people affected by the floods, Verna met Rina, a former social worker whose home was damaged. The Sisters of Mercy were able to provide Rina with support and resources so she could continue living in her home.  Eventually, Rina became an essential part of the Mercy Sisters’ mission to support the population experiencing homelessness. 


Through frequent visits to the desert and communication with the displaced population, Rina acts as the eyes and ears for the Mercy Sisters. Her relationship with these communities enables her to discover what needs and support people require.  She communicates these necessities with Verna and the Sisters who are able to provide supplies, from oxygen tanks to food. With these tools, Rina goes into the communities and provides resources that positively impact the lives of many. 


It is through her contact with these populations that she has discovered some common experiences and challenges of the people who are most at risk. According to Verna and Rina, there are a large number of single mothers and elders in these communities. Often, people leave single mothers and elders behind due to the increased economic cost of providing for them. Because of this, Verna and Rina have become increasingly involved in common kitchens, which are kitchens owned and operated by community members. They provide food, tools, and even cooking lessons. Additionally, Rina has started a group called Manos Mágicas (Magic Hands) that gives elders the opportunity to make crafts and sell them. Both the common kitchens and Manos Mágicas have not only provided the resources these communities need to live but have also given them hope and skills that they can use in the future. 


The Sisters of Mercy in collaboration with Rina have saved and changed lives. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has made their work increasingly difficult and dangerous, the Sisters of Mercy and Rina continue to help the communities that need it most. There is still more work to be done and Verna hopes that the Peruvian government will get involved and assist these vulnerable communities. Despite the challenges they face, Verna and Rina know that they have provided resources that give others hope and confidence, which instills hope in them. 


The strength, selflessness, and leadership of the Sisters and partners in Huarmey are inspiring to people around the Mercy World. The situation in Peru emphasizes the intersection between both of Mercy Global Action’s two theme areas: (1) Degradation of Earth and (2) Displacement of Persons, as the unprecedented floods in 2017 displaced thousands of people. The Sisters of Mercy in Huarmey exemplify the Mercy Advocacy Justice Approach by centering the experiences of people and Earth. Through the stories they have listened to, and the people they have accompanied, Mercy has grown to understand what resources are needed most. Connecting to Earth and its people is fundamental to human rights-based advocacy and is underpinned by our Mercy values and traditions. We are grateful that the Mercy World is represented in many areas and provides assistance to those who need it most. We continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Huarmey as well as seek just and human rights-based approaches for climate action. 

To contact Verna about her work in Huarmey please click here.


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