How do you respond to a pandemic? That is a question most of us have not had to face up to in our lives. In March of this year, Operación San Andrés, along with countless others across the globe, was faced with that stark question. What can we do?
Peru has been badly hit by COVID-19. It enjoys the dubious status of having the highest rate of deaths per million, bar San Marino, of any country in the world (around 105 per 100,000 population, as of 19 October 2020). In addition, the full extent of the economic impact of a prolonged and severe lockdown is incalculable. It is estimated that by the end of the year there will be millions of job losses across the country and the impact will be felt most in poor communities like Collique where there is no social security safety net for those left without an income, or with a much reduced income.
Our response has been twofold: reinvention and relief.
We have reinvented our existing programs to operate in a world of social distancing and virtual gatherings. During the pandemic, our educational enrichment program no longer involves the daily gathering of our kids in the OSA House but, rather, the weekly distribution of fun education packs that the kids can work on through the week. This core activity is supplemented by art competitions and Saturday morning zoom meetings with their teachers. One unintended but gratifying byproduct of this new modus operandi has been the ability to extend the reach of our program to new kids in the community. But some key elements of the program, like lunch, can’t be done virtually! To respond to this acute need we have established a mechanism whereby the families of our children receive a monthly financial contribution towards their grocery bills. For many this has been, quite literally, a lifeline.
Our programs with mothers and women, be that in the area of domestic violence prevention or microenterprise, have also gone virtual. In addition to regular online gatherings for talks and mutual encouragement we have established a program called OSA Escucha (OSA listens) that allows our staff to both proactively reach out to our children and mothers via mobile devices, and be available during established timetables to just listen to folks struggling in the midst of the crisis.
The church, Luz de Esperanza, that operates in partnership with Operación San Andrés has also—like so many others across the world—gone virtual. Pastor Tito and his helpers have quickly got to grips with Zoom, Facebook Live, and YouTube channels! Perhaps more importantly the pandemic has opened doors of opportunity to reach out to our neighbors: be that with food parcels or the distribution of approximately 1000 New Testaments, kindly donated by the Peruvian Bible Society and the Bible League.
In the face of the crisis we felt we needed to reach out to many folks beyond our immediate sphere of influence, very especially to provide emergency food aid. An emergency relief project, Covid Collique or CoCo, has over several months (June to the present) provided support to thousands of the residents of Collique. The relief has been provided in one of two ways: food parcels for needy families (to date we’ve distributed approximately 400 parcels), and—more significantly—the monthly provision of food aid to over 20 soup kitchens that have sprung up across Collique as a result of the pandemic. These soup kitchens provide one nutritious meal to around 2000 people every day.
While our primary concern has been to help folks in desperate need, the connections made across the community, especially in the soup kitchens, will prove invaluable in future ministry initiatives in Collique.
We are grateful to God and to all our supporters who have made it possible to respond in the way we have. That said, we are conscious that there is still so much to be done.