It's been a long strange trip, to borrow from the famous lyrics of the Grateful Dead. The strangest part, we're not sure when this long trip will end.
This is particularly true for Latin America. As North America and the European Union (including our friends in the U.K.) move from the initial "shock and awe" phase of the pandemic - our colleagues, partners, friends, loved ones, and families in Latin America are feeling the full brunt of SARS-COv-2 and Covid-19. Perú has extended the state of emergency and obligatory quarantine until June 30 - and Brazil, Venezuela and Chile struggle to contain the pandemic and the devastating economic impacts.
Our team on the ground (and those of us in the U.S. supporting from afar) are learning so much. One thing we've really gravitated toward is celebrating the connections. The connections we're making with families in our Ines Project, the new bridges we're building with Paths of Hope and Billy and Kate Greenman on the Tigre Project, and the genuine support we continue to appreciate for the boys in the Casa Girasoles.
One connection we've been trying to make for months has finally been re-formed during the pandemic. A family in the Ines Project, we will call them the Alvarez family, was enrolled in the program for a couple of years. One of the children lives with severe disabilities including poorly controlled seizures. The family, a mother and her four kids, lived in an impoverished settlement in Lima. After months of helping to advocate with the mother, support her to gain better access to health services and stabilize her child's seizures - they picked up and left. Gone, from one day to the next. We tried reconnecting, asking anyone we knew connected to the family where they moved. To no avail.
When the pandemic hit Perú, the first thing we did was reconnect with every family in, and previously enrolled in, the Ines Project. We built a roster of their needs and identified areas where they might be vulnerable - should the quarantine last for more than a few weeks. Well, the quarantine and state of emergency have now lasted for over 70 days. The families in our Ines Project have been receiving a holistic level of support including - daily check-ins, help with online education for their children, food, consultations with our medical team via tele-health, and deliveries of medication. But the family we lost to follow-up has been on the minds of the team.
Well, just this week - the team reconnected with the Alvarez family. The mother, now living in a remote village in the mountains, reached out to Gaby the nurse in the Ines Project. She asked for help. She said they left Lima with the hope they could find a better life in their ancestral community. Unfortunately she told Gaby - things got really desperate when they could not connect with any medical care or support. Unable to get to a phone for weeks - she finally hiked into town, found a shop, and called Gaby.
Our team is now mobilizing a care package of medication, food and supplies. We will send the care package by bus to the closet town and the mother will collect the medication and supplies. We are also reconnecting to provide tele-health services and supports.
In the face of a multitude of challenges, we're connecting and we are celebrating the impact of these connections with the people we are called to serve.
This has been, and will continue to be, a long strange trip. The one thing that we've found makes the biggest difference - connections.
Please stay connected. Let us know how you're doing. Be safe. be well. And, thank you for all your support.
We have a ten year old. This morning we were talking about shows we watched when she was much younger. We reminisced about characters and stories. I half expected her to ask me to get my phone to check out some of the programs. Instead she said, "Papa those are fun memories. I liked those shows, but now I see things a little differently. I'm older. I like different shows that challenge me differently." And, just like that she taught me an incredibly important lesson.
One thing is clear - whenever we come through the tunnel of the pandemic, things won't be the same for HBI. We'll be different. We'll have a different focus. It may be only slightly different, but it will be different.
I've been thinking about the differences a lot lately. Our team has responded to the pandemic in a very admirable and structured way. We've been on the front lines helping to bring services, supports and resources. We've stepped up to be a safety net for a number of people who are in our programs. I am proud of our efforts. However, when the acute needs of the pandemic begin to lift and fade, new needs will emerge; and we need to start growing and changing now to be the organization prepared to respond.
My hope is our planning and preparation will prepare us to grow as an organization to be a bridge in the new world that will emerge post-COVID. One program we're developing as a direct result of the pandemic is working with young adults who formerly lived in the Casa Girasoles homes.
Many of the former Girasoles connecting with us during the pandemic are really struggling So, in response to this clear need - and in collaboration with Paths of Hope and the truly amazing team of Billy and Kate Greenman, we are starting a support program that seeks to help transitional age young adults find a path to the lives their deserve. The project is in the conception phase - although we're already working with a few of the former Girasoles. This is an incredibly important effort that fortifies our work with the Casa Girasoles program by building a direct bridge for future opportunities and connections. And, it grew out of the pandemic.
I'm not entirely sure what new normal will be in the post-pandemic world, but one thing is very clear - we'll need to see things a little differently. We will need to challenge our work in different ways. I think we'll be ready.
Very early, almost at dawn, the Peruvian television news showed us an unimaginable scene: hundreds and hundreds of people sleeping on the streets of Lima, faces tired from the cold, hunger and despair. Women carrying their children in their arms, sleeping on cardboard. The elderly, young people, adults: people like us and like our families sleeping on the streets in the damp and the cold. Bodies sheltering other bodies. All hoping that in the new day, the desire to return to their cities of origin, to the small homeland, where friends and family live, where they feel part of a community, of a shared history, in the land of their parents and their ancestors.
The quarantine has made it flourish and has built different barriers, one of them, for health reasons, prevents human mobility to the different cities in the interior of the country.
The great city of Lima, capital of Perú, with over 12 million inhabitants, has grown rapidly and disorderly, especially in recent decades. For some decades, it has supported the migration of millions of people and families who came from different parts of the interior of the country with the hope of overcoming poverty and achieving social and economic progress. Added to this, the arrival of thousands of Venezuelans in recent years, official data indicates that about 90% are in Lima.
A fragile social and economic structure supported the living conditions of millions of people, who already had poor quality housing problems, in very under-resourced areas without basic infrastructures, and with great overcrowding; 70% of families supported themselves by informal commerce, with family budgets of less than $9 (US dollars) per day. Families living in great vulnerability.
All this precariousness collapsed with the pandemic, causing a new diaspora: from Lima to deep Perú. With no means of transportation, they were left to walk and walk, with their children and their stories of frustration, in the middle of the roads and the unforgiving sun, through the deserts of the coast of Perú or the cold mountains of the central highlands. They are called “the walkers” and their steps have awakened a renewed sensitivity to human suffering.
The pandemic has made us study and learn many things about the virus and the COVID-19 disease; Likewise, care protocols have been prepared for its different phases. There are also important advances to achieve a vaccine. We have witnessed the precariousness of the healthcare system and the heroic work of health professionals. This is a path that we must continue to build.
The Peruvian government and authorities have reacted with great clarity of purpose and efficinet timing. They've organized a responsible and dignified approach to support our country. But what about "the walkers" and the underserved that lived in the shadows of society, on the edges of our world? What about their needs?
This pandemic has shown us the deepest structure of the human heart, the values that give consistency and strength to every human society. Along the way, many people left their homes to share food, water or protection measures for the cold and heat. The reality of the "walkers" reminds us that no suffering is alien, and non one should ever suffer alone. When we open our hearts to the needy, we create connection. We create community. This is a path that we must travel, as a society, to build renewed bridges of solidarity and human encounter.
Nothing will be the same in the post pandemic, small bridges of fraternity and justice will be necessary in daily life. We will all be called to build a superior society for everyone. Our only way forward: solidarity and human encounter. Join us. Be a bridge!
The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.