Heavy rains have subsided throughout most of Lima, Peru, during the tail end of one of the most destructive rainy seasons in decades. In the northern slum of Carabayllo, residents of the flooded Chillon River are beginning to return home. They find floors coated with mud, fields that resemble ponds, and no signs of their livestock. A shoulder-height line smudges the interior walls of homes that are still standing, a sad reminder of the water’s peak.
Staff from Socios En Salud, as Partners In Health is known locally, have been organizing brigades of medical volunteers and pushing north along the Chillon to remote communities where the government has yet to respond. They say residents seem dejected, broken, many on the edge of tears.
Since March 20, PIH staff and dozens of volunteers have provided medical attention and aid to more than 250 people across 10 communities in Carabayllo, where the organization has worked for more than two decades. Residents arrive at mobile clinics with nail puncture wounds, cuts from broken glass, persistent coughs, and diarrhea following days of little access to clean drinking water. While teams distribute medication, they also give out food and bottled water.
A view of flooded streets in Buena Vista, a neighborhood within Carabayllo where residents suffered extensive losses last week when the Chillon River spilled over its banks. Photo Courtesy of Socios En Salud
Lecca tends to a patient out of a mobile clinic in Buena Vista. Photo Courtesy of Socios En Salud
Meanwhile, other PIH staff and volunteers go door-to-door searching for patients too overwhelmed to seek care. That was how they discovered Maria Vergara. Her story sounded similar to those of her neighbors, yet that made it no less tragic.
Carmen Contreras, director of intervention projects, found Vergara while canvassing the neighborhood around a PIH mobile clinic. The 60-year-old and her husband, Julián, are peasant farmers who grow vegetables, potatoes, and fruit in Rinconada, a community neighboring the Chillon. Through tears, she told Contreras how the flooded river swept away nearly their entire crop.
“She thanked God that her papayas were already ripe and that she would have a good harvest,” Contreras said. “With that money, she said she would buy a brace to help endure her back pain.”
Vergara suffers from a laundry list of ailments. She has diabetes and arthritis. Her back pain has been especially bad in recent days, but her health problems date back to age 2, when she broke her left shoulder. The accident immobilized her left hand, which she gingerly positions with her right whenever she needs to use both. Six years ago, she burnt herself badly when a cauldron of boiling water spilled while she was cooking, so she no longer trusts herself in the kitchen.
Medical volunteers working with PIH in Peru visit Vergara at her badly damaged home in Rinconada. Photo Courtesy of Socios En Salud
Dr. Leonid Lecca, executive director of PIH in Peru, examined Vergara on March 22 and had her evacuated to the closest hospital. Staff there ensured her diabetes was under control and gave her medicine for a persistent cough, then released her the next day. With nowhere else to go, the couple returned to their flood-damaged home. They sleep outside at night, in the midst of rainy season, afraid what remains of the roof will collapse on top of them.
“Julián only asks that we help her,” Contreras said, relaying the couple’s story. “At night, the river makes noises and they both cry and pray for Maria’s pains to go away.”