It’s been two years, 5 months, and 12 days since I was last in Pucusana.
Have you ever returned to a place from your childhood that you remember in a specific way, only to see it in a different light as an adult? Maybe everything looks the same, but it gives you a different feeling. Returning to Pucusana post pandemic was a lot like that. Walking around the rundown town I saw broken sidewalks, massive potholes, faded murals, dead green areas, and “For Sale” signs in every other window. Even with the economy reopened and people vacationing, everyone was wearing face masks and there were police stationed all around the city to enforce Covid mandates. There were lines to enter the beaches, waiting for a socially distanced space to open on the sand, and everywhere we went, you had to show your vaccine passport card. Things were so different! You could just feel how the pandemic had taken a heavier toll on the people of Pucusana.
I knew Peru had a very difficult time during the pandemic. Their mandates were more extreme, which led to a mass starvation crisis country wide, and their medical system completely collapsed in May 2020. Peru had the highest Covid death rate in the world. During Peru’s 2nd wave in 2021, anyone over the age of 55 who caught Covid had a 9 out of 10 chance of dying. The dead were placed in the streets for trucks to pick them up and were buried in mass graves. Schools were closed, but for impoverished communities like Pucusana, attending school online was not a luxury they could afford. These people do not have electricity or running water much less a home computer. Over two years of education has been lost for almost every child. I knew all of this. I saw pictures. I read articles. I spoke with people who lived there, but nothing prepared me for the stories I would hear during my visit.
For most of 2020, the news mislead the country about how Covid19 spread. They said it was on the streets, that it was moving and growing on buildings. That if you left your house, you would without a doubt catch it and die. Campaigns and commercials were created telling children not to go outside our they’d asymptomatically “murder grandma”.
The government even paid people to wear Hazmat Suits and spray water on the sidewalks, streets and on cars to “kill” Covid. The military and police were placed in every city to forcefully keep people inside too, arresting them if necessary and this went on for months.
The reason behind the lie is hard to pinpoint. Many speculate that the government pushed this misinformation for most of 2020 to force people to comply with lockdown. But lockdown was causing a starvation crisis for 70% of the country, and when you’re desperate for food, you don’t care about obeying mandates. Hundreds of thousands of people were breaking mandates because they wanted to work and feed their families. But with people working, the virus could spread, and the Peruvian government knew, from the get-go, that their medical system couldn’t handle what was going to happen if people became ill, so they used fear tactics to force their citizens into submission. Regardless, the medical system still collapsed and this led Peru to having the highest Covid death rate in the world. Even now, if you break mandates or curfew, you are given a ticket and must pay a fine.
So much misinformation and fearmongering led people to abandon each other during times of need. Facebook pages were created to “out the sick” in each neighborhood. Treated as Lepers, neighbors would flee their homes and abandon a sick individual. Leaving them, in many cases, to die completely alone. This happened over and over again.
I think the most shocking story I was told was regarding the Birthing Hospital. Pucusana has a clinic designated solely for the purpose of delivering babies, and to keep this place safe for mothers and newborns, it had to be Covid free. So, the clinic would refuse to see anyone who was sick. But with hospitals overrun, overloaded and turning the sick away, many people were desperate for medical treatment and would go to the Birthing Hospital for help. OBGYN’s and nurses had to lock the doors and listen to the sick beg for treatment. “Help! Doctor! Doctor! I need a Doctor! Someone help me!”. The cries of the sick would carry down the streets. The ill would lay outside the entrance for days hoping someone would help them and many people died waiting right outside those doors.
It is no wonder why the atmosphere of this beautiful fishing village has changed so much. My project leader compared it to ‘the ending of a war’. A war that took many lives and left destruction in its wake. Everywhere you look, neighbors, friends or family members are gone. No one was left untouched. Those left behind have survivor’s guilt, struggling to answer the question, “why am I alive when so many others died?”. Many people who were once energetic and outgoing are now depressed and struggle to find motivation for their next steps.
I worry for the younger generations most. The students who have missed two years of school and a chunk of their childhood. With schools reopening, the public schools are overflowing with students because the average family cannot afford private schooling anymore. But the public schools known for being insufficient due to the lack of investment from the State, unequipped teachers, and poor educational programs. Less than 2% of students from the public schools were accepted into universities prepandemic. How much worse will they be now? The private schools that have reopened have had to lower their prices substantially to accommodate for the unemployment over the last two years as well. Making them cut programs, classes, and quality teachers from their budgets. So, in addition to the bad quality of education from the public schools, private schools are now becoming the same, leaving no good options for education in Pucusana post pandemic.
The educational gap that existed before the pandemic is even greater now. Corruption in the government and fishing industry are even stronger now. Mental health has plummeted, and Pucusanian poverty has grown by 60%. Worse off than before, it will take Pucusana at least a decade to recover. Right now, in the aftermath of the war that was Covid19, people are left to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives and somehow move on.
But hope is not lost.
Things seem worse because they are worse. But nothing is hopeless. There are many people in our organization and in Pucusana who are committed to working harder and putting in the time to give this city a new beginning.
The Pucusana Project is a Christian organization, and its leadership puts their hope in Jesus. Nothing is too horrible that Christ cannot overcome it. Nothing is so broken that it is beyond repair.
The Pucusana Project is committed to being a light for these people. We were a light during the pandemic when we supplied food to thousands of starving families every month, and we promise to be a light in the aftermath as well.
There is hope. There is always hope.
We are going to relaunch our efforts! Post pandemic is an opportunity for us to have greater impact than before. The pandemic, through food distribution, gave us the ability to engage with the entire Pucusana community and government agencies in a positive way that we never had before. The Pucusana Project is now known and trusted by a community of over 10,000 people.
We must relaunch our educational, social, and business projects in a more impactful way than before. Our future projects will look different because Pucusana is facing new problems in addition to the old ones. The need for quality education is of the upmost importance, now more than ever, and we must design these programs with post pandemic care in mind. We are committed to helping Pucusana achieve positive change not just in education and business growth, but also in mental health and family wellness.
We place our hope in Jesus and therefore we are hopeful for the future.
With a lot of hard work, the best is yet to come!
You can be a light too!
You can help us by donating today or becoming a monthly donor. We are working to launch two brand new programs this month! Until we open our new school, we have decided to use our property as a Community Center. To be a safe place where children can have a brighter future. Stay tuned to hear more about our post-pandemic projects.
President of The Pucusana Project