If you haven’t heard, there have been terrible floods in Cusco, Peru in the past week. Since we are in the thick of la epoca de la lluvia (the rainy season), rain is expected but the level of destruction seen in the area is unimaginable.
Tourism is the main industry in Cusco, and the damage produced by the rain does substantial damage on the Cusco economy. From the February 3rd warden message from the U.S. Embassy in Peru, I read that Machu Picchu is closed and the rail line between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes is closed due to landslides until possibly March. I also read that tourists were stranded in Aguas Calientes (the town closest to Incan archeological site Machu Picchu) and that the conditions were excruciating. Luckily, helicopters eventually evacuated all the tourists from the town.
Unfortunately, my Kiva clients in Cusco don’t have that luxury.
I met a Kiva communal bank called Virgen Estrella de Oropesa in Oropesa, a small town south of Cusco in November while working as a Kiva Fellow for Asociación Arariwa, a microfinance institution that has worked in the Cusco region of Peru for the past 25 years. This town is known as the capital of bread because of its delicious “pan chuta.” In fact, the town has so many bakeries that the smell of baking bread permeates the town’s air. In their Kiva profile video, the from Virgen Estrella de Oropesa are laughing and smiling as they get together for their Kiva profile photo. If you had the pleasure of meeting them in person like I had, they were even more animated, making fun of their loan officer Jacob for not having a girlfriend. Unfortunately, most jokes told outside of the city are told in Quechua, so I just got the translated version (definitely not the same!)
Now the town of Oropesa is under water, and many of the talented entrepreneurs I met in Oropesa have lost their homes and businesses.
I wrote in my last La Vida Idealist entry about when you live somewhere you feel a much closer connection with your adopted home than if you had visited for a week or two for vacation. And if you work or volunteer in your new home, like I did in Cusco with Arariwa, you feel an even stronger connection to the place and its people. I am sure the volunteers in Haiti feel similarly, like fellow climber and volunteer Krista.
My friend and colleague, the Kiva coordinator at Arariwa, Raquel Villafuerte, recently wrote me an email in which she said (translated into English):
…Arariwa is collecting money from employees to help. We are also collecting food at the offices here. If you want you can send money to buy supplies. In reality all you have known – has been for the most part lost – the main avenue of Aguas Calientes and many houses in Anta and south from Saylla to Urcos are under water.”
Organizations like Kiva have responded with updates about how the tragedy has affected Kiva/Arariwa entrepreneurs, including links on how to help victims.
I read a La Vida Idealist post about the tragedy, which included photos of the flooded streets of Cusco city. But from other photos I have seen, the provinces of Cusco were harder hit by the floods than the city.
Citizens have been collecting supplies in the Plaza de Armas, while virtual support, fundraisers, supply collections and updates have come through online and offline news sources and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. I have also heard many updates through the Couchsurfing La Paz group, of which I am a member.
Now living and volunteering in La Paz, I see homes located on the edge of cliffs where there has been and continues to be severe erosion. As I go by, I always think that one day when the rain is strong enough, these homes could fall. I recently heard of landslides in Chasquipampa, a neighborhood of La Paz (and I do have Kiva clients in Chasquipampa). A friend of mine here works as a volunteer gathering and distributing supplies, which she did last Friday after the landslides. Another friend told me that a victim who lost his home in the landslide is staying in his church.
Although tragedies like this one are tough to experience and hear about, it’s great to know that ordinary citizens become dedicated volunteers and come through when people need it.