Mission in Los Andes

Checca District Municipal Palace. - Photo: Adryansyn (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: Plazachecca20.jpg), https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode.Checca District Municipal Palace. - Photo: Adryansyn (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: Plazachecca20.jpg), https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode.

My name is Fr Joe Ruys. I am an Australian diocesan priest working as an associate with St Columbans Missionary Society. I live and work in the parish of San Andrés de Checca in a small district high up in the Southern Andes of Peru. Our district is called “Checca”, as is the town in which I live. I’ve been here just on five years, so you might be tempted to think that by now I would have achieved much. Well, you’d be mistaken.

The most intractable problem here is poverty - not only in relation to money but also poverty of education, poverty in organisational skills, poverty in health care, poverty in nutrition, poverty in construction and maintenance … in other words, poverty in nearly all aspects of life.

The education standard here is low. The system is rote learning without any need to understand what one is “studying”. Only exceptional teachers are fluent in the subjects they teach. Many local primary and secondary students dropped out of the education system during the COVID pandemic because they did not have access to the internet.

However, education is the key to allowing people to break out of the circle of poverty. I have been fortunate to have received funds from various friends and contacts in Australia. These funds allow me to offer small scholarships to a small number of students. Amongst these people, we now have qualified nurses, a lawyer, and chemists, plus students in environmental engineering and another in construction management.

Although only a few, these young people now have a very bright future and, I’m confident they will, in turn, assist others when they are able. Health support exists in Checca but at a basic level. We have an excellent team of medics, but unfortunately, the State does not provide sufficient equipment or medicines. Our local health post is located on the second floor of a community building since the old centre has been at the point of collapse for about ten years.

As the District of Checca is one of the poorest in Peru, we also have a very high rate of anaemia, especially among the newborn and young children. Last year, we had around 26% of infants and young children (less than five years of age) suffer from anaemia. However, in January of this year, our district was awarded third prize in the whole province of Cusco for reducing this percentage by 9% (the national target was a reduction of 3%) to 16.3% in 2021. A great success! This was achieved in no small part by the support of Melbourne Overseas Mission and other groups that have allowed us to assist the needy with better nutrition.

Indeed, the main project in which I am involved here in Checca is that of working alongside our town’s medical team. Together, we are trying to reduce the level of anaemia in the district by providing around 130 food hampers each month. Some people are regular monthly recipients, others receive hampers when in a short-term emergency. I try to accompany our people in various ways. Maybe a home Mass to remember a loved one who has died. Sometimes a little bit of food, help with transport after our market day, and often, taking people somewhere for medical care or providing emergency transport from an accident scene.

Life here is basic and at the mercy of the seasons, both the rainy and dry the seasons. We are coming to the end of the dry, and slowly the clouds are gathering, promising rain. People are preparing the soil and ploughing by tractor, hand, or ox-pulled plough. Cow, llama or sheep manure is being sought and added to the soil. Rainwater is in the Lord’s hands as we have no irrigation system. Very shortly, people will be visiting our parish office to buy their pasture seeds, which we sell as an agency of CARITAS Peru. And with that begins a whole new cycle.

As the District of Checca is one of the poorest in Peru, we also have a very high rate of anaemia, especially among the newborn and young children.

Columban associate priest Fr Joe Ruys lives and works in Peru.

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