Written by Fr. Alex Busuttil with Karen Falkenstein, Health Bridges International
August 24, 2021
(Editor’s note: This is the first of a planned series on how the pandemic is impacting communities around the world -DB.)
Alto Cayma is part of the Cayma District in the department of Arequipa, Peru. It is located at an altitude of 7,550 feet above sea level just under the Chachani volcano and approximately 10 miles away from Arequipa’s city center.
Historically, the people of Alto Cayma are immigrants from all the Peruvian Andean Mountains, more recently people who can’t afford housing closer to the city center. The population of Arequipa is a little over a million and Alto Cayma has a population of over 30,000. Coming from mountain villages many people have no formal education, skill training, or preparation to work in a city. In many cases they even speak different languages or dialects, with Quechua and Aymara, being the most common. The lack of preparation for work, the language, and the lack of education are serious obstacles to get a proper job.
The “Mission” is the parish of a missionary priest from Malta, Fr. Alex Busuttil, who belongs to the Missionary Society of Saint Paul. This Mission is doing a big effort on all fronts to make life a bit less difficult for the people of the area. Through its different programs, the mission is building a “service community,” not a community that offers services but a community that serves. This means that the whole community is involved in the project of creating better living conditions. The Mission is the main coordinator of all the activities towards the goal of changing the tough reality of the neediest of the area.
Father Alexander “Alex” Busuttil was born in Valletta, Malta. He joined the Missionary Society of Saint Paul (MSSP) in 1974 and after studying for the priesthood in Malta. Father Alex was ordained as a Catholic Priest in MSSP in 1984. He served first in Pakistan and then Libya before being commissioned to serve in Peru in 1995. Fr. Alex is dynamic and full of energy – he is an entrepreneur for those living in poverty, constantly looking for improved ways and new connections.
Besides the pastoral care of the community, Father Alex has established a number of projects that give human dignity to the underprivileged. Fr. Alex has helped this community of over 30,000 people through many different services. Some of the projects have included the development of a Child Care Center for children whose parents need to work, a medical center (over 25,000 patients per year are seen in the clinic), community kitchens, skills training programs, and small production workshops. In addition, the Mission helps to operate adult education programs, a child sponsorship program, a legal office to tackle issues like family violence, a residential care center for abandoned youth, and a support program that provides food, clothing, and medicine to shut in older adults in the area and a number of special need service programs.
An important initiative of Father Alex’s is bringing volunteers from the United States, Europe and Australia to the Mission in Alto Cayma. Besides giving a helping hand in all the activity that goes on every day, the aim is to expose people from developed countries to the people living in the underdeveloped world. The hope is to encourage people of goodwill to be of service to humanity and heralds of peace in the world. In the words of Father Alex, the hope of the international exchange program is to create “Peace through service”.
Father Alex writes about the pandemic and the current situation in his community …
Up to date we have almost 200,000 deaths in Peru, with nearly 3,000 just in Arequipa out of more than 83,000 cases. Considering the population in Peru, that is a very high number.
Many people have been affected and, in many ways, like in the world over. Many people and amongst them, some very close and committed people with the mission of San Pablo, have passed away.
The community in general is still suffering a lot. This has been complicated by the political situation in Peru. The new president has been remodeling Peruvian politics to resemble Cuba, Bolivia, and Venezuela. As a result, all prices of even the most basic things like bread, rice, milk, fuel have almost doubled, making it impossible for our people to survive. Due to COVID, many folks were unable to work and earn their daily bread. Therefore, we organized ourselves and began feeding 2,000 people every day through 18 popular kitchens with food prepared by the women of the different settlements. Besides the kitchens we distribute around 200 food bags every month to families who cannot make it to the kitchens. Now over a year and a half on, we are finding it hard to continue feeding so many people. The present high prices of foodstuffs have made it difficult for local donors to continue supporting the kitchens.
Besides feeding the people we had to restructure the way we attend people in our health center, especially the care of COVID patients. We are the only health care providers for over 45,000 people, and you can imagine what that means during a pandemic. Other people are being helped in other ways too, like providing children with small tablets so that they can study virtually, setting up 5 virtual study centers, supporting people with clothing, and in some cases with cash. Besides all this, we also have the children’s home where we have 32 children from 3 to 18 years old. These children are under our care 24 hours a day, and we have to look after all their needs; be it, food, health, clothing, and all it takes to give a proper and happy upbringing to the children under our care. This means that besides the usual care, we have the great responsibility and challenge to keep the home virus free. We had to adopt a number of protocols and adjustments, that came along with a considerable cost, to ensure the safety of all under our care. While it has been challenging, we have managed to keep everyone healthy and safe.
At the same time, I still accompany the community with lifting up the spirits of the community through pastoral care. I celebrate the Eucharist virtually every day and listen to people who come
to about their suffering, especially those who have lost their loved ones or are attending to the very sick. In this respect, I can say that we have seen so many miracles happening around us.
We are celebrating the Eucharist through social media on Facebook “Parroquia Santa Elena Cayma”, on a local TV station and 2 Radio stations every Sunday at 9.00 am Perú time. We estimate that there are almost 60,000 people participating from around 12 different countries through the different social media platforms.
I think we were able to strike a good balance in being with the people in both their material and spiritual needs. As we all know the virus has brought with it all types of problems, including sickness and death, psychological and mental issues, increased family violence, economic difficulties, etc. On the other hand, it has also brought with it a lot of solidarity and compassion towards those in need. Many generous people stepped forward offering their time, skills and material means to give a helping hand. Vaccines are slowly being rolled out and are a huge blessing to the community. At the time of this writing, in Arequipa, those 30 years and older are eligible are able to get the vaccine.
Donations are always appreciated, especially to support the community kitchens as there are so many people to feed every day. Tax eligible donations are available through the Health Bridges International website: “https://www.flipcause.com/secure/cause_pdetails/MjAxNjk=.”