Volunteers Lift Spirits of NPH Peru Under Quarantine

In the face of COVID-19 and national quarantine, one U.S. volunteer chooses to stay in Peru to support the children and caregivers of Casa Santa Rosa.
March 31, 2020 - Peru

Phaedra and fellow volunteers deliver games and books to the casitas at NPH Peru.

My name is Phaedra and I work as a volunteer coordinator, visitor coordinator, and ad hoc communication officer at NPH Peru. I’m an American who hails from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but I consider myself a child of the world, having been born and raised in Puerto Rico and lived in Spain, Malaysia, and many states throughout the U.S.

I studied social welfare and justice and Spanish language and literature at Marquette University; although, after teaching Spanish and English from kindergarten up to sixth grade, I discovered that I love working with children.

I specifically chose to volunteer with NPH for its mission and values. I felt that Peru being one of the smaller homes would be the perfect fit for me, as I wanted to get to know each child.

I arrived at NPH Peru just last month. I expected that my year as an international volunteer would have its challenges; however, as COVID-19 continues to spread and escalate, the virus has brought a whole host of new challenges that no one envisioned. Despite these problems, I settled into the NPH Peru family very quickly, thanks to the staff and children. I guess that’s what happens in times of adversity.

Many people ask me if I want to leave NPH Peru. The answer is “no” without hesitation. I feel at home at Casa Santa Rosa. So here I will stay.

COVID-19 in Peru

Peru recorded its first case 6 March in capital city Lima, 83 miles north of San Vicente de Cañete where NPH Peru is located.

Currently Peru is under a maritime, aviation, and transport lockdown. On 16 March, the country shut its borders and imposed a strict quarantine that allowed people out of their homes only for essential activities, like grocery shopping, going to the pharmacy, or seeking medical care. In addition, we have a military curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day when no one can leave their home.

Despite these swiftly enacted, highly restrictive measures, the number of confirmed cases has exploded across the country, with Lima being the epicenter. As of 31 March 2020, according to Johns Hopkins University, in Peru there are 950 confirmed cases and 24 deaths. President Martín Vizcarra has ordered the facility used for the 2019 Pan-American Games be converted into a temporary hospital to receive new cases.

We heard reports from outside the home of desperate people ransacking stalls in outdoor markets and other indulged in “panic buying.” The cost of core staples has skyrocketed as well, for example, a kilogram of limes jumped from 2 Peruvian soles (US$ 0.57) to 8.50 soles (US$2.40), bringing additional hardship to the 21.7% of the nation living in poverty, according to the Peruvian Institute of Statistics and Information.

NPH Peru defends against COVID-19

NPH Peru held talks with staff and children about the severity of the virus last week. And nurses gave talks on how to wash hands and take additional precautions regarding hygiene.

The children are currently on summer break. The start of school has been postponed for two weeks and is likely to be delayed another 15 days, at the very least. From 22 March, nurses and cooks no longer enter the home. Two university students have returned to help cook meals as a temporary measure. Our purchasing coordinator comes into the home only when absolutely necessary.

Caregivers who normally work five-day shifts agreed to remain for the 15-day government-imposed quarantine, with the likely possibility of a 15- to 20-day extension of the quarantine by officials. Currently, children and caregivers are under full quarantine and cannot leave their casitas. The kids seem to understand the intent of these actions and were okay the first week. But now, the situation is wearing on them.

As volunteers we all have different roles here; however, once it was decided that children and caregivers would not be able to leave their houses, we offered to bring them all their meals from the kitchen. We, like the rest of the staff, see our jobs evolving to help when needed in this crisis and support the NPH family where we can, while also trying to boost morale.

On Sunday, we made cupcakes for the caregivers. The treats won’t change our circumstances, but they brought smiles to the faces of those who perform a critical function in the home and let them know they are appreciated. They are the true heroes.

We also collected all the games, books, and coloring sheets we could find around the home and divided them among the casitas so all the kids would have materials to play with to help fight tedium in the coming days and weeks.

Yuliza, our catechist, plans to visit the casitas to give small spiritual formation classes while Kaya, the occupational therapist, and I will be doing small activities with the children in each casita. We started an NPH Peru-wide trivia competition and plan to do Zumba, karaoke, origami, and bracelet-making.

Overall, I am really happy here in Peru but I’ve definitely had stressful moments worrying about the kids, especially in these times. Despite of that, I decided to stay. It's not my time to go yet.

In the short time I’ve been here, more than just getting to know these girls, they’ve really found a place in my heart. I love and worry about them all as if they were my own.

Please support our NPH homes during this time of need. Any help you can give is well received and accepted graciously. Please visit nph.org for more information.

Phaedra Alicia Zeider Toral   
Volunteer Coordinator and Visitor Coordinator, NPH Peru




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