Addictive volunteer work in an earthquake zone

Trip Start May 10, 2009
Trip End Nov 02, 2009

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Flag of Peru  ,
Saturday, September 12, 2009

At the moment we are feeling totally depressed. We are leaving what has been a definite highlight of this trip. 2 weeks of volunteer work in the city of Pisco which was devastated 2 years ago by an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale.

This was totally unscheduled and we planned to stay a week. We ended up staying 2 weeks and would love to stay longer but have to move on unfortunately.

Arriving from Nazca was rather uneventful luckily and without too much hassle found a place to stay for the night before heading to work the next day. The next morning started with a rather scary intro to living in an earthquake zone... Around 10am we were having a lie in in the hostel when we heard this rumble outside like a massive truck driving past, but then it just got louder and louder and suddenly the walls shook violently, the lights flicked on and off and everything was moving!! We were experiencing a mild earthquake! It only lasted 3-4 seconds but it was still frightening and I really would not have wanted to be around when the big one happened in 2007.

Pisco Sin Fronteras (PSF) is a volunteer organisation set up to carry on the work of rebuilding and repairing Pisco and the surrounding areas after the earthquake. Around 600 people lost their lives that evening, including 300 inside the cathedral who were attending a mass. Sadly, this region (from what we understand) got no funding or support from the Peruvian government and much of the funding that arrived from outside was stolen and never made it to the town. 100,000+ people were left to pick up the pieces on their own and this is where PSF comes in. Basically the organisation provides people to do unskilled manual labour for people that cannot afford to pay others to do it. This involves demolishing old foundations and floors to build new houses, mixing and pouring cement, bricklaying, digging foundations etc. (For any other travellers wanting to get invloved, here is the address:

So we arrived and got stuck into various projects throughout our 2 weeks. We worked in teams cutting into the side of a hill with pickaxes and spades so that someone could build a new house, we used sledghammers and jackhammers to remove old flooring and foundations for some families in town, we helped build timber frames to pour concrete into for some public bathrooms and also mixed, carried and poured cement! The jobs were hard and tough and every morning we seemed to wake up with a new ache or callous that wasn't there the day before!

The houses worked like a little community - every morning we'd meet for breakfast to hear what jobs were on for the day and volunteer for what you wanted to do. There were people going out to do work and some who stayed behind to clean the houses and bathrooms, do dishes, cook dinner for 60 people, help with the administration and do maintenance on the equipment. Everyone chipped in what they could and it all worked so well.

They also have a project making bio-diesel. They do this by going to the restaurants in town and collecting their used cooking oil and mix it with some basic chemicals you can buy in a hardware store in a machine that was totally home made (looks a bit like a geyser with some more pipes and tanks) and produce clean diesel that is used in the PSF truck and any other diesel cars. Its such a simple idea and soon they will be selling it to raise money for the organisation.

But the greatest thing about it all was the people. To have roughly 60 people from different countries working together in different teams without negativity, tempers flaring or frayed nerves is a rare thing. Everyone without exception was positive, happy and enthusiastic and you just wanted to work harder for the families you were helping and do as much as you can to help. The families we worked for were also great and would help if they could and provided amazing meals every day.

There is also a spirit of getting the community invloved and one small example was 'cake lady'! A lady around the corner started making and selling the most amazing cakes to the PSF volunteers after they saw her walking with cake to a funeral and insisted she start selling them! Everyday we stopped by for some incredible chocolate cake for only 1.50 soles (30p a slice!)!

One night some of the guys arranged a concert in the garden of the house, using the truck as a stage and many people got up to play guitar, sing, do tricks and dance! There were some really cool talents on show as well!

There was also a social side to the experience and we spent a weekend in nearby Huacachina which is a small oasis near the city of Ica. It was really pretty and we had a great night partying with everyone!

We also had a day of snorkelling with a group of local fisherman who want to start a new tour operation, taking people diving in the Paracas reserve. It was a cool experience catching crabs and scallops for lunch! We got to see beautiful pelicans flying over the waters and also got up close to a Peruvian hairless dog - probably the ugliest dog we've ever seen!

So sadly we have to leave having made some special friends but get to take with us some great new memories and have learned some great new things:

1) we know the most efficient way to break cement floors
2) operating a jackhammer is a lot of fun
3) resting in a wheelbarrow is quite comfy
4) we know how to mix cement and operate a cement mixer
5) giving your time to help others is the most rewarding thing you can do.

This blog cannot show the real feelings we have and how special these memories will be, but leaving has been one of the hardest things we have done. We will miss this place...

Onwards and upwards now as we head to Lima this afternoon and our few final stops in northern Peru...
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Where I stayed
hotel leoval
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stephancy on

Your voluntary work
I take my 'hat' off to the two of you - whilst you were doing a good deed, you also had fun. And it looked such hard work!!

Steve Tidmarsh on

My son, Edward and his friend Joe aged 19 years, are currently in Pisco and working for this organisation. They have been there one month and they havevdecided to stay with them until September. I's so proud of my son and his friend and anyone who helps out there. It must be so rewarding to help those who have nothing.

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