Women’s House by Julie Barnard
Last month I had the opportunity to spend a week in Lima, to learn more about the ministry work of the Columban Fathers. This organization works across the globe within some of the poorest communities to support the local people and give additional help outside of the workplace and school. The Columban Fathers often partner with local governments and organizations like UNICEF to ensure that funding and aid is directed to key projects. My godfather, Ed O’Connell (Padre Lalo) has been living and working in Lima for 47 years and, as we drove through the dusty streets and half built homes, he remembers most of the land as barren. Lima has a growing population of 10M and everyday more migrants arrive from Venezuela, so finding work to feed the family is a daily endeavor not a weekly pay check. Padre Lalo has raised funds through the Columban Fathers to help build 12 churches, as well as local community funding. They also offer continued support for a special needs school, Manuel Duato, and the inception of Warmi Huasi projects (Women’s House).
Like many living in poverty around the world, the children of Peru are at risk from poor health, disruptive family life (father leaves to find work), educational support, and sometimes, physical, psychological and sexual abuse. Warmi Huasi was set up as an NGO (non-Governmental organization) to create safe places for women and children to come together to read, to do homework, to learn to socialize, to sing, to dance and to play. These centers can be found in Lima, in San Benito and in Ayacucho . I spoke with one of the leaders during my visit and she explained their plans for 2020. “We encourage our children to follow the United Nations Charter, to defend the rights of children and to have the basics of life. We want to continue to support the voluntary women who help with reading and homework clubs, we want the adults to support the children’s committees and encourage the participation of all children, within a safe environment.”
Padre Lalo adds further, “The Warmi Huasi teams also work directly with the Municipality of Carabayllo and the Provincial Municipality of Paucar de Sara Sara helping them set up their COMUNDENAs (Municipal Committee for the Defense of Children and Adolescents) by training the municipal officials along with staff from the Ministries of Health, Education and Justice and the Police on how to run a COMUDENA. Warmi Huasi monitors the progress of the Committees and offers on-going support. In Carabayllo this Committee responds to the needs of over 110,000 children and adolescents and in the Province of Puacar de Sara Sara nearly 4,000 children and adolescents.”
It was a privilege to spend time with the people of Peru, a warm and happy nation, to see their country through their eyes. The work being done here has made a difference to thousands of children, long may it continue.
Like many of us, I spend my life planning, be it my work, my time or even my conversations. It was very healthy for me to step away and live someone else’s life. I had no expectations, no agenda, my mind was empty, ready to embrace this experience. I am very grateful to Padre Lalo for giving me a chance to step away. As we now witness the spread of the coronavirus, live the devastation of climate change and protect our own mental health, perhaps we all need to refocus on what is important and find our safe place.
If you want to help please go to www.columban.org and reference Warmi Huasi in the comments section.