This article was written by Reyles Rivera Oliva, who works in a parish in San Juan de Lurigancho.
San Juan de Lurigancho, on the outskirts of Lima, is one of the most populous districts anywhere in Latin America. It has some 1.2 million inhabitants. Informality, unemployment and extreme poverty levels are the norm. And, at the moment, it is the district with the largest numbers of people who have contracted the Covid-19 and who have died from it.
Covid-19 has dramatised extremes of misery, hunger and the complete collapse of an already precarious health system. It has also resulted in a new threshold of criminality and gender violence perpetrated against women and children who, confined to their homes, lack the most basic forms of protection and support.
The extent of informality in the workforce has contributed greatly to contagion. Around 60% of the population are involved in the informal economy or irregular employment in transport, construction and commerce. This makes it impossible to hold down emergency rules about quarantine and social distancing. The majority of people lack the resources or savings to live on when work becomes impossible. Informality also makes it difficult for state agencies to reach those in most need; since they do not participate in formal activities, their names simply do not appear on registers or lists of people qualifying for the payments (bonos) made by the state to deprived families.
People are thus obliged to go out to work, the great majority without the protection of even a mask. They are forced to use public transport. They end up congregating in market areas in which there is scant regard for the protocols that are supposed to apply. In such conditions, it is hardly surprising that contagion thrives.
Many look desperately for ways to educate their children due to the closure of schools. Others seek out desperately the most basic medical attention. As the situation has deteriorated over recent weeks, the numbers looking to escape the district and to return to their communities of origin has increased (see PSG article). Small caravans of people set out, mostly on foot. In one case, a mother with her child in her arms died struggling to abandon the sickness that has befallen the city.
Nevertheless, there are some institutions which, despite their limitations, are making super-human efforts to assist people and to express solidarity with the poor. Church parishes are among them. And communities are organising communal feeding facilities (known as ollas comunes) in which people put the limited food that they themselves have at the disposal of others.
People are living times of uncertainty and fear, seeking to overcome the circumstances that beset them, making use of their spiritual resources, and keeping up hope each day that all this will one day come to an end.