I began the first stretch of my journey, with an oversized piece of luggage, flying Montreal -> Miami -> Lima. 24 hours later I was boarding a plane to Pucallpa, with 18 of our 22 volunteers, after what had felt like a long trek from Montreal. Before I continue, let me introduce myself, I’m Mel and I’ve worked with Pure Art Co-Founders Brigitte and Robert for the past year, assisting them with communications of their Fair Trade Boutique based in Hudson, QC and their foundation which they founded 8 years ago. After travelling to Pucallpa with 38 volunteers last year, and seeing first hand the living conditions of families on the outskirts of the city, I and many others were marked by their lack of access to basic necessities like clean drinking water, proper shelter, first line health care and the means to an education. And what really touched me, having just recently graduated myself, were the university students receiving bursaries from the Foundation, who seemed so excited to be able to pursue their passions & goals for the future.
Above are three students I met last year- Jim, Soledad & Hector.
Education is everything, and the opportunity to set goals, no matter how big or small, and achieve them, brings an incredible sense of satisfaction and pride. And at the end of the day- being able to imagine, to plan, to work towards an objective is incredibly difficult if your basic needs haven’t been met.
So here we are, travelling back for a fifth year, with a new team of volunteers, some seasoned veterans of the CAST Initiative (Construct A Structure Today), as well as many new faces, eager to build a new home and to connect to communities beyond their own. Pucallpa, a frontier city of 400 000 at the edge of the Amazon Jungle, is hot, humid and chaotic, but it doesn’t take long before everything begins to feel familiar.
Within its downtown core, Pucallpa is rapidly developing with restaurants, shopping malls and plazas popping up all over town. But on the outskirts, where we’ll be working all week, are thousands of squatters who have travelled from more remote areas of this region in Peru, carrying hopes of opportunity.
Setting out on our first day of work on Sunday, our team hops into a dozen or so moto cars- our exciting, yet not so comfortable, mode of transportation for the week- leaving behind paved streets for red dirt roads. Sharing a moto car with Pierre and Maude, a couple my age from Belgium, we begin to realize we no longer see street signs, and yet the moto car drivers seem to weave effortlessly through this labyrinth, remembering every turn like the palm of their hand.
Along the way to our job site, we stop off to visit the family living in Casa Hudson Uno- the first of soon-to-be four homes funded by a bridge fundraiser organized by Hudson local Leslie Blake Cote every year.
Within a few hours, they’re able to raise enough funds- 5300$ to be exact- to build a new home for a family of 4 or 5. As we continue on, we go deeper into the slums so the volunteers can see first hand the living conditions of those who are squatting on land, building makeshift tents and shelters from materials they can find.
Finally arriving at this week’s work site, which has become a sort of Pure Art “hub”, we visit4 of the bright yellow homes lining the street and a new medical dispensary that is already showing signs of phase 2- an educational centre for health and disease prevention.
Brigitte takes a moment to describe the Foundation’s vision for a “Hub of Hope”- one where families can live in homes that restore dignity, in a community where they feel supported, with access to fresh water, a medical clinic and a soon to be sewing centre for women interested in developing skills for employment.
Seeing this neighbourhood in development first hand, the volunteers are ready to get to work after a delicious lunch prepared by some incredible cooks- the wives of our team of local construction workers who oversee our building projects.
As the afternoon progresses on, I wander around the budding neighbourhood, and its exciting to see how things have developed since last year. On the work site, I chat with some of the volunteers, curious to know what has brought some for the first time and others for their fourth and fifth years.
For Leslie, witnessing a family living in a shelter made from garbage, built right next to a dumpster, was the initial spark four years ago that motivates her to come back every year.
For Anna and her husband, it’s their genius idea to sponsor three children in our One School for All Initiative this year, as a Christmas gift to their three grand-children, that has motivated their decision to travel with us. Being able to connect face-to-face with the sponsored students makes the connection that much stronger and long-lasting.
And for Robert, Co-Founder of Pure Art, its the shared experience with all these volunteers, as well as a now 8 year connection with this community, that drives his work. He describes his experience every year as akin to having kids. You never think you’ll ever love another child as much as the ones you have, but as soon as the next one comes along, the love grows. For him, every year builds off the last, new connections, challenges and insights strengthen his love for this community and a sense of commitment to keep going.
As the volunteers are busy nailing wood slats onto the exterior of our 22nd home, the soon-to-be-receiving family is on site, watching in anticipation. Carmen Reyna, her husband Olier and their five children Maximiliano, Emyren, Gabriel, Olier Cecilio and Stefany are currently living in a shelter, built from scrap wood, on this piece of land that is their own. I had a chance to speak with Carmen in the late afternoon, as the end of the day was approaching.
With the help of translator Wilbert, a Peruvian from Cuzco who is back with us as a volunteer for a second year, I was able to ask her all the questions buzzing inside my head. She is so bubbly and warm and offers cut oranges to the working volunteers. For me, getting to know her yesterday is what makes this week so exciting. I already have so many stories to share but I’ll save them for tomorrow. Thank you for stopping in to see what we’ve been up to! For now, construction continues on and a handful of our volunteers are getting ready for tonight’s school registration at 4pm!