With characteristic single-minded determination, Global Volunteers’ Country Host Partner Miguel Rodríguez led staff and supporters of Sagrada Familia on a campaign of mercy in Lima, Peru. In four months, they’ve overcome ingrained obstacles to supply oxygen tanks to COVID-19 patients who aren’t adequately treated at medical facilities. After resident children fundraised virtually, the hardworking staff and local people raised the building and imported equipment to supply neighbors with precious oxygen. Read this inspiring account of their efforts:
In September 2020, Peru became the world’s deadliest COVID-19 hot spot by a wide margin. At the peak of the outbreak, the country had only 20 percent of the oxygen needed to treat its citizens. The shortage of the life-preserving resource meant public hospitals asked patients to buy their own oxygen tanks, which was out of reach for suffering children and adults in the shanty towns surrounding Sagrada Famlia. As an example, one family reported to have spent USD 6,800 in one week – more than the average yearly income – to supply a relative with oxygen for one week.
This situation touched the heart of the resident children of Sagrada Familia, who understand well suffering because of lack of access to adequate health care. Founder Miguel Rodríguez recalled they asked to use what they have – their talents – to help solve this crisis for their neighbors. While at first, it seemed an unreachable goal, the children persisted, and together with the staff, the plan was hatched.
Sagrada Familia hosted an online “lunch and live show” event on September 26,2020 to raise funds for an oxygen plant on the Community’s campus.
They explained that hospitals have been full for so long that everyone must find oxygen and learn how to fill oxygen tanks for their relatives through their own means. And it is at home that patients recover shortly after they come out of ICU. They knew the difficulty ahead to build a facility to respond to the need, but they also refused not to try.
The online “guests” paid a $20 or more to enjoy the children’s typical Peruvian dances over the Zoom online platform. Miguel also appealed to local companies to double and triple the gathered donations. The event was a success, with up to 300 online attendees from Peru, Europe, and the U.S. donating approximately $20,000. This got them one-third of the way to hiring a contractor to construct the building. Undaunted, Miguel and the staff determined to erect the structure themselves, enduring the grueling bureaucratic permitting process and reserving the funds to import the oxygen equipment. Every day, they mixed cement and lay block on block to eventually construct a facility large enough for the oxygen generator and tanks.
On January 28, the oxygen plant began it operation. It takes one and a half hours to fill an eight-cubic-meter tank. “On that day, at 5 pm, we were able to fill the first oxygen tank,” said Sagrada Famlia Coordinator Lili Devries,”and since then, our machines have been running 24 hours a day without respite to help as many people as possible.” Local residents line up to refill precious oxygen tanks so they or their family members can survive the attack of COVID-19 on their lungs. Medical staff at the adjacent clinic measure patients’ oxygen levels, examine their prescriptions, and refer them for service at the new facility.
“Today we already have 58 tanks pending, because each person affected needs one tank per day,” Lili explained. “A chronic patient will usually spend ten days or more in the hospital requiring oxygen. So we’re just a drop in the ocean, and it’s despairing because we can’t go faster than the machine.” She said they’ve already borrowed 35 tanks, and yet they can’t meet the demand. “We know that we will not let ourselves be defeated by this virus.”
“We are eternally grateful for everything to everyone who came to our aid,” Lili asserted. “This reminds us that without corruption, it isn’t so expensive to carry out such a project. We feel joy and we want to share it because those who have come to receive oxygen have hope in their eyes.”
In the midst of a new COVID-19 wave, the country’s oxygen crisis has swelled. Peru currently produces only 220 tons of the more than 250 tons of oxygen needed per day, resulting in overnight lines of people desperately seeking oxygen. Sadly, it has become a common scene to see people receive a call while in line, learning that their loved one has succumbed to the virus, and shortly after leave the line in tears.
To take full advantage of the oxygen plant and help as many as possible, the Sagrada Familia staff takes turns around the clock to fill up the tanks. But human energy is running low. “The truth is that there is a lot of demand for oxygen, and we try as much as possible to help. But we are collapsing,” relates Miguel wearily.
“A thousand thanks and a thousand blessings to the volunteers who have made this small plant possible,” says Miguel. “With God’s favor we have been able to help many people and it has been worth all the effort. May the Lord our father fill you with blessings and may this pandemic end soon. Thank you very much. . . We will continue together to the end for a better world.”
“The truth is that there is a lot of demand for oxygen, and we try as much as possible to help. But we are collapsing.“Miguel Rodríguez
Miguel and the Sagrada Familia assures Global Volunteers that our work will be greatly needed to help them recover from the economic, educational and psychological aftereffects of the pandemic. We remain in close contact with the community to monitor their needs and to plan for our return when international service is again safe.
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