EDMONTON – Lima, the capital of Peru, has expanded enormously in the past decade as thousands of new peasant families come in each year from the countryside in search of a better life.
Newcomers simply squat on empty land, no matter how barren, sandy, rocky or sloping the terrain may be.
It is said that almost overnight hundreds of new huts spring up, and a new settlement begins, often without water, sewerage, lighting or roads, let alone a school, medical centre, community centre or chapel.
If it weren't for the Columban Fathers, an Irish order that has been working in Peru for 50 years, the newcomers would be practically on their own. The order runs Christian communities in the shantytowns and helps the people meet their basic needs.
But now help is coming from St. Charles Parish in Edmonton's northwest. For close to two years parishioners have been fundraising to build a chapel and community centre for one of these shantytowns on the hillsides of Lima.
The parish goal is to raise $20,000 by year's end. So far it has raised more than $16,000, a figure that includes $3,000 raised through a dinner and dance Oct. 2.
Pat Roth, chair of the social justice committee at St. Charles, said construction of the chapel would start soon. "We send them money every time we can," Roth said. "They have a little plot of land up in the mountains where they plan to build the chapel."
The parish learned about the plight of the Peruvian newcomers when a delegation of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace returned to Edmonton after touring the Lima shantytowns.
The parish's social justice committee was looking for a project at the time and decided this was one it could handle. In addition to dinners and dances, the justice committee has been accepting donations from parishioners.
"Construction of the chapel may start probably at the end of the year or next year," Roth said. "They don't have all the money together to do it. Every time we get a little pool of money, say, a couple of thousand dollars, we send it down to the headquarters where the moneys are collected."
Roth said because the chapel will be build on the side of a mountain, people will have to do "a bit of a design" to get it leveled. "They are going to have to move some of the rock to make a proper footing for it."
Under the leadership of the Columban Fathers, several chapel/community centres have already been built in some of these emerging communities at Las Laderas, located just north of Lima. Las Laderas means the hillsides, an accurate name for the sides of some Andean foothills where these newcomers have set up their new homes.
Shantytown residents are generally peasant families that have moved to the city in search of a better life, said Roth.
"They sort of become the labour force; they become the cleaners, the pickers, construction workers. These are hard-working people that would do anything to make some money but it's really hard for them."
The chapel, he said, will have multiple uses. When it is not serving as a chapel, it will be a community centre where people sell their medicinal herbs or register children for school or a community kitchen where people share their resources.
It will also offer childcare for those that have to take off and travel for hours on buses to their places of work. "(The chapel) will become the support centre, the life centre of the community," Roth said.