Committed to the fight against COVID-19 in Santa Rosa
Merly Vásquez is the courageous president of the “Mujeres por un Perú mejor” (“Women for a better Peru”) housing association in the district of Santa Rosa, Lima. This initiative was born in 2010, focused on the search for better housing conditions for migrants, especially women who arrived in the area with little hope of finding a place to live. As a local leader, Merly has been taking on different responsibilities, such as organizing a communal food pot. Currently, she is committed in an active fight to prevent COVID-19 infections in her community, with the support of Save the Children.
“We are not from the city, we are countrywomen from the Amazon and we did not have opportunity to have a space here in which to live in with other families. That is why I found myself in the obligation, suddenly, to lead and to form a housing association that could bring together single mothers, women with terminal illnesses…”
Merly is a strong and determined woman, who not only wants a better life for herself and her family, but also always thinks of other women who have no opportunities and no voice. Thus, in 2010, the “Women for a better Peru” Housing Association was born. Its main objective is to ensure that people with few resources – especially women – find a good place to call home. To achieve this and being aware of the responsibility she assumed as president, Merly sought advice and information that could guide her to fulfil her goals. He soon realized that it was to be a great battle that has lasted for years and is still going strong.
I have been working (…) so that all the women who live in this association have a dignified life, with access to electricity, water and a property title, which we have not yet achieved.
Every day is full of work for Merly. In addition to her work as president of the association, she also leads the communal food pot, called “Women saving lives.” By six in the morning, breakfast should be almost ready; by noon they begin to serve lunch and at sundown, they offer an afternoon snack. Merly emphasizes that this communal pot, which produces 146 servings per meal, is self-managed. In other words, it is not supported by any institution; it must constantly seek its own resources. For this reason, the entire group of women who run it want it to become a soup kitchen and thus receive support from the Peruvian State, but to date they have not yet been able to achieve that.
“… With this pandemic, well, we were forced to keep the communal pot open one way or another in order to support our mothers who have lost their jobs, our children who have also stopped studying. That is why we continue working”.
Merly met Save the Children thanks to another leader from a nearby community. She and four other neighbours soon agreed to be part of a Vigilance Committee, in charge of helping coordinate the monthly reception of hygiene kits containing hand soap, bleach and detergent, as well as the weekly water delivery by Save the Children. This support became vital to prevent contagion and protect families since Merly’s community does not have access to running water.
“The challenge of our committee is to ensure that the donations that Save the Children offers reach each house, every block, and that all our neighbours comply with the protocols when they receive them, such as wearing a face mask, washing their hands and making sure their children are safe at home and do not come out without a mask.”
Now every house on the hill has its kit, with a bucket, water and soap to do hand washing. I think the pandemic will be less present (in the community), because now we have a way to access hygiene that we did not have before.
Merly is also grateful for the information shared by Save the Children through signs in their neighbourhood and through WhatsApp messages. This way, the locals know what measures to take to protect themselves from COVID-19. Merly believes that it is essential for everyone to become aware of how dangerous this disease can be. For her, working for her community is a long-term commitment.
About our intervention
The project “Prevention in our hands: healthy and protected families” is implemented by Save the Children, with the support of USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA). It proposes an integrated response to the health emergency in Peru, which includes WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) activities, prevention of gender violence and protection of children. The project’s areas of intervention include four districts, divided between Lima and Piura. Both regions have been hit hard by COVID-19, with children, women, and those with restricted access to basic services such as water and electricity being the most affected.