From a distance, Soledad Roja’s house in Villa Maria Del Triunfo is barely distinguishable from the hill’s natural landscape; it blends in amongst the gray rocks covered with brown and green moss. Her house appears as a small dark smudge of rotting wood and crumpling walls between brightly colored houses with sturdy foundations and roofs.
Carlos Benavides, MEDLIFE Peru’s Director, did not need to say that our mission for Soledad and her son would be to build them a new house. It was obvious upon our arrival that their living conditions are unsuitable and very unsafe. The family of two stood outside as we navigated the jagged and unsteady rocks â€”their stairsâ€”leading up to meet them. Soledad and her 10-year-old son Jose Manuel have survived a decade in accommodations that do not even qualify as a house, but would be more aptly described as a deteriorating shelter the size of a small bedroom.
They were timid and a bit apprehensive as we introduced ourselvesâ€”Soledad’s young face revealed signs of immense sadness and grief for her situation. Despite some hesitation, she opened her half-hinged door and welcomed us inside, the drizzling rain following us in through a gap in the two puckered, tin slats that make up the roof.
Soledad and Jose’s personal items are few. They share a mattress that rests on their dirt floor, a few ramshackle pieces of furniture, and a jumbled array of plastic bags that protect their clothes from imposing elements. Soledad pointed to her kitchen: a small table in the corner. I spotted a few books and a ball, but they don’t have much else. A dim light hung above the covered side of the shelter, illuminating the thin layer of mold that coats the crumpled walls, one of which is simply a tarp.
Many factors forced Soledad and Jose to live in these conditions and have prevented them from affording anything better. During our interview, Soledad began recounting a brief synopsis of her life story by explaining that she was forced into motherhood at a young age after being raped by a male friend. Her godparents, whom she lived with because her mother is schizophrenic, kicked her out when she became pregnant. Soledad never had a father. Surprisingly, her son’s father remains loosely connected to them; she has recently taken him to court to demand some form of child support.
As a single mother, Soledad’s income must not only provide the bare necessities for herself and her son, but also Jose’s private school tuition. Jose has severe ADHD, for which he also goes to therapy. Soledad considers her son’s education a first priority and will do anything within her power to afford him an adequate education. As a result, the majority of her small income is funneled into a school with the educational resources Jose needs. Soledad explained that on top of the regular charge, the school often requires unexplained additional payments that she must make to keep Jose enrolled.
Soledad works doing inventory at a lab and must work ten hours a day, seven days a week to earn enough money to make ends meet. The other day she fell on the rocks and hurt her back, but she couldn’t afford to miss one day of pay, so she still went to work. Her sister lends a hand by picking Jose up from school and watching him in while Soledad is at workâ€”but she then charges Soledad for her help. After paying for Jose’s public school, paying for electricity, paying her sister and paying for food, Soledad has no savings. â€œMy dream is to save moneyâ€¦ any money,â€ she admitted.
Soledad feels alone. Although her sister is within reach, her help comes at a price, leaving Soledad without any supportive family or friends. She explained that her neighbors are not inclined to offer any assistance; they resent that she is absent from the community, but Soledad is always at work and doesn’t even have time for her son. She said a local church gave her aid when Jose was diagnosed with Hepatitis A, but other than that she has no support.
We wanted to put a functioning roof over their heads, raise sturdy walls to protect them from the weather, and build safe steps leading up to a livable home. Thanks to our generous donors the project is now funded and we can complete our goal!