The shelter that awaited us at Seferina’s address has few characteristics that distinguish it from the hillside it slumps on. Camouflaged by the surrounding grass and dirt, the 70-year-old’s tiny cottage is made up of molding hatched sugar can straw and damp cardboard hung from a sparse wooden frame. This has been her home for the past 30 years.
The juxtaposition between Ceverina’s dilapidated abode and the two-story, concrete buildings on either side is stark and tragic. Carlos Benavides, MEDLIFE Peru’s Director and our guide for the day, pointed to the neighboring buildings and said, â€œThis is the quality of home we want to give Ceverinaâ€”she deserves a better life.â€
We were greeted with a kiss on the cheek and Ceverina’s warm, welcoming smile, though she admitted she was feeling â€œUn poco mal,â€ â€”a little bad. Ceverina surprised us with her strength and vigor; she hobbled down the steep dirt path to the street at a quick pace despite having a heavy limp on her left side. The feat was even more impressive after my own stumbling on the way up the same path she had navigated with relative ease. Ceverina hefted a wooden post and used it to prop up her falling door. We ducked our heads and filed in.
A feeling of overwhelming sadness fell over me upon entering her home. I gazed over her environment in utter disbelief that a woman of her age, let alone anyone, lives in such conditions. Thirty years of accumulated plastic bags, newspaper, boxes and miscellaneous items â€”trashâ€”fills her home from floor to ceiling, leaving a path only wide enough for one person to pass through. I turned my gaze upwards to observe patches of sunlight that shone through gaping holes in her misshapen roof. She gestured for us to follow her through her dwelling to the back section, her bedroom, which consists of two worn mattresses stacked on top of one another lying beneath a wall of garbage waiting to topple down onto her bed.
“I gazed over her environment in utter disbelief that a woman of her age, let alone anyone, lives in such conditions.”
Ceverina confessed that she is scared to sleep in such dangerous conditions. She is worried for her safety living in such a poorly constructed home, one that could easily collapse inwards or catch of fire. Every time she turns on the electricity she risks sparking a fire to her house; she flips a circuit switch connected to several exposed and tangled wires that lead to a single light bulb hanging precariously from her roof.
Ceverina’s level of poverty, she explained, has become increasingly more difficult to endure. Her home lacks two unquestionable essentials: a bathroom and kitchen. â€œI like to cook, but this is all I have,â€ Ceverina said as she motioned to a pan and a carton of eggs sitting next to a flat rock she uses to prepare food. To go to the bathroom, she treks to neighboring stores or takes a moto taxi to the market where she sometimes sells little carmelitas and cookies for income. Otherwise, Ceverina survives off of a small welfare stipend, which, she admits, is barely enough.
â€œYo soy solita” – I am alone, Ceverina declared. With no familyâ€”no husband or childrenâ€”to look after her, Ceverina is afraid no one knows she is there. Her neighbors, who are fortunate enough to reside in sturdy concrete buildings, do not even acknowledge her. A little while back, Ceverina was hit by a car when chasing a cat out of the street. As a result, she walks in very visible pain. If the injury had been more severe, she wouldn’t have had anyone to care for her.
In addition to a leg injury sustained from the accident, Ceverina is almost completely blind. Unfortunately, her physical state makes her considerably accident-prone, especially in her unsteady and dangerous house. Moreover, Ceverina is often sick, partially because of her age, but mostly due to the cold night air that seeps in through poorly insulated walls, which makes her the entirety of her belongings damp and moldy.
After our interview with Ceverina, we said our goodbyes and informed her of our goal to build her a better home. Her face lit up with joy and immense gratitude. â€œImagine living in those conditions,â€ Carlos proposed as we departed Ceverina’s residence and reflected on our visit.
MEDLIFE hopes to improve Ceverina’s quality of life, but we need your help. You can provide a new beginning.