Peru volunteers help CARE respond to emergency

When CARE responded earlier this year to a killer cold wave that pummeled southern Peru, our response was aided by local volunteers. It was an unusual move for CARE, as we normally rely on trained experts to coordinate our response. However, the positive feedback from CARE field staff, volunteers and community members may lead the country office to consider additional volunteer opportunities.
During the months of July and August 2002, freezing temperatures, coupled with intense snow, hail and rain storms, killed 76 people and 100,000 cattle. CARE's emergency response to the cold wave was centered in the department (state) of Puno, high in the Andean region. The communities we reached were in remote areas 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) above sea level, where residents depend, in large part, on livestock as the mainstay of their family's livelihood.

Some 25 volunteers, mostly students or graduates of schools in Puno, prepared aid materials including blankets, clothing and food, registered affected families and delivered supplies to some 15,000 people. CARE additionally provided veterinary medical treatment for 30,000 alpaca and vicuna.

"The support of this group of volunteers made it possible to substantially reduce the response time and expand geographic coverage," said Jose Aquino, coordinator of emergencies for CARE in Peru. "In addition, it stimulated a high level of solidarity within the team as well as the affected populations. For many volunteers, it signified a learning experience and involvement with their fellow countrymen. Even though they were from the zone, the volunteers were unaware of the reality in which the families of these communities live."

CARE's field supervisors who evaluated the volunteers' performance came to a single conclusion: the experiment was a success. Aquino says emergency response teams benefit from local volunteers who know the context and culture of the population affected by the natural disaster. He concluded, "The local creativity, discipline and team work should be taken advantage of not only in emergency response tasks, but also in activities of prevention, mitigation and local training."