Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 16, 2008
Young adults make concrete steps toward hope
Writer sees Christ in eyes of 10-year-old on Peruvian visit
Sara Loftson and her new-found friend in Peru.
By SARA LOFTSON
Special to the WCR
To build a concrete staircase you need four simple ingredients: sand, rock, concrete mix and water. These simple materials are the stepping stones between despair and dignity for the people living in Lima, Peru's shantytowns. Thousands of Peruvians have to climb steep, rocky mountainsides each day to get to and from their shack-like dwellings.
For one week in May I joined 14 other young adults from the University of Calgary Catholic Community on a mission trip to build steps to help impoverished Peruvians find equal footing.
We worked in conjunction with Solidarity in Action, a Peru-based not-for-profit Catholic organization, which is a branch of the Christian Life Movement, founded by Peruvian layman Luis Fernando Figari in 1985. The Vatican recognizes the CLM as an international association of Christian faithful of pontifical right.
It wasn't until I slid down the rocks for the first time that I realized how much a proper step could keep your footing on track. Our mission was to make sure children and the elderly would never have to scramble up the hillside again to get to their front door.
Each day we filled potato bags with sand and small rocks, formed a human chain to lug the materials up the steep mountains, poured all the ingredients together and mixed them into a mushy sludge like cookie dough.
Afterward we poured the wet concrete between wooden-frames and started the whole process over again and again. The work was physically exhausting and no one left without a bruise or two, but the sight of Emilda, a 25-year-old mother who carries her baby boy up and down the mountainside inspired me to push on.
During our time there we sang songs, exchanged smiles and laughter. By the end of it we had formed bonds with the locals despite our language barrier.
When it was time to say goodbye the townspeople thanked us with traditional dances and ruby red Jell-O cups. One gorgeous 10-year-old girl tapped me from behind, motioning for me to pick her up on my back. I did and together we watched the festivities.
When I finally put her down she clung to my side as if she would fall down if she let go. She didn't say much, except something in Spanish, which I got translated to mean, "I don't ever want to forget you."
Never to be forgotten
In this short 20-minute encounter I realized that I would never forget this girl either. I wondered what would become of her in 10 years. I wondered why God had placed me in Canada among wealth and opportunity yet placed her on a dusty mountainside among tattered shacks. I looked into her eyes and my heart melted into tears. I saw the face of Christ in the face of this beautiful little girl.
I am challenged upon my return to Calgary not to forget my experience and to find ways of bridging my experience between what I lived in Lima and the privileged life I lead in Canada.
Before this trip I asked what difference could a set of concrete steps make inside a sea of rubble and sand? Today upon reflection I realize that each small step is one step closer to building a foundation of hope and love.