Lilani Goonesena writes:
It is a bumpy, unpaved road and our driver carefully maneuvers around the potholes. Joan laughs and says this is her weekly massage. We pass dry, dusty shells of buildings, box-shaped with flat roofs. It seems as though it hasn’t rained in forever. Joan points to a truck coming the other way. "That's our weekly water delivery", she says.
We are in San Martin de Porres, a very poor district of Lima, Peru, visiting the extraordinary work of two Australian Sisters of Mercy. Joan and Patricia are not what I would typically think of as nuns. In fact, they are the archetypes of everyday Australian women -- cheerful, frank and hardworking. Both in their late 60s, they have spent the last 17 years of their lives here in Peru, helping to improve the livelihoods of people who have adopted them into their community. This year, the district’s 10,000 homes will have running water and sanitation for the first time ever.
Our car pulls up outside a large square building. The Sisters have built their clinic with the aid of generous local donors, the work of Caritas Australia and funding from the Australian government’s aid agency, AusAID. Nearby a group of boys play football on a dusty field. Stray, mangy dogs lie in the sun, barely raising their heads to look at the newcomers.
It is a humbling place to visit but the Sisters love visitors and welcome us in. We are taken on a tour of the clinic and chat with the amazing women who work here. Nurses man the busy waiting room and the pharmacist proudly shows us boxes of medications locked in glass cabinets. A doctor and a dentist visit one day a week. A child psychologist works in a cheery room with the brightly painted mural and a few stuffed toys. Our toddler, Maya, promptly pulls up a chair at the little table and starts playing with a wooden jigsaw.