VOICES IN THE VINEYARD: Contingency plans


Fr. Gallagher’s ministry to people in the slums of Lima, Peru, who are infected with HIV receives support from the Diocesan Mission Collection:

Henry comes calling once and sometimes twice a week.

Yes, he is always looking for something, mostly food or clothes and often money to pay his overdue rent.

I try to limit my assistance, often with the rationale that I do not wish to create dependence.

“It is alright for you”, he said, “You have food to eat and a place to sleep. You really do not know or care what happens to me.”

This is from someone who I know for over 12 years and have helped perhaps more than anyone else I know in Peru.

It would be easy for me to feel disappointed and angry at his lack of gratitude and indeed there is the temptation to do so, in spite of knowing his mental health condition, but it also demands from me to reflect more deeply on the situation.

When I travel, I often hear the advice “to locate the exit nearest to me” and if I go to the cinema I hear similar advice. This advice is to ensure that I have an escape plan or a “contingency plan” in the case of an emergency.

More and more, I have come to realize that this is the one thing that the poor do not and cannot have.

They attempt to develop a subsistence plan, how to obtain enough food for the day, the bus fare to get to their place of work, even if this be their location as a street seller, enough to keep clothes on their back and of course a place to sleep.

If anything out of the ordinary happens — an illness, an intervention of the municipal police to clear the streets of these illegal sellers, who are often seen as a danger to the legitimate businesses — then the subsistence plan fails.

There is no emergency exit; there is no “contingency plan.”

I have decided that the new name for the contingency plan in Peru is solidarity or perhaps the word that we do not like to hear or use is “charity.”

Countries also need a “contingency plan,” to implement in cases of disaster, and this demands that the general population pay their taxes in order to allow the state to function.

In Peru, we have 70 percent of the population working in informal employment, which means that the taxation base is limited and does not allow for adequate services to be provided.

This results in many of the poor and those living with chronic health conditions being forced to seek help from wherever they can find it.

At “Sí, da Vida,” we attempt to alleviate the immediate needs of those living with a chronic health condition and to better prepare them to implement a subsistence plan. But unless the country can develop a system that allows for adequate services to be provided, I am very afraid that I will have Henry continuing to call.

It is the solidarity of people like you in the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City, that allows us to provide immediate care in emergencies and longer term training so that people living in situations of vulnerability can plan for their future and hope for a better life.

We are indeed your ambassadors. Thank you for allowing us to help.