Helping out after Perus Earthquake -

By: Robin Rowley

When the earthquake hit Peru on August 15th, destroying 85,000 homes and killing over 500 people, Robin Poirier knew she wanted to help. She just wasn't sure how to do it.

She'd been planning her move to Lima for months, and was boarding a flight the next week. Robin had friends in Lima, and was planning to set up the South American Fresh Tracks office.

And then the earthquake hit.

In her Vancouver home, Robin was glued to the TV. As she saw buildings collapse, she knew she was in a unique position to help. With only a few days before her flight, Robin rallied friends and colleagues at Fresh Tracks. By the time she flew to Lima she had collected $800.

Registering 8.0 on the richter scale, the quake had caused buildings in the capital to shake, but it was the smaller towns that were devastated. A month later, these communities are still struggling, and Robin is just one of many ex-pats helping her new community rebuild.

"Wherever you go, there are ways to contribute to growing communities," says Robin over the phone from Lima. "These opportunities just become more apparent after a disaster."

She initially used the money she raised to buy groceries which she drove an hour and a half south. Because most relief concentrates on larger cities, Robin used her local contacts to seek out other areas. Her boyfriend had spent summers growing up on the shores of Cerro Azul, a fishing village, and knew the community could benefit from help. With a simple gift of groceries, the community's new struggles were, at least momentarily, abated.

The following weekend, Robin took a more hands-on approach in Chincha. Teachers from Lima's British School coordinated volunteers to spend the weekend building houses for those homeless, an NGO donated supplies, and a local family billeted the workers.

While 20 homes were built in one weekend, it wasn't the speed of the project that impressed Robin, it was the attitude of the people.

"These people have lost everything," she says. "There are women picking furniture out of the rubble... And yet they're still inviting strangers into their home, sharing lunch with the volunteers."

Robin plans to continue her work in Peru, and encourages all travelers to think about ways they can contribute to a community while abroad, whether through an organized volunteer vacation or an independent means of responsible travel.

"When people travel they will benefit by being aware of the issues affecting the region and the people they're visiting. By recognizing their position as a guest in a community, travelers have the opportunity take some responsibility for that community. By being aware, and helping where they can, travel will become more intimate and powerful. You're seeing beyond the tourist sights to get a real understanding of the people and the country - and isn't that what you travel to do?"

How You Can Help: When disaster strikes internationally, the most immediate way to help is by giving money. The Red Cross is a large, well-established relief organization serving many communities around the world. For more information see

For a more personal approach, email Robin (robin@freshtracks.ca) to ask how you can help, or contact Fresh Tracks about other responsible travel options.

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