The Alto Cayma mission is found under the “Chachani” volcano on the northern outskirts of the city of Arequipa in Peru. It is presently made of 24 settlements with an estimated population of 22,000 people. The furthest settlement is at an altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level. The area arid, mountainous with most of the roads being rocky and simply dirt. There is only one paved road in the entire area.
The majority of the population consists of people coming from the mountains with the aim of improving their living conditions. Others come out of the already developed areas of the city where there is no more room for housing. It is a mix of very poor people together with middle class people and wealthier ones. We have a significant number of un-educated people, due to the lack of study opportunity on the mountains, along with professionals coming out of universities. People living in tiny shanty houses and others in two or more story well constructed buildings. There are only 3 pre-schools, 1 primary school with regards to education in the area. There are no health facilities and no proper means of transport. Some people have some access to water through common faucets for two hours a day from which they are allowed an average of five buckets; other s have no access to water at all. The water is not potable and must serve the needs of hygiene, cooking, laundry and cleaning. Regarding electricity or energy needs, some use gas stoves for cooking while others burn wood. Some have access to three light bulbs while others have none. Most homes consist of one room made of local stone called “sillar”’ a stone cut by hand from volcanic ash quarries. Usually the homes are nine by fifteen feet, with corrugated metal sheets as a roof. Since there is no sewer, the toilet facilities are usually a hole in the ground. Given the size of the homes, rooms actually, there is no possibility of putting in furniture or any number of beds.The homes may have a bed or two and have to be shared; otherwise they sleep on the dirt or concrete floor. The average family consists of five members, but st times the house also the extended family.
Since most of the people are not skilled workers, they end up doing very hard labor for very little pay. They work an average of ten hours a day for about fifteen U.S. dollars. The jobs are primarily in construction, agriculture, carrying goods at markets, loading and unloading truckloads of merchandise, and whatever opportunity comes along. In most cases all the family has to work including children as young as ten. The children work looking after and cleaning cars, sell sweets or simply beg. Most women work in agriculture, clean houses or do laundry. The majority of the people are daily informal workers and at times do not earn a day’s pay each day due to the lack of work and therefore return home empty handed. Since they are not regular formal workers, they are not included in any form of health insurance or pension schemes as the do not contribute to either.
As for the pastoral care of the people there is still a lot to be done. Almost everyone considers himself Catholic since they come from a Catholic background. There is a lot of people who are not even baptized. They are slowly starting to attend prayer services and we consider the mission as one of first evangelization. On the other hand there is a strong sense of God, all that is holy or spiritual, and a great sense of unity. There is a big mix of tradition, culture and religion and big celebrations commemorate the feast of the patron saint of their mountain community of origin. The parish itself is still being formed and we are working hard to have an accessible presence to the different settlements. We have managed to build two churches and two small halls to attend the people. Here churches are in fact multipurpose halls where everything happens. It is a beautiful concept of church where all the community gets together to look after the need both spiritual and material. The Church is the only formal institution and the main coordinator of all that happens in the area.