There are no typical days, says Sandra McGirr.
Talking via Skype from her home in the Sacred Valley in Peru, the former Squamish resident laughs at the question. Five years ago, McGirr and her husband Sandy Hart moved to the small Andean village of Lamay to set up a non-governmental program.
The not-for-profit organization DESEA (Spanish for sustainable development in action) started by teaching locals how to make and maintain bio-sand water filters. The one-metre-tall, free-standing concrete containers can filter up to 40 litres of water an hour and remove up to 99 per cent of bacteria, 90 per cent of viruses and 99.99 per cent of parasites.
But today, its work branches out to include a health care program that trains local women in hygiene practices, first-aid and interpretation of basic vital signs. The qhali — a Quechua term meaning “work for health” — take that information out to rural communities.
Last week, McGirr hiked a hour-and-a-half trek up a rough, dirt road to a remote community in which a family’s house had burnt down. The mother, father and grandmother were transferred to a hospital, hundreds of kilometres away. Left behind, were their seven children — the youngest 17 months old.
The family lost everything, McGirr said, noting that included their life savings that amounted to $350. She was there with her team of qhalis to check on the children.
“There is no typical day,” McGirr reiterated.
On Friday (July 20), the couple will be back in Squamish, visiting Canada for the first time in four-and-a-half years. As part of their stop, they’re will be at a Peruvian-themed fundraiser at the Brackendale Art Gallery.
Peru has one of the highest neonatal mortality rates in the world, said long-time friend Patricia Heintzman. In the highlands, the average is between 50 and 60 deaths per 1,000 births — double that of the lowlands. In the past three years, there has been one neonatal death in the areas served by DESEA, Heintzman told The Chief.
DESEA is a great example of a grassroots NGO, she said, noting the event, including meal, should be interesting to those wanting to learn more about setting up effective non-profits.
“These are the in the trench lessons about humanitarian work,” she said.
Tickets cost $50. The four-course dinner starts at 6 p.m. For more information visit www.desaperu.org or visit Desea Peru Peruvian Dinner Fundraiser on Facebook.