Leaders of the Presbyterian Campus Ministry at the University of Arizona in Tucson have sent a letter to supporters describing the March 16 assault on a PCM student group in La Oroya, Peru, and thanking them for their prayerful response to the attack.
Group members were interviewed by KVOA, the NBC television affiliate in Tucson on March 24. That story and interview is available on the KVOA Web site.
The student group, along with advisors, PC(USA) mission worker Jed Koball, and Peruvian partners from the Joining Hands Network Peru ― a ministry of the Presbyterian Hunger Program ― traveled to La Oroya, a mountain city outside the capital city of Lima to meet with children and youth of that community whose health has been severely compromised by the operations at the Doe Run Company smelter.
A 2005 study by the St. Louis University revealed that virtually every child in La Oroya suffers from acute lead poisoning caused by air and water pollution from the plant, which is owned and operated by the St. Louis-based Doe Run Company.
With the permission of La Oroya’s mayor, the American collegians and their young Peruvian hosts were painting a mural expressing environmental themes on a wall near the smelter when they were attacked by a mob of between 200 and 300 who appeared to be coming from the Doe Run plant.
No one was seriously injured and the group returned to Tucson on March 20.
The full text of the letter, from PCM Director Ellen Dawson and Moderator Jayne Raffety, dated March 24:
Dear friends of Arizona Presbyterian Campus Ministry,
Thank you for all the support for the PCM Spring Break Mission Team as we headed to Peru. As most of you know, they landed in Lima, Peru on Saturday, March 12th. After worshiping at a church in Lima and spending some time together in the city on Sunday, the team drove 4 hours up into the Andes Mountains on Monday, March 14th to begin their mission partnership in the town of La Oroya. They were invited there by the PC(USA) and The Joining Hands Network Peru to work alongside children and youth in La Oroya who are part of two Non‐Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in that city: CambiaLo (ChangeIt) and Red de Jovenes Ambientalistas (Network of Youth Environmentalists ). These NGOs, as part of the Joining Hands Network Peru, have been working closely with the Presbyterian Church and engaged with partners of this community for a number of years on issues of the environment and public health.
On Monday and Tuesday, the team spent time with the children and youth, becoming friends through the language barriers, sharing stories, learning about La Oroya, and even sharing a presentation about our own local environmental challenges around conserving water here in the deserts of Arizona.
On Tuesday, they were able to go together with the youth to meet with the Mayor of La Oroya, as well as the Mayor of Santa Rosa de Sacca. The youth and our own PCM students were able to ask questions about their environmental concerns and how the city plans to involve children, youth, and young adults in the ongoing challenges and needed change.
On Wednesday, March 16th, the CambiaLo kids and the Red de Jovenes Ambientalistas came to meet with the PCM Team for breakfast. After sharing a quick bite to eat, they gathered together to begin planning what they would paint that day ― a mural that would give those youth a voice about the environment.
Just as a group from Colorado College had done so last summer, the PCM Team would work alongside these youth to paint something they had designed as friends and partners. The NGO had received permission from the La Oroya Mayor’s office to paint a mural, and the office had even prepared the space with white paint that morning.
Around 10:00 a.m., as they started to outline the mural in chalk and then paint, several locals and a reporter stopped by to question them to what they were doing. Their leader, PC(USA) Mission Co‐Worker Jed Koball explained the project, as did Sherly and Jaime, the directors of the CambiaLo and Red de Jovenes.
People continued to question them as they continued to paint. Around 12:45, some of the group noticed a large number of people exiting the nearby plant, walking across the bridge toward where they were painting. The people surrounded them and started taking the paint and other items and throwing them in the river across the street. These people, numbering over 200, were allegedly workers from the Doe Run smelting factory in La Oroya.
Once the pushing started, as well as getting items thrown at them, they immediately left the site and sought shelter. They were all eventually reunited at the police station, and they left for Lima immediately. The rest of their time was spent in Lima, and they all returned home safely on Sunday, March 20th.
We invite you to read the full account of this event at www.pcusa.org/news. We also invite you to read the students’ own account on the PCM website’s Blog (www.pcmarizona.org). A few of the students and our ministry colleagues were hurt, though not seriously. We are thankful that the group responded non‐violently to the assaults.
As PCM Director Ellen Dawson said to the Arizona Daily Star, “they (PCM students) all were very protective of the kids that were with us, and never responded with violence. I’m so proud of them.” Police reports and notifications to the Peruvian government were made, and human rights
lawyers in Lima are investigating the case further.
You too can be proud of our students, who though rattled, are doing their best to do what Ellen and I have encouraged them to do: look at this through the lens of their faith, pray about it, and listen for God’s voice in the midst. We hope that you can do the same. We believe that we will all continue to process this sad, unfortunate, and harrowing event. We also pray that this will not prevent nor hinder anyone’s desire and ability to serve our brothers and sisters here and all around the world.
The PCM Team met with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance First Responders and the Presbytery has offered additional resources and support. Counseling resources are also available, and the entire team appreciates the outpouring of support and prayers they have already received.
As we gathered Tuesday night at the Campus Christian Center as a PCM faith community to share a meal, fellowship, and worship, we were humbled and overwhelmed by the love this community has for the team! We ask for your continued support, prayers, hugs, and understanding in the days ahead ― not just for us, but also for our mission partners in Peru. May we all continue on, seeking justice, and loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).
In the Peace of Christ Jesus,
Ellen Dawson, PCM Director
Jayne Raffety, PCM Moderator