Returning to Peru: A Reflection From a Former Brethren Volunteer Service Worker

Church of the Brethren Newsline
September 4, 2007

In June of 1970, I was seconded to Church World Service by Brethren Volunteer Service. CWS sponsored me as a member of their disaster team to Peru after the earthquake of 1970. In August this year I visited the one village in which I spent about a year and a half from June 1971 until Dec. 1972.

I was to spend two years with CWS on the disaster team responding to the earthquake in Ancash, Peru, which occurred on May 31, 1970. I ended up extending my time due to obligations to the earthquake victims. Upon arriving in Peru I was sent to Aija, Ancash. Aija is a large village at about 10,000 feet in the Black Mountain Range. I worked there and in one of its subvillages, Succha, for about a year, and was then sent to Raypa, a small village about 70 kilometers from the coast.

The village of Raypa had been located at the base of some large mountains and when the earthquake hit, massive boulders wiped out the village. When I got to Raypa, the village’s 90 families were living in lean-to shacks in their chacras (small agricultural lands on the slopes of the Andes). When asked by CWS of the needs in Raypa, I contacted two people: Ruben Paitan, an agricultural engineer, and Nora Passini, an all-around administrator with talents in developing an array of programs. I had met these two people in Aija during my first year in Peru.

Within weeks Ruben and Nora joined me and we started projects cleaning water canals, teaching agricultural improvements, making guinea pig farms, and many more. On a regular basis we had about 40 projects underway at any given time.

And here begins the story I must tell. In Sept. 1972, the Raypa village leaders came to me and said they wanted to build a school. My response was that I thought it impossible in the last three months that we had in Raypa. The project was scheduled to end in December. The villagers pleaded and promised that they would work like never before. With that the villagers, with help from CWS volunteers, identified a hill that was protected from falling boulders and huaicos (mudslides that crawl and then rush down hillsides wiping out everything in their path) that would be an appropriate place for a school. The hill, known as Inchan, was covered by a corn field. After identifying an adequate site for a school, the site was donated by the owners. The villagers then asked for a water pump to get water to the top of the hill and CWS provided them with that.

I then left the village telling them that by the time of my return we needed about 8,000 adobes. Over the next two weeks I spent my time getting plans for an anti-seismic school building from the Peruvian Ministry of Education that was just producing the plans but had never built a school. I then returned to Raypa. I went directly to Inchan and I did not find 8,000 adobes as the villagers had promised. I found 12,000, and men working on more.

With that enthusiasm evident, we started to work. By hand, 80 men working daily cleared four level platforms for the buildings. We then went to the coast and brought back the roofing system, a space frame held up by steel posts and roofed with eternit calaminas. The Peruvian Ministry of Education sent 12 of their engineers to watch the villagers put up the roofs. An error in the plans made it impossible to construct the roofs, but Ruben and I identified the error, and re-ordered the struts to allow construction. Several days later we raised the roofs.

The 80-plus men then went about building the walls, windows, and doors of the school building. We worked from day break until night, and then under the lights of our pickup truck, we continued to work until the batteries were low.

By Dec. 23, the villagers had their four school buildings built and we inaugurated the buildings with speeches and a grand pachamanca in which the entire meal of meat, yucca, potatoes, and beans is cooked in an underground oven of hot rocks. The CWS program ended the next day, and Ruben, Nora, and I all left to our next assignments.

Thirty four years later, Ruben and I along with my daughter and son, returned to Raypa. We drove up to Inchan and what we found held us spell bound. There was the school, and around it was a village with lights, running water, houses, stores, a church, a health clinic, some municipal buildings, and a beautiful plaza. It was a complete town alive and growing. Some 100 families live in the town and it is protected from the elements.

What really hit us hard was that the school had a large sign on it. The sign read: “Barner Myer School.” They had it spelled wrong, but they had named the school after me. In the early ’70s we had had no time to write down any of the events that led up to the school, so they had made up a history.

Thanks to CWS and the efforts of the villagers, the town of Raypa is alive and thriving. It started with a school in a corn patch, but it is now the center of the valley with 22 teachers in the school, which has been expanded, and the services that make it the best village in the valley.

–Barney Myer (Harold L. Myer) worked with Church World Service in Peru as a Brethren Volunteer Service worker. For more about Church World Service visit For more about Brethren Volunteer Service visit

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The Church of the Brethren Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. To receive Newsline by e-mail go to Submit news to the editor at For more Church of the Brethren news and features, subscribe to “Messenger” magazine; call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.

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