"The government has done very little for Cerro Bolongo," Bertha Aldave says. "This area has been neglected just like many others, because the government seeks to invest where it can recover some of its investment, and there are no hopes of that here." It has become a desperately poor place, where family life is nearly nonexistent.
For the men in the communities, life is all about work. "Low wages and a high cost of living means that a father often has two jobs," Bertha Aldave explains. "A school teacher will work evenings as a taxi driver or work morning and afternoon shifts at two schools." She says those who work in factories do not have fixed hours, so they usually work overtime. When the men do have free time, they are not at home. "Our culture expects men not to help around the home," Bertha says. "If they do, they are jeered at with a term equivalent to ‘the wife wears the pants.’"
The women, then, carry a heavy load with working and taking care of the home and children. "They usually carry out unskilled labor as laundresses, kitchen helpers, cleaners and so on, without fixed hours and at exceedingly low pay," says Bertha. Rarely are the women granted vacations from work, so the time they spend with their children is limited.
Because their parents are not usually home, the children suffer also. "They spend a lot of time alone, often out on the street," says Bertha. "Children who work are exploited and ill-treated. They have no choice but to be involved in practices that adversely affect their development.
For this reason, Dr. Felix and Bertha Aldave spend a great portion of their time helping children. Most importantly, they teach the children about Jesus and the Bible. "We deal with many topics – health care, environment, the future, and so on – in the light of God’s Word," Bertha explains.
They also have a program for children at risk. "These are selected children who receive help with food, school supplies, medicines when they need them, or other supplies that contribute to their development. They are also evaluated and treated by our psychologist."
In 2007, Felix and Bertha have teamed up with Compassion International to provide quality medical care to the children sponsored in their area. "Thanks to our God because He uses us like instruments of blessings for the children of the program of Compassion International," Bertha wrote after the partnership was formed. "They need to be evaluated twice per year and have requested our collaboration. Also we will be blessed by them because they will give us an offering of love of three nuevos soles for each child."
Dr. Felix and Bertha Aldave are committed to bringing quality health care to Cerro Bolongo and Buenos Aires. They have been frustrated with the health care offered by the state. "State policy has a low-cost insurance that covers medical care and some medication," Bertha explains. "But infrastructure and equipment are exceedingly limited, and these services are always crowded."
Those who are employed have some benefits. "Health services are offered to employees and their families through the program of El Salud. This offers more coverage than the state policy, but access is restricted to workers on a payroll," Bertha says.
The only other option for health care is private consulting rooms and clinics. But those are so costly, most cannot afford the services.
In 2007, Dr. Felix and Bertha completed construction of their medical clinic. "We now have suitable premises where we are offering medical consultations, ultrasound scans, colposcopy, pharmacy and some laboratory analyses," says Bertha.
Also, because Trujillo ranks second worldwide in the incidence of cervical cancer, Dr. Felix and Bertha are developing a program in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease. "During the past few years, we have emphasized education about cervical cancer through home visits, particularly to women who have never had a pap smear," says Bertha.
Knowing the desperate situation in Cerro Bolongo and Buenos Aires, one can understand how Dr. Felix and Bertha Aldave are sources of hope. They make it known that they are Christians and that Jesus is the source of their work. "Their reaction to us being Christian is positive," says Bertha. "They know we won’t cheat them, and that as far as possible, we will give them the help they hope for. Sometimes that is simply giving advice or praying or crying together. When they leave, they do so with hope, with a way forward."
Because Felix and Bertha have become a support network for so many people, it is easy to see how they have become attached to the people. "At first, we saw this as our work," says Bertha. "From the outset, we were aware that it was God’s will that we should work here, but over time, we have become aware that it is more than merely work, it is our very life. The people are part of us individually and as a family. We have learned to love these people, to be interested in them and their experiences."