Willy Vera knows how to make things work. At 67, he’s been creating and building with metal since he was 14. As a local volunteer at Sagrada Familia, Global Volunteers’ community partner in Peru, Willy has become not only the thrifty Mr. Fixit on the compact campus, but also a revered and patient teacher of the community’s youth. Peru Team Leader Diego Acosta shares details of Willy’s motivation to serve others, and recounts how this resilient “ace of parts” directs his creativity to not only fix mechanical problems but generates new resources for children living on the margins.
In his hometown of Sullana, Piura, at the northern coast of Peru, young Willy Vera learned metal working from his father. As a teen, he moved to Lima to pursue an education at the Polytechnic School. There he learned to make metal molds, and after many years working in that position, he learned to work with the metal lathe as a “turner.” The owner of the company he worked for trusted him, and over time, they became very good friends. It was through this good friend that he met Miguel Rodriguez, director of Sagrada Familia, a refuge for abandoned and neglected children on the impoverished outskirts of Lima. Willy began volunteering his metal working knowledge and skills to help meet the community’s needs. That was 30 years ago.
“When I started helping Sagrada Familia, there was nothing there in Ventanilla; only sandy hills,” Wllly remembers. He said it’s been a while, and the community has gone through many changes, but his mutual regard with his friend and mentor, Miguel, remains. And, he says it hasn’t been an easy life. His son was killed at his workplace 10 years ago in an attack from construction mafia. He cares for a daughter who lives with a chronic mental illness with only meager resources. As with Miguel, adversity has produced Willy’s strong belief in serving others to vanquish his grief. In return, the community received him with open arms, a helping hand and a smile.
When the pandemic hit the country in 2020, Willy retired from his daily job to serve Sagrada Familia and the surrounding neighborhood. Before the height of the lockdown, he helped Sagrada Familia bake fortified bread to distribute with donated milk to needy families. Miguel thought it was a great idea to give out milk along with the bread, which drew many people from far-flung villages10 pieces of bread and a couple cans of milk. The great need produced lines that seemed endless. Then, the worst happened.
Many of the adults in the close-knit community contracted Covid. Deaths escalated. At one time, Peru had the highest Covid death rate in the world. Miguel got sick early in the outbreak and spent three months recovering. Willy worked hard to support Miguel and the children. Soon after, Willy became sick with Covid, and Miguel helped his dear friend as he suffered. By that time, Willy’s ingenuity had contributed to a solution to the lack of oxygen in the poorest regions of Lima. The Covid sufferers in Ventanilla desperately needed help. Willy collaborated to create an oxygen plant in the community’s clinic to serve the entire community. It was not his turn to succumb, but to benefit from his own creativity.
Grateful to recover, and with more time in retirement, Willy committed to share his knowledge in turning and welding with the kids in the community and the surroundings, so the kids have “at least something for them to work on when they finish school”, as he says. During the summer, he teaches 8 kids after lunch and during school time, 3 of them have decided to learn what Willy has to offer. In fact, the community school principal is so pleased by Willy’s work, that she has offered him an extracurricular workshop, so more kids can develop these important abilities and get more opportunities in their lives.
Always thinking; always inventing, Willy discovered a new profit center potential recently. Right now, when the community sells recycled plastic bottles they collect from the surroundings, they earn 1 sol by the kilo. But, he learned that pulverizing the bottles first to small particles will increase their profit 10 times! So, being the hard worker and imaginative person he is, he designed a machine to pulverize plastic bottles, using recycled metal they had in the metal shop to build it. What’s more, his former boss donated the engine needed for the machine to work.
This is an example of how Willy’s ingenuity and the staff’s determination brings greater income to the community and sets an example to the apprentices and resident children.
Miguel always teaches that with knowledge and creativity – no matter how poor – children can achieve what they set their minds to, and build a productive future. We’re grateful to help them in this pursuit. Every team member contributes to the advancement and development of Sagrada Familia’s community.