VC at 60: Volunteer Memories from Brigid McCarthy 2000-2010s

VC at 60 Memories: Brigid McCarthy

I worked on environmental projects in Lima Peru between 2007 and 2015.

Prior to this time, I had been living in Lima and worked for a number of years as artist in residence at a children’s refuge in one of the poor suburbs of the capital.

Initially I lived with the Franciscan Sisters (Franciscan Sisters of Littlehampton) in the village of Santa Rosa, a bus ride away from the project. In the early days it was a great comfort to be with English speakers – Sr. Clare Lynch from Donegal and Sr. Barbara Black from Yorkshire England and later with Sr. Anne Mc Loughlin, also from Donegal.  I had the great advantage of getting to know the people there, through the Franciscans’ mission.

By 2007 I had in a sort of way established myself, could speak the language, had some friends and was also more cognisant of the local needs.

By this time the environment, global warming, and climate change were words echoing around the world. Though Peru was one of the least polluting countries in the larger scheme of things world-wide, there was little awareness at local level of the real importance of reducing waste, recycling and keeping the environment healthy. Many people were also struggling to eke out a living through casual labour and street trading so the environment was not their priority.  At the same time there were some seeds being sown at government level of the importance of the environment and this was gradually coming into school curricula.

So with this as the background, together with some local people we founded the V.I.D.A. Association (Vecinos Integrados para el Desarrollo Ambiental – This translates as Neighbours Together for Environmental Development) in 2007. Our mission was to raise environmental awareness in the area so that there would be a healthy environment and a just and sustainable use of natural resources.

We started by making a plan month by month suitable for schools  and began delivering workshops on topics such as waste reduction, recycling, trees, water, air, biodiversity, animals, energy, transport, global warming, climate etc.

In conjunction with the workshops we involved teachers, parents and the wider community through presentations in different localities around the area on the subject matter being dealt with in schools and on a broader scale celebrated key dates such as World Environmental Day, World Water Day etc.

With funding received through Viatores Christi we were enabled to engage the services of a young environmental engineer whose expertise was invaluable in the content of our presentations. Between 2008 and 2012  we embarked of the establishment of botanic gardens initially in the  Parroquial School Fe y Alegría to be replicated later at Santa Rosa National School.

At this time  we had the generous help and advice of a friend who was a Forestry engineer. He guided us through activities such as composting, soil preparation and irrigation systems as well as choosing trees and plants most appropriate for the semi desert soil of Lima. The school ensured the presence of parents who helped carry out activities throughout the process.

This garden continues today and has increased in area and diversity. Even now during the COVID closure of schools in Peru the directorship has  assigned someone to tend to the garden.

With this experience behind us we proposed a similar project for Santa Rosa National School where we had also been working with students and teachers. This work was executed with the help of funding from  ESB Ireland.

Though much energy was invested in the project in this school I’m sad to say the garden has not been maintained. While there was great enthusiasm at the beginning  there followed  a change in the school Principal multiple times over a short period. Ultimately there was little commitment to the  project and no one was appointed to oversee activities such as watering. Today the hill that we ‘greened’ has sadly returned to desert.

For me what is really interesting is the realisation that motivation and commitment are so much more important than finance. People will literally move mountains when they have good leadership and a vision that they truly believe in.

I’m glad to say that with internet and social media now it’s very easy to continue our friendships across continents. I am still in touch with many great friends in Peru and we still have much to share.

The Botanic Garden after the first phase of the project


Beginning work on soil preparation for the Botanic Garden in Fe y Alegría Parroquial School.










The Botanic Garden after the first phase of the project.