A Ghanaian-born priest has become a lifeline for Peruvians sick with COVID-19 in a beach town near the capital, Lima.
When any of Felix Nyamadzi’s parishioners fall ill due to the coronavirus, they struggle to find oxygen, which has been a scarce and overpriced commodity that has left many spending their life savings.
And so they turn to their priest.
Nyamadzi’s phone rings almost 24 hours a day, with calls from people in desperate need of oxygen, medicine, or food supplies.
He then goes around delivering aid to people in an area that’s been hit hard by the economic consequences of lockdown rules.
Many beaches in the Lima region, such as Punta Negra, are forbidden to visitors.
The African priest explains the general feeling at the onset of the health crisis, “When the pandemic arrived, we were not used to staying locked up. We did not know this illness. So it struck all of us, psychologically, physically.”
With most economic activity in the area based on tourism and services, local businesses are not deemed as “essential” by the government.
Nyamadzi, 42, with locked tresses and born in Ghana, is an unlikely resident of Lima.
He is commonly seen playing football or his guitar at the beach, and says he has often faced racism in the 17 years since he arrived in Punta Negra.
But now, the priest – who speaks English, Spanish, French and Ewe – has become a cornerstone of the community.
Nyamadzi says he knows of at least 25 people who died in January and February, including Mayor Claudio Marcatoma and his wife.
“I can’t stay put seeing my people die,” he said while pushing oxygen tanks that he distributes for free to the infected in Punta Negra, a town of 8,000 inhabitants next to the Pacific.
He gets the oxygen free of charge through his contacts in the diocese of Lurín and other Catholic organizations such as Caritas.
Peru has recorded more than 1.3 million COVID-19 cases and more than 47,300 deaths.
Thousands of infected people are dying at home because hospitals do not have space for more patients, driving them to obtain their own oxygen supplies.
In February, a scandal broke when the government confirmed that more than 500 people received an early vaccination ahead of health workers; many top officials, the former president and the Vatican representative to Peru among them.