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USU anthropology team returns favors to Peru after flooding

By Zachary Aedo | April 22, 2017

Anthropology students and faculty at Utah State University are raising money for a village in Peru, where El Nino has caused heavy flooding in regions of the northern coast.

But the group doesn’t see it as fundraising so much as returning favors.

“We often take away more than we give,” said Bonnie Glass-Coffin, the anthropology professor at USU who kickstarted the online fundraiser “Get WASH to Peru: A Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene Campaign.”

Since late January, the northern coast of Peru has been hit with torrential rain, flooding roads and entire villages. The downpour comes as a result of El Nino, a climatic phenomenon that occurs when the waters of the Pacific warm up and accumulate off the west coast of North and South America. The floods have left more than 100,000 people homeless and in need of aid — including a small fishing village Utah State anthropology students visit every year to conduct research.

With the help of her students, Glass-Coffin has raised more than $3,500 for the village of Huanchaco, located in the region of Trujillo, Peru. She said her goal is to reach $10,000 by the end of April. 

The donations are sent to an anthropologist in Peru who buys food and potable water for people in the village.

“We come back and write papers. We publish and we get jobs,” Glass-Coffin said. “But what are the people that we’re working with really getting out of it? This a great opportunity to really say thank you in a big way to the people who have been our partners, and who are in a situation where they’re struggling because of a natural disaster.”

Rafael Vasquez Guerrero, the anthropologist in Peru receiving the donations, said he didn’t imagine receiving aid from the students and faculty at USU.

“This campaign is helping bring tranquility,” Guerrero said.

Guerrero said about 120 people in Huanchaco have either partially or entirely lost their homes and are living in tents; between 40 and 50 percent of them are children.

Guerrero uses the donations to bring a water truck every 10 days to the community’s members so they can wash their clothes, their dishes, and maintain their hygiene.

“The help they’re giving is very valuable,” Guerrero said. “I’m glad to know people are aware and identify with our problems.”

The magnitude of El Nino’s effects on the weather is often unpredictable despite it being a cyclical phenomenon. Guerrero said the disorganized migration of people from the mountain range to the coast over the past decade contributed to the extent of damage caused by the floods.

“People come to the coast looking for a future,” he said. “They want to be in the cities and to see the lights. They want to be where the cars and televisions are. ”

But due to the lack of space and services, these migrants settle next to the ravines and other vulnerable areas next to the cities. This can have devastating effects when natural disasters strike.

However, when disaster strikes, those affected unite.

Guerrero said it has been a “beautiful experience” to see the Huanchaco villagers gathered in the makeshift community kitchen, cooking food purchased with the help of the donations received. Everybody helps one another and does their share of the work to make the most out of their current living conditions, he said.

“Sharing our resources has brought us together,” Guerrero said. “Unity and work are the greatest values mankind can achieve.”

More information on the campaign is available at