BY PAUL A. BARRA
COLUMBIA – Big plans for a summer building blitz in the wilds of Peru by Home Works of South Carolina were ruined when the U. S. State Department issued a travel warning for Americans because of impending violence in that Third-World country. So, the Chardos family went to help out on their own.
“We couldn’t justify putting other people’s children at risk,” said Hank Chardos, “but having our own daughters there was so special for all of us.”
Hank and Sally Chardos, founders and directors of Home Works, had 16 teens signed up to repair houses in the huge and impoverished parish of Los Zorritos, Peru, for the non-profit agency’s first effort outside its home state.
In late July, with daughters Gretchen, Theresa and Catherine, and her husband, Craig, the Chardos family flew to Zorritos. For Gretchen, 17, it was an eye-opening voyage.
“It was an awesome experience,” she said. “The people are so warm to be around, and they appreciated us being there.”
They visited Esther, a friend of Catherine’s from an earlier visit in 1999, who lived with her disabled husband and eight children in a tattered plastic tent. Gretchen and her father drove to Ecuador to buy materials for a new house.
The next day, it took Esther five minutes to remove all her family’s belongings and tear down her old house. The extent of the woman’s poverty — and her acceptance of her lot in life — impressed her visitors.
“There is no middle class in Peru. Peruvians are rich or poor. We’ve known Esther for three years, yet she never complained about her house.
“Despite their poverty, everyone seems happy. Mass in Zorritos is a joyous occasion with lots of singing and participation,” said his daughter, Theresa, 22.
Msgr. Donald Gorski, 69, and his sister, Sister Ann Caritas, 71, are the only missionaries in Zorritos. They take no day off and are continually on call. Hank Chardos said they exhibit “spiritual zeal beyond belief.”
The Chardos family came back to America with a list of needs for the parish. Even with ridiculously low individual expenses, the need is so great that most people have inadequate shelter for their families, and children have missing teeth from poor nutrition. Vitamins may be the greatest bodily need for Msgr. Gorski’s souls.
“We plan to go back next year with suitcases full of vitamins,” said Sally Chardos. “Vitamins are like gold to the people of Zorritos.”
But vitamins will do no good for the bodily needs of Msgr. Gorski. His energy belies the fact that he suffers from advanced prostate cancer and has, according to Hank Chardos, exhausted most of the treatment options.
The diocesan priest will return to Charleston in October for a medical check-up. The Chardos family will visit with him then. They will give him donations collected and vitamins for his people.
To contribute to the mission, checks may be made out to the St. James Society and sent to Msgr. Robert Kelly — Missions, P.O. Box 1257, Folly Beach, SC 29439. Only one thank you acknowledgement will be sent to contributors, and it will come from Peru directly.