• James Armstrong

Volunteering in the slums of Pucallpa Peru with the Pure Art Foundation


Meeting people, making friends, building houses, adapting to social, cultural, economic and environmental differences are all part of the volunteer experience in Pucallpa.

A group of 58 volunteers from Hudson, Saint Lazare, Rigaud, Vaudreuil-Dorion, Montreal, Vancouver, and points in between are making last minute preparations for their trip to Pucallpa, Peru. They are a team of volunteers participating in the Construct a Structure Today (CAST) initiative organized by the Pure Art Foundation of Hudson, Quebec. For some of them, it’s a repeat event but for many, it’s a first-time venture.


“This will be an experience that will change your life,” said Robert McKinnon in a recent conversation with The Journal. That was true for him and his family. McKinnon, along with his wife Brigitte and their five boys, started the tradition of a humanitarian trip to the town of Pucallpa in 2005. They saw a community in dire need of help that lacked access to education, and housing. They returned home determined to find a way to help that community. Their solution was the creation of the Pure Art Foundation, a registered Canadian charity, dedicated to empowering the Pucallpa community through the development of health and education programs.

They didn’t do it alone. Volunteers have played a vital role in the development and execution of the programs that have been launched and continue to function. Fourteen years later, new volunteers are stepping outside their comfort zones and are making the trip to Peru.


Advance preparation is essential, especially in the vaccination and preventive medicine departments. Volunteers were advised it was crucial to make sure all vaccinations were up to date. In addition to Hepatitis A and B, Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis (DTP), Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR), all travelers were recommended typhoid fever vaccination and preventative malaria treatment. Because part of the group has planned to visit Cusco and Machu Picchu, altitude sickness tablets were also strongly recommended. All that meant finding a medical practitioner with a background in traveler medications.

Packing luggage for the trip has as many facets to it as the number of people in the group – or more. Mosquito repellant containing a high level of DEET, sunscreen, sturdy light-weight shoes, sunglasses, work gloves, hat with brim and light-weight fast-drying clothing to quote a few items from the list. Since many volunteers will be painting buildings, they are asked to bring a paintbrush and roller as well.

It should be noted every volunteer is responsible for paying his or her own way beginning with the flight to Lima, Peru. The Foundation organizes travel, hotel and some meals while in Peru, and the individual volunteer pays for it.

On Saturday, March 2, the volunteers are scheduled to meet at the airport in Lima to board their flight to Pucallpa. Their agenda for the next eight days will involve them in the construction of two homes, painting and cleaning three new school classrooms, registering 300 children for school, and a river trip to visit the Shipibo community of indigenous people living along the Ucayali River.

This year’s trip is significant for one of the volunteers, this journalist, who will have the privilege of being on location to provide a daily capsule for our readers.

We will be posting short videos, photos and articles online. Follow us at www.yourlocaljournal.ca or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheJournalYLJ.

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