There is one woman available by phone 24 hours a day answering the needs of Peruvian immigrants in the Philadelphia area. Interestingly, she doesn’t get paid for her work despite her 24/7 availability.
Maria Maravi Hollenshead volunteers her time as an emergency contact for the Consulate of Peru.
Hollenshead works out of her home. Sometimes she receives calls as late as 10 p.m. from worried mothers and fathers who have come home after working all day and don’t have anyone to ask for help with completing documentation necessary for immigration. She even receives calls directly from family members in Peru concerned about the welfare of loved ones living thousands of miles from their country in South America.
The consulate estimates that 10,000 Peruvians are living in Pennsylvania, Hollenshead said, but there is no specific data to document this number. Many Peruvian families move frequently changing their addresses which makes it difficult to accurately track this population.
One unforgettable call Hollenshead once received was to help translate for a hospitalized elderly woman who was found alone with a serious head wound. The woman appeared Andean, but she didn’t speak a word of Spanish. She spoke Quechua, a dialect chain used by natives of western South America. Regretfully, Hollenshead was unable to understand this elderly woman who was without any proof of identity like a passport. The consulate wasn’t sure what to do with her. The woman was lost between national borders.
Most calls Hollenshead receives come in just before the consulate visits Philadelphia. But these visits are becoming infrequent. Without regular visits, Peruvians living in the Philadelphia region have to make their way to Patterson, N.J. where a consulate office is located. Traveling to Patterson presents hardships for those without a vehicle or working jobs that don’t permit them to take time off.