After almost a month of working in the community (two months for the other volunteers) it is time to wrap up what we’ve accomplished and our thoughts about them. We had our last day in the community on Thursday the 5th. Once again, I will focus on the Piassaba group as the other volunteers touch other topics.
One of our biggest goals was creation of a broom factory to house machinery and supplies for the company. While the factory was not quite set up at time of our departure, we were able to see the first machines set in place and, excitingly, the partial manufacture of the first brooms! We held a small ceremony in which a substantial portion of the company associates were present, and Lucia, John, and the head of the company talked a bit about the future of the company. The brooms were made, the ribbon was cut, and drinks were handed around in celebration. We look forward to pictures as they finish the machinery setup and the construction of a pavilion to complete the factory.
We were also able to create for them a simple logo and present it to them for their approval. Upon approval, we set about trying to find an iron hot-stamp to incinerate the logo into the wooden “taco” (attachment point for the bristles) of the broom. Tarapoto did not have the amenities for such a stamp so we left the logo with Lucia to create from iron workshops in Lima. Meanwhile, we took the initiative to paint a colorful version of the logo onto the front of the first building on their plot of land, and I must say I was quite pleased with its quality! We hope it will serve as a new face for the company and potential visitors to the community.
Looking back, its heartwarming to think how all the work from the past month came together to help this community get their first communal business started. From attending meetings and planning, to painting and gathering wood from the forest, and everything in between, I can say for certain that helping this community has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Most especially, I will never forget the relationships forged with community members. I await my departure, but I also leave a piece behind to always remember the impact I made and, more impressionably, the impact made on me.
Hello! Due to Internet issues, we weren’t able to blog much the last couple weeks we were in Peru. I wrote down updates in my notebook, and now that we’re all back home I’m finally able to post them here.
The first thing I have to tell you all about is our health fair, which took place on Sunday, July 25. We held it in the colegio, or elementary school, in Bello Horizonte. It was a good setup– the school is centered around a big courtyard in the middle, with a stage and everything. We set up our “health stations” there and used the stage to do the raffle drawings. The doctors worked inside the classrooms. Most of them used classroom desks and chairs as beds, except for a few who’d brought their own mattresses and cots. We ended up having seven doctors working at the fair– a general doctor, a nurse, a pharmacist, a dentist, a psychologist, an obstetrician and a pediatrician.
We also had the help of five wonderful community health workers from Santa Rosa, the community next door to Ciudad de Dios (two towns away from Bello.) A while back, when we were carrying out health services surveys at local hospitals and health posts (“health post” is what clinics are called around here), Rachel and Dom went to the health post in Santa Rosa. While it’s called a “posta de salud,” (health post), this one really isn’t a clinic– there are no doctors and no medical services are offered. It’s basically a little store that has a first aid kit and sells aspirin and other over-the-counter medicines. The post is run by a short, heavily made up, very friendly and enthusiastic woman named Irma, who’s also the leader of the organization of community health workers in the valley. When we told her about our health fair, she said she’d be happy to help. Four more of her community health workers agreed to come, and they spent the day measuring height, weight, pulse and blood pressure of each patient who came to the fair. We could not have done it without their help.
I was incredibly impressed with the willingness of all the doctors and health workers to come and work on a Sunday for free. Sundays are the only days that most of the doctors have off, but every single one of them was happy to spend the day working in a tiny village with people who rarely ever get a chance to see a doctor. The dentist even asked us if she could come two hours early to begin working, because “more people would be out earlier in the morning.” I got the feeling that this kind of free work might be something that doctors around here do fairly often, because several of them mentioned having worked at similar events before.
The fair officially started at 9:30 am (although, like most everything in Peru, it actually started a bit later than that.) By 9:00, people were already lining up outside the gates of the school waiting for the fair to begin. We opened the doors around 10 am, and a whole crowd of people, mostly mothers with children, flooded in. We hadn’t expected such a huge surge at the beginning, so we had to rather quickly organize a new way to process all the patients. First, each patient waited in line to talk with members of our team, who wrote down general information and medical needs to determine which doctor he or she should see. Next, each person went to the health workers’ tent, where the five women recorded height, weight, blood pressure, pulse and other vitals (I think there were more but I can’t remember exactly.) After this was done, everyone proceeded to wait in line to see the various doctors.
The main draw at the fair was, obviously, the doctors. Patients were lined up outside their “offices” all day, from 10 am to 4 pm. The pediatrician saw 21 patients before lunch alone. And even though they didn’t have all their usual equipment, the doctors seemed to have no reservations performing all the medical services they usually offer. The dentist said she pulled out “more teeth than I can count,” and the obstetrician did several pap smears. We bought a selection of drugs for the pharmacist based on what he said he prescribed most frequently, and by about 2 pm, he’d distributed them all.
We’re not sure exactly how many people attended the fair, but I do know that by 12:30 we’d given away all 300 free toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste that our group collected at home. In order to get a free gift, each person had to visit each one of the health stations that we set up. We had stations covering oral hygiene, maternal health, stress, infectious disease, sanitation, nutrition, diabetes and respiratory problems. Members of our group, the OSU group, and a few other people (like Robby and Mateo!) manned the tables, handing out brochures and answering questions. We also did a few demonstrations: a repeat showing of how germs spread with glitter and a demonstration of how human waste contaminates clean water, using a bottle of water and a bottle of Inca Kola.
I don’t know really how effective these stations were– the fact that several members of our group (including me) aren’t totally fluent in Spanish made it a little difficult– but I think at the least people were exposed to some new information, which can never be a bad thing. We’ve already started thinking about how to do it differently next year. One idea was to have people give speeches about various health topics while patients are waiting in line to see the doctors and then have question-and-answer sessions. I’m excited to see what else people come up with.
At various points during the day, we also gave away six raffle baskets to mothers at the fair. The baskets were full of miscellaneous health-related gifts. Each one included toilet paper, soap, toothpaste and a toothbrush, a comb, sanitary pads, hand sanitizer, aspirin, and several other things that I can’t remember. The raffles were definitely a success, and each mother who won was very excited about her “regalitos de salud.”
As far as demographics, almost everyone who attended the fair was from Bello Horizonte, even though we publicized it door-to-door and with flyers in all five communities in the Middle Valley. I guess it’s hard for people to travel around the valley, especially if they’re sick, and because you have to pay for the combi. The majority of people who attended were mothers with children, but there were a good number of men as well.
The obstetrician told us that she saw a 50-year-old woman who had been pregnant sixteen times. Sixteen times! The woman now has ten living children. The obstetrician also did an ultrasound for a 17-year-old who was almost a month pregnant and didn’t know it until the day of the fair. Those were probably the two most exciting things that I heard, but I think that the even more exciting thing is that hundreds of families were able to see doctors and get medicines that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford. People continued to come see the doctors all day, until after the fair was supposed to be over. I think it’s pretty clear that the clinic that MOCHE plans to build in Bello Horizonte is needed and will be appreciated.
Coming soon– pictures from the health fair! I promise.
Writing this last post, bundled up in our hostal in Lima, there are so many things that I would like to reflect upon about this experience and the things I have learned. It was a really incredible and life-altering summer, as cliché as that may sound. I feel changed as an individual and am coming away with a very different perspective about what it means to work with people to reduce poverty and what my personal role in this endeavor. I have learned to see myself as a partner of the people I seek to help and to understand that I am benefiting just as much, if not more, than those I hope to aid.
All things considered, I think that the most important lesson I have taken from this trip has to do with the importance of building relationships with people we worked with. I would venture to say that the friendships that we cultivated were the most valuable contribution that we made to the communities we were working in as well as the most memorable thing we are taking away from it all. We had the special opportunity to not just donate money from afar or visit for only a few days but instead to live in solidarity with the people for a few months. We were there for the sunny and rainy days, for when the electricity went out, for the political parades and festivals. We got to cook with families, to take care of their babies, to help build roads and buildings. We spent weeks sitting and talking with people of all ages and social backgrounds, learning about their lives and sharing our experiences from living and studying in the US. During all of this we were working on the projects with Rainforest Partnership and Nourish as well, building and painting and planning, but the majority of our time was spent just getting to know the people and culture. As the weeks passed we became good friends with many people and found ourselves adopted lovingly into the communities. When we finally left it was after days of tearful goodbyes and with little kids running behind our van into the dark. Leaving the community was extremely sad and we left behind many good friends.
I think we went into this experience thinking of the people we were going to help as an amorphous mass of poor Peruvians, faceless examples of poverty waiting to be saved. However we are leaving with the knowledge that within this tiny niche of the world exist many dynamic and special individuals who have distinct dreams, ideas, and traditions. Yes, they are poor by some standards, but they are so, so much more than that. They have a richness of life that we fall far short of in the US, in the care they have for each other, in their connections with the environment, in their traditions. I feel so lucky to be able to call these people my friends and I hope to be able to go back and share more with them in the near future.
This, however, brings me to a second point and something that has been pressing on my mind as I get ready to leave the country. The issue is when, if ever, will I be able to come back here? How can it be possible to grow so close to a community and then never in your life go back? It seems crazy but it is surprisingly easy, as I have learned from some of my past travels. I always leave with the intention or vague ‘maybe someday’ dream of going back again, however, so far I have yet to re-visit any of the places I’ve gone. This is something that I really want to change starting this trip. I am going to really try to go back this time. The good thing is that I have an extra incentive because I completed my thesis research here and would like to share it with the people I worked with and to use it together to work towards bettering the community. There is also the possibility of returning to follow-up my research as a part of my graduate studies or working with a non-profit. I am starting to explore these possibilities now while everything is still fresh in my mind and I am still close with the people in Chazuta and Chipaota. I know that as soon as my feet hit the ground in the US I will be off and running in a hundred directions and getting back into the chaotic flow of student life. However I am going to make a conscious effort to continue the work from this summer and to not get too caught up in other things to go back. This is really important to me.
Thinking back on our time this summer I remember one moment in particular when, as we boated home from Chipaota, I lay back and stared at the huge stars-strewn sky and the mountains and forest reaching towards the waxing moon. It is easy to feel like I am infinitely small and unimportant compared to how large the world is, to how many people are out there. But as I think back on my days in the community, of watching the people work together to solve problems and the small successes that we had, I feel like maybe I can be something more. I see the grinning faces of muddy barefoot children, their malnourished bellies and tiny bodies running towards me offering bananas and flowers, and I feel hope for the future. Even if I am just one small individual, I know that that hope and those friendships can take me anywhere I want to go.
Until the next adventure!
Adios y gracias por leer.
Sooooo our group is on the move! The last few days in Huanchaco were bittersweet. We saw much progress on the reservoir, but had to say goodbye to all the new friends we´ve made during our stay.
Late on the 5th we headed to Trujillo for a 9 hour bus ride to Lima. We spent a crazy afternoon in Lima touring churches and catacombs and trying to find a grocery store (no luck). Back at the bus station that evening we departed for a TWENTY TWO hour bus ride to Cusco. It was no fun… but once it was over, we decided it could have been much worse. In Cusco we met our friend Natalia (Julio´s girlfriend) for dinner and headed to bed early. We are definitely looking to explore the city more!
Early early the next morning we headed to the train station. Our three hour ride to Aguas Calientes was breath-taking. It reminded me of being in Montana. After buying our tickets and some snacks for lunch we took a short bus ride up to MACHU PICCHU! I´m not even going to begin trying to describe it (I will leave that job for someone else). I will tell you that we had an amazing afternoon and I nice hike down the mountain.
Tomorrow we are taking another train down to Ollantaytambo for some hiking. More details coming soon
For the past month or so I’ve boomeranged between excitement and anxiety pretty regularly, but now that all of the pre-arrival details have been taken care of, my body is brimming with vaccines and my pack is stitched proudly with a California flag, I feel totally mellow. Ready. Stoked. But above all, very zen. There’s nothing else to do, and if there is I’m sure its nothing Rosh and I can’t handle. Its the calm before the storm…..for weeks the conditions change and churn and now all we have to do is make it happen!
I’ve studied for four years to do international development projects, and its pretty surreal to be sitting on my couch here in the heart of LA, knowing that at this time tomorrow we’ll be zooming off to help execute a project we have been planning for months. Countless people invested hours in moving the wheels of Nourish on our campus and throughout Westwood, and its a rush to know that hocking donuts and inviting people to party has actually created the momentum for change that was promised……
Someone once said that higher education is a schooling in the vastness of what you dont know. If there is anything I took from studying international development, its that I have so much more to learn before I can have any hope of understanding how everything works and what motivates peoples around the world. So all I can hope is that I can learn as much from the Quechua people of Santiago as they are willing to share! And even that is such a small start; there is so much to know. So much to learn from everyone.
Feeling outrageously fortunate on every level
more to come when we land! First stop: Lima Peru. Second stop: La Paz. Third stop: Lake Titicaca. Fourth stop: Cochabamba. Fifth stop: Santiago Farm Project
ok so less than 24 hrs until departure and now the nerves are definitely kicking in! I feeel as though i am almost finally ready to head out which some last minute shopping stuff to take care of as for snacks and such for the long 30 hour journey that awaits! As soon as we arrive in La paz we plan on staying there for couple of days and then taking an 8 hour bus ride through the Bolivian countryside to reach our next location of Cochabamba where we will meet up with the project coodinator luc! Then a couple of days shopping there and off to Santiago community we will go on the 8th of August 2010. After seeing the pictures and having much communication with Save the children i am definitely quite excited for journey that lies ahead. Definitely scared of the communication barrier, but have been brushing up my Spanish even though the main language is Quechwa it should be interesting. I cannot wait to start building the animal farm, working with the community and implementing animal husbandry with the youth there. Got my sleeping bag ready and quite nervous, yet excited for the no water, no electricity because definitely give me a new found appreciation for life. So with all that said, bolivia ready or not here i come help make change happen!