Our trip to Peru was an enormous experience for all of us and it’s difficult to break down all of those memories into a coherent conclusion. However, since we arrived back in the United States four weeks ago, the most important and valuable parts of that journey have floated to the surface in a way that makes it easier to write about them.
Our project was in collaboration with a comprehensive health initiative that MOCHE Inc, an archeological non-profit in coastal Peru, undertook so that community development could be leveraged for community support for academic interest in their dig sites. By providing for the health needs of those in the villages of Bello Horizonte, Ciudad de Dios, and Manocucho, MOCHE could rely on their respect and support to protect the fragile archeological property of Peru’s rich cultural history.
The health project consisted of two main components. First, the construction of a primary health clinic, which in its first phase would specialize in pre- and post-natal care for a population of 10,000 villagers in the Moche Valley area. Second, the planning and execution for three health fairs to facilitate education for hygienic health practices and offer free consultation services from doctors, dentists, and other health specialists.
Recap: The last few days of work were emotional for all. We poured concrete for the roof of our clinic (it’s finally a building!) and had another short ceremony/community party to celebrate. A few of us also helped out by painting a large mural on the gazebo structure in the central Plaza de Armas of Bello Horizonte. The children were very eager to help out because it’s a place of their own. We enjoyed the opportunity to allow them to contribute to their own space. The feeling that our days of work were limited and ending so soon hung over us in a way that was sadder than we could have anticipated at the beginning of the trip. Our last day was spent frantically packing and writing thank-you cards for all of the hostel and MOCHE Inc. staff that made our experience so unforgettable.
Our group’s impacts in Peru are both concrete and gratifying. There is a physical structure, a huge concrete building, that stands today in the small mountain village of Bello Horizonte where just six weeks prior to our departure there was nothing but unleveled terrain. That building will be furnished and staffed so that it is fully equipped to deliver the care that the locals need to keep their children alive and healthy. In addition, many families have altered the trajectories of their health with the new practices they learned about at our health fairs: hand washing, teeth brushing, appropriate response to illness, and awareness about chronic diseases and their diagnosis/prevention.
Conversely, some of the impacts that this experience made on us were most evident in a few situations after returning home. For many of us, it felt strange to enjoy everyday luxuries like air conditioning on a daily basis, after witnessing so much poverty in Peru. Driving everywhere rather than walking seemed unnatural. Having all of our peers speak the same language as us was another big change to get used to. The adaptation back to our native environments was quick, but at times clunky and revealing of the magnitude of our cultural experience abroad.
We’ve taken the relationships that we formed with each other to Facebook by creating a group for ourselves to share pictures, things that we miss about Peru, and plans to get together again and taste this summer’s adventure in reflection and reminiscence. There’s a general consensus among these nine buckeyes that the feeling that Peru left us with was awesome, important, and something that we’d like to stick with us. Doing that may mean future international travel, dedicating our careers to development projects like this one, or even simply reconnecting as often as we can with the people that characterized this thrilling experience.