As a returning volunteer from last summer and here in Ollantaytambo for only a short time, I have had the pleasure and privilege of helping launch the new promotora (community health worker) program. Many communities around Ollanta have either already selected women to go through the 12 month training to become a health worker in their community, or they are currently in the process. With another volunteer named Julia and under the leadership of our dedicated Peruvian nurse, Leticia, I have been visiting newly-elected promotoras to talk with them and simply learn more about their lives and their own desires and goals for the program. We have also been making certain that they, their husbands, and their families are dedicated to the long training and responsibility involved — before they start.
The first community we visited was Pampallacta, located on the road out of the Sacred Valley that crosses a high pass and descends into the jungle town of Quillabamba. There we met with Escolastica and Sonia, who live across the highway from each other. Escolastica is 50 years old (although you would guess she was younger) and lives with her 98 year-old mother, for whom she cares for along with tending to her house and her husband. She has a older son who lives far away that she describes as being very independent with his own family. Sonia is 28 years old, has a 6 year-old daughter, and also tends to her duties as a housewife. She has a great smile and exudes a kind and gentle energy. Both of them wish to improve the health of their community and while I don’t speak Spanish fluently enough to get too deep into conversation with them, I could tell by their body language and their keen faces that they are dedicated to the road ahead.
The next day we visited Patacancha, 20 kilometers up the valley out of Ollanta, to talk with the president and the promotoras there. However, they were all out working in the fields and were unavailable. But that’s how things work in Peru; with only one phone for the whole town and everyone needing to go about their daily activities, it can be very difficult to arrange meetings with certain people and we will have to return and try again at a later date.
So instead, we headed down the road to Huilloc to talk to the three promotoras there. First we met Vilma, a 20 year-old single mother who is a weaver and produces traditional textiles for tourists in Ollanta. Due to lack of money, she was unable to complete much school and as a teenage was sent by her parents to work in Lima and Ollanta. She has moved back to Huilloc to raise her son and tend to her home and feels that she now has the time and energy to continue her education in this program. Next we met Santusa, a mother of two who is also a housewife, an artist, and a farmer; she was busy bundling carrots to send down the valley when we found her. She has lived in Huilloc her whole life, working with her family in the house and in the fields. Finally, we went to the primary school in Huilloc to meet Teresa, where she was busy preparing lunch for the children. We waited an hour or so in the recess and play area, surrounded by the many kids with curious eyes and adorable traditional dress, and passed the time by playing catch with them with my water bottle and trying to hide our pale skin from the intense high altitude sun. Teresa is a 33 year-old mother of three who has also lived and worked in Huilloc her whole life and in addition to her service at the school preparing meals, wants to do more for her people.
Meeting these women who want to dedicate their lives to the training and responsibility of being the go-to people in their community when there is illness or injury has been an inspiring part of my time so far as a volunteer with Sacred Valley Health. I believe that with this program, we can look forward to creating a real and sustainable betterment of the health of the people of this beautiful place.
Written by Sacred Valley Health Volunteer Brad Peterson