A Worthwhile Whirlwind

It is hard to believe it has been over a week now since returning from Peru. This time as our plane landed in Rochester, NY I knew I wouldn’t find llamas and alpacas grazing on lush green hilltops but I welcomed the warm morning sun and the feeling of summer time. Sitting in a coffee shop on a Monday night I feel far removed from where I was one week ago. With our marathon schedule to graduate from nursing school, cram for the NCLEX (national nursing certification exam), take the NCLEX, and pack our bags, seven of my fellow recent nursing school grads of the University of Rochester School of Nursing and I had finally made our way to Peru. Our plans to volunteer with Sacred Valley Health had been in the works for a little less than a year but now we were actually in Peru…and it was truly surreal. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but then again, I think having few expectations is sometimes the best way to roll.

An alpaca, grazing in a lush, green hilltop

After we arrived in Ollantaytambo, we were paired with host families, which was a really awesome experience in of itself. I can’t believe how patient my host mom was as I continually subjected her and the rest of my host family to my bad Spanish! The very next day our host moms made us packed lunches and we set out on the first day of a three-day mobile health clinic campaign. With much thanks to a couple of amazing combi drivers, we traveled up the steep and beautiful mountains to the rural communities of Yanamayo on the first day, Kelkanca on day two, and lastly, Soccma on day three. It is difficult to do justice to just how amazing the volunteers and staff of SVH really are, but their leadership, teamwork, coordination, flexibility, and deep respect for the communities are what makes these mobile health clinics possible.

I have to admit, on our way back from the long trek to Yanamayo on the first day, I found myself thinking from my seat in our combi about all of the energy and resources that go into a mobile health clinic. I imagined what it would be like to have something like a urinary tract infection in one of these rural areas where access to health care and antibiotics are very limited…and if I was in that position I know I would feel it was TOTALLY worth it. I bet anyone who has ever been in that boat might have similar sentiments.

Children playing outside the clinic in Yanamayo

After the whirlwind of mobile health clinics, our group participated in several flouride campaigns in Ollantaytambo, Patacancha, and Huilloc during the following week. Some of the group also took part in serving chocolatada to those who arrived at the local health clinic in Ollantaytambo. It is pretty amazing how much comfort you can provide in just providing someone with a hot meal and some bread. Perhaps that is a less-than-amazing observation when you consider that many of those who travel to the health clinic in Ollantaytambo may have traveled an hour or more to obtain access to healthcare.

Although the eight of us came to Peru to volunteer, I think we all have felt an immense sense of gratefulness for having been given such an awesome opportunity to work with SVH and those we served through the mobile health clinics and fluoride campaigns. A BIG thank you to the staff and volunteers of SVH…I hope we meet again.

Written by Kat Kohl, RN, Rochester, NY

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