After an hour and a half of curving around mountains and dipping into valleys leading away from Cusco, I arrived in the small town of Ollantaytambo. I could sense, from the moment I arrived, it was the kind of small town where all the locals know each other, where a neighbor in need finds help quickly.
My first full day was not actually spent in Ollantaytambo. Instead, I drove with the other volunteers further into the mountains on dirt roads, snaking up to the village of Patacancha where we set out to teach first aid skills to nine young women who had recently been elected by their villages as promotoras, or community health workers. Some of these women had walked for hours to reach the road where we picked them up, as their villages were even farther into the mountains. Four communities were represented that morning, and the spirit and excitement of new knowledge was infectious. The women seemed bright and eager, as many of them quickly shed their shyness and jumped into practicing CPR, bandaging wounds, and slinging fractures. By the end of the day, I felt inspired by these women. Their willingness to step into the role of promotora, and their readiness to learn, demonstrated to me that there is huge potential in their futures.
The next few days I spent helping the other volunteers prepare for the up-coming medical campaign, as well as exploring the natural beauty of Ollantaytambo. Hiking to the Inca Pool, a stone pool built in the side of a mountain, scrambling up to impressive ruins, and going for morning runs surrounded by picturesque scenes, made me fall instantly in love with this area. There is no question it is a harsh environment, especially in some of the communities where the promotoras live; however, the beauty in and around Ollantaytambo is unmistakable.
I had the pleasure of working with Sacred Valley Health on not one, but two, medical campaigns. The first day we loaded several suitcases of medicines onto the top of a collectivo, or passenger van, and braved the bumpy, winding, and narrow roads to the village of Kelccanka. Our second campaign took us to Soccma, a village of 25 families. In each village, when we arrived, we set up three stations: triage, consults, and pharmacy. Part of the challenge at each station was overcoming language barriers. Most people in these communities spoke Quechua, and our visiting doctors spoke English. As such, we enlisted the support of several Spanish-Quechua speakers to translate what the patients said into Spanish, and then myself and the other volunteers translated Spanish-English. It was impressive to see the system working, as patient after patient was seen and treated.
It was evident from my time in Ollantaytambo working with Sacred Valley Health that this organization is filled with promise. After months of preparation, the first trainings of promotoras have been conducted, more are in the works, and visits to each community to follow-up with every promotora are scheduled for the coming weeks. I am incredibly impressed by the degree to which the volunteers know the promotoras. It demonstrates how much time and effort has been put in by the young women working for SVH to make this promotora program a success.
I found it extraordinarily difficult to leave Ollantaytambo and Sacred Valley Health after only 10 days. I hope to return soon, and in the meantime I hope to build connections between this organization and Socios En Salud, the healthcare NGO I volunteer for in Lima, in order to share knowledge and foster success for all future endeavors with promotoras in the Sacred Valley.
Written by Kirsten Jorgensen, Volunteer at Socios en Salud in Lima