Applying fluoride and herding alpacas in Kelccanka

The day began as many mornings do in Peru… waiting for transport. We were relieved when the fruit truck finally appeared. Then we saw the sheer number of people crammed into the back and balanced on the sides. Fifteen minutes and much negotiation later, we joined the masses seated along the side rails. After climbing mountain switchbacks into the oxygen-deprived air, we reached our first destination –El Puerto – where the road divides. There we began our descent on foot into the valley.

Harriet on her way down into the valley.
Harriet, beginning the descent . . .

We scrambled downhill for almost three hours to reach Kelccanka, which is tucked into a valley. We were greeted by excited children and the three professoras (teachers) who spend Monday-Friday living in dormitories at the school. Ana Cecilia, one of our promotoras, crossed the river to meet us from where she had been working in her chakra (plot of land) farming potatoes. Gratefully receiving cups of tea, we set about planning the next day’s health campaign.

Arrival in Kelccanka
Swarmed by happy faces as we arrived.

We woke with the sun in the chilly morning with plenty of time to organize fichas (documentation forms) and count a month’s supply of vitamins along with a toothbrush and tube of toothpaste for every child. When the children arrived at school, they rotated through the outdoor stations we had set up. They washed their hands, had their height and weight measured, learned how to brush their teeth, got fluoride treatment, and had their cavities counted. Ana Cecilia expertly taught the students in both Quechua and Spanish, emphasizing the importance of these health-supporting practices.

Ana Cecilia teaching the importance of handwashing
Ana Cecilia teaching the importance of handwashing

Every child received a toothbrush and tube of toothpaste. Dental hygiene is especially important a remote area such as this one, where cavities rule and where very few people owned toothbrushes prior to our visit.

After brushing their teeth, the children applied fluoride under Ana Cecilia's supervision.
After brushing their teeth, the children applied fluoride under Ana Cecilia’s supervision.

We ended the day by helping Ana Cecilia and her abuelita (grandma) herd their alpaca to safety for the night as the mountain mist rolled in. A perfect end to an enlightening and enjoyable couple of days in the Kelccanka community!

Rose and Harriet jump into their new roles as alpaca herders.
Rose and Harriet jump into their new roles as alpaca herders.

– Written by Rose Nichol and Harriet Napier

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