A recent Monday began in a flurry of excitement. We were on our way up to the high mountain community of Rumira in a combi, or van, full of volunteer nursing students from St. John Fisher College. As we rounded a corner, we came upon a man and his motorcycle, askew on the side of the road. “Oh, his hand’s really bleeding!” one of the volunteers said. “Should we stop and help?” Our driver, Ruben, pulled the combi over on the side of the dirt road and a couple of nursing students, SVH volunteers, and Escolastica, our promotora-turned-community coordinator, got out to survey the situation.
The man was heading down the mountain when his motorcycle slid on a rough patch of the road. He was bleeding from both hands and his knee. As Escolastica and the nursing students were pulling together first aid supplies to wash and dress his wounds, a man quickly walked up from a nearby house to offer assistance, too. He had a bottle of yellow liquid that he began pouring on one of the cuts. “Wait, what is that?” we asked in hurried Spanish. “Orín!” he answered. Urine! “No, no, no! Wait!” we all shouted in unison. As Escolastica, assisted by the nursing students, began cleaning the cuts, Mary, one of our community coordinators, took the man aside. She very kindly thanked him for his willingness to help, and then asked him to please, never, pour urine on anyone again. She explained the risks of infection involved with that practice and told him that, in the future, washing cuts with soap and water is really the most helpful thing to be done. By the time she finished her conversation, Escolastica and the nursing students had just finished wrapping the motorcyclist’s injuries, which luckily were minor, in clean bandages. He thanked them and we continued on our way to Rumira.
Situations like this are not uncommon in Peru, especially in the rural areas where Sacred Valley Health works, and pouring urine in an open cut is actually not the strangest of the home-remedies we’ve encountered. Creencias, as home-remedies are referred to here, are extremely common forms of treatment. They include everything from washing wounds with urine, treating burns by slicing open the belly of a guinea pig, curing cuts using the membrane on the inside of an eggshell, and many, many more. Not all are bad, though. For example, mate de muña, a special kind of mint tea, is an excellent treatment for gastritis, and pomades made from eucalyptus work wonders for coughs and congestion. In fact, we incorporate many natural medicine treatments into the educational curriculum for our promotoras. But it’s a fine line between teaching what’s helpful, discouraging what’s harmful, and knowing the difference.
Because people here live so close to the earth and so far from the government clinics, they have developed many natural treatments for a wide variety of ailments. These treatments have been handed down for generations and are a part of everyday life for many residents of the Sacred Valley. Telling people not to do something their mother, and grandmother, and great-grandmother taught them to do is delicate, difficult business. We don’t want to alienate people that we work with, but, at the same time, we want to teach them practices that will keep them and the people they treat safe and healthy.
To address this issue, we’ve started working on a creencias project. What we hope to do is visit each of our communities and, with the help of our promotoras (community health workers), facilitate a discussion with community members about their different home-remedy beliefs. We want them to teach us about the different practices they use to treat problems. Once we know exactly what people are doing at home, we want to research the different treatments and find out what’s helpful, what’s harmful, and what’s benign. We can encourage them to keep using the treatments that help, and we can also tell them what treatments we want them to stop using while explaining why they can be harmful. In this way, we hope to better equip our promotoras with the knowledge to work with the resources available to them in order to provide the safest, most effective care for the people in their communities!
And finally, if you haven’t done so already, please support community coordinator Sarah and her family as they raise money for Sacred Valley Health on their trek to Machu Picchu! Click here to read more about it and donate!
– Written by Jenny Jordan