December 8-9, 2011
About a month ago, I ran into Keri right after she returned from a 3-day mobile health clinic deep into the mountains past Pallata and Huilloc. I remember how excited she was and what an amazing experience it was. Earlier in the week Emma was telling how they might be short a few people for the one coming up. I immediately scheduled a meeting with Keri to see if I could tag along and help. It turned out as long as I had my own transportation I could go. Haha, yup. I do.
Thursday morning I headed to the Awamaki office to meet the group and help load the van. Awamaki is the biggest NGO in town and has several areas of expertise. They organize weaving, education, and health projects in the valley. They do an amazing job and I have learned a lot from them about how we can improve what we are doing with the Sacred Valley Project. If you are interested in volunteering and have little to no experience traveling in another country, it could be a perfect fit for you.
Once a month they head deep into the mountains to provide a free health clinic for the people there. They visit three communities, one a day. Our group had two doctors, two nurses, one pre-med student, two weaving project coordinators, and two support volunteers.
I began by helping to prepare an oatmeal/chocolate concoction for the people. They line up, wash their hands, and then get a hot cup of the tasty goodness. Then they go through a triage process and wait to see the doctors and nurses. The people also are asked questions on a comprehensive survey in order to compile data and create medical histories for them. It is a pretty cool process but the doctor and nurses sometimes work all day without a single break.
I, however, left after about an hour to visit the high school up there. I had heard that there was an amazing high school built by a Dutch NGO, called the Hope Foundation. I had also heard that they provide a dormitory for students who walk from far away. Hmmm, sounds kind of like us.
I met the school director and the math teacher. It was a fantastic conversation. People around town say that this school is one of the best NGO projects in the valley. I would have to agree. There are 90 students at the school. That includes all 5 grades of high school and a few lower grades as well. 40 of them have 4-8 hour walks and stay there during the week. They have greenhouses they take care of to supply the students with something other than potatoes, which are all that grow at 12,600 feet. There are 8 teachers, and all but the math teacher stay there during the week as well. The math teacher is from Ollantaytambo and is willing to possibly help the girls with math next year since I can’t be here! That is great news.
We covered many other topics about education in general. We revisited the debate about what education means for these students. He implemented the state education program two years ago so if students wanted to continue post-high school they would be ready. But there are always drawbacks. Students might leave their families, or lose their roots as a mountain people. It is hard to say what is best, but at least the kids now have an opportunity to have more choices. It is difficult. After chatting I was invited to lunch and headed back to the clinic.
When I got back, there was still a LONG line. The doctors and nurses did not have time to take breaks. Emily and I made everyone sandwiches and starting entering all the data into the computer. Finally around 5 in the afternoon, we had to close the doors and turn people away. But right after we closed them, there was a knock. A couple had a one week old baby who was sick. Of course we let them in.
I chatted with the doctors over dinner. There was a woman who they had seen the previous month with a growing tumor on her neck. She could not afford the 18 soles ($7) to travel to the free surgery clinic about 2 hours away. It is too late now, the surgeons are gone and they said it is too advanced. Most of the patients have chronic pain issues. Men work on the Inca Trail, carrying 70 pound packs for tourists. It destroys their bodies. Women sit in awkward positions for hours weaving. There is not much the doctors can do except prescribe pain medications.
That night we slept in an old health clinic next door. It was probably the creepiest building I have ever seen. There is still some old medical equipment lying around and a dirty bed or two. We had a lot of fun scaring each other and pretending it was haunted.
The next morning the group left at 7:30 to travel to another village even deeper in the mountains, Kalkanka. But I didn’t leave with them. I was invited to sit in on and help teach in the math class that morning. I had breakfast with the director first, and then headed to the 4th year classroom. I thought it was math, but it turned out to be communication. I was chatting with some of the students and found out they were having trouble with a couple trig problems. So I taught a trig lesson and went over a few problems. It was awesome, and made me miss my own classroom so much. And I was pretty happy that I feel comfortable teaching in Spanish now.
I went down to the second year room and helped the students work through the review problems. The teacher did a great job teaching, so I hope we can get him for the dorm next year. There were only 8 students, and 2 were girls. Both the girls sat in the back and were never called on. I asked about this ratio, and he said that in the final year of high school there is only one girl. So once again, girls seem to get the short end of education around here. If I was here longer, I would try to find out why, and maybe talk to some village leaders about encouraging more girls to attend school.
I then headed out on an hour ride deeper into the mountains. I made it up to the pass but took the wrong turn. I ended up on a pretty slick, treacherous road and almost dropped my bike twice. I was definitely missing my dirt tires. I got some directions and made it back to the right road. It was so beautiful up there. Then, after plowing through a decent size river, I descended into Kalkanka. What a beautiful community! A group of about 20 men and women were in front of the school making beautiful weavings that Emma had designed so they could be sold all over the world. We served the chocotada again and just kind of hung out and enjoyed the beauty of the rocky valley. I did find out that Hope built the primary school there as well, but the teacher just decided to stop coming about a month ago. Arg. So, no school for the kids there. There were a lot less people for the clinic, and by 2 pm things were winding down. I hopped on the bike and headed back into town. Once again, I picked up a couple hitchhikers and saved them a lot of walking. I rarely end up alone on my bike.
It was a great couple days and I will definitely want to head back if I am around for another mobile health clinic. Even though my focus is on education, I know that medical services are another basic right that I would hope the people have access to. Thanks to everyone at Awamaki for letting me tag along!!