Study Abroad/ Community Service
My STEP project consisted of traveling to Cusco, Peru and engaging in community service through MEDLIFE at OSU. We set up a mobile clinic in the rural villages, working alongside Peruvian medical professionals. We then triaged and offered health screenings for the people of the communities.
I do not think words are able to explain the type of transformation I experienced during this trip. Going into the trip, I thought I would know what to expect and was prepared. II tried to brush up on some simple Spanish terms beforehand, and I began to mentally prepare myself. As our airplane began to descend in Cusco, I was shocked. Surrounding us was colorful clay homes, stacked on top of each other on the mountainsides. I knew it was a third-world country, but I had no idea what it truly meant. People crowded on the sidewalks of streets, selling their homemade goods and foods. They arrived early in the morning, and left late at night. They worked so hard to just get by in life. These people were so grateful for the little, everyday things, and this transformed me.
I had no idea how rural the communities we visited would be. Each morning, we rode up high into the mountains about two-four hours away from Cusco. We ventured to areas without roads. On one instance, we actually got lost, because there were no maps available to get to this particular village. There were about 100 people per community. I did not think these people would be happy to see us, for most of them do not have access to healthcare and have never seen a doctor in their lives. These people changed that, though. They did not speak any English or Spanish (they spoke Quechua, an ancient Incan language), but their smiles and handshakes conveyed how appreciative they were for this experience.
Events and Interactions
The first day out on the mobile clinic proved to be transformational. We were three hours outside of Cusco, traveling in a coach bus up the side of a mountain through fields. We had to stop in a small village along the way to ask for directions. I did not think we would make it up the mountain, or even to the village. We finally arrived, and I was blown away. We were on top of a mountain surrounded by fields. Farm animals were wondering around, just grazing. We got off the bus, and heard a siren noise, then a voice speaking rapidly in another language rang over some loudspeaker. Our guide told us that this was them announcing to the community that we have arrived to help them. I had no idea that communities would get by like this. People out in the fields came to their community building we were set up at. These people were worn from the sun; their feet were dry and cracked, and they all wore sandals. They saw I had some major sunburn on my face, and laughed and pointed. We were so culturally different, but I found it funny they were able to poke fun at me. Some lady put one of their traditional wide-brimmed hats on my head, as it protects them from the sun. We were so culturally different, but I found it funny they were able to poke fun at me.
That same day, we had to go into the village’s school to get tabled and chairs to use at the clinic. I have grown up in the educational setting, as my mom is a teacher, so I was really interested in seeing what the school system was like there. I was completely heartbroken with what I saw. The entire school system for the community was a one long The rooms were plain, with a few educational posters scattered on the walls. One of our guides later explained the education system in Peru. He told me that most children only go through elementary school, then have to return home to their families to work and provide for them. Majority of children work in the fields after that, therefore missing out on higher education. The teachers in public schools are underpaid in schools too, so they are not required to be trained, therefore many people decide to send their children to expensive private schools. For those who do not have the money, they are stuck in a lower quality education system. The illiteracy rate is extremely high in rural areas. . I am so glad they had education there, but was saddened by the conditions.
Our last day for the mobile clinic was the most life changing. Only about 30 people came to the clinic. We were told many people in this area were more concerned with their fields than their health. I do not think this holds true to our ideals in America. We were frustrated and bored, until three little boys from the community showed up. They had brought a small ball to , and wanted us to play with them. There was such a language barrier between us and them, but that did not stop us at all. We played for hours with them. Their smiles and laughter brought us such joy. Although there were few patients, we still were able to bond and connect with the community. At the end of the day, two of the community’s leaders gave small speeches expressing their gratitude for us and our help. One of the little girls who was playing with us was standing next to me, and she saw I had my lunch in my hand. Malnutrition is so common in Peru, and I do not think she had eaten all day. I gave what was left of my lunch: some chips, a chocolate bar and fresh fruit. She was so excited, and I will never forget her smile. She gave me a hug before we left. Although we did not treat many patients, we still left a mark on that village, and they left a mark on us.
Significance and Value
This experience changed how I viewed the world around me. Before traveling to this developing country, I had not been outside my “bubble”. I come from a small, suburban, middle class area and have never really left it. I used to think that I knew what the world around us looked like, but I was completely proven wrong after this trip. I think this has made me much more broad-minded than I previously had. This will help in terms of my professional goal of becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist, as I will be working with many different types of individuals and will have to be accepting of each and every one. This trip has also intensified my love for helping and working with others. I am so thankful for this opportunity and all that it has done for me, and I will always hold the people of Peru close to me.