This summer, Leeds University medical student Ross Gillespie spent 4 weeks as a volunteer at the LED health post in Quisuar. Here’s what he has to say about the experience….
I have recently returned from Quisuar having spent 4 weeks in the LED health post, located in the captivating mountain range of the Cordillera Blanca. I’m Ross, a Medical Student of Leeds University, UK, and I’d like to share a short account of my experience over the summer.
My journey began in Lima, a vibrant and busy city with some real gems to offer. An 8 hour bus journey lead me to Huaraz where I met Val, Juan (translator and entertainer), the crew, and four trekking Americans, Janet, Meara, Tara and Nalini. After some acclimatisation walks and some generous meals in the local hotspots of Huaraz we stocked up on medications and food, prepped our kit and headed into the heights of the Cordillera Blanca.
As with previous visitors a private coach journey winding through various towns and villages and over the Llanganuco Pass would lead us to Chingil. Here we would spend the night, before the 4 hour trek over a 4450m pass to the health post in Quisuar. The surreal beauty of the surrounding landscape seen throughout this journey was truly unique and a clear sky allowed us to appreciate the peaks, which appeared from all points of the compass.
Arriving at the village of Quisuar we were greeted by the locals with a traditional welcome party of singing, dancing and general frolicking before arriving to our goal destination of the health post. Here we met Tula, the nurse and I settled in for my 4 week stay.
As mentioned in other reports, the location of the health post is quite unique with incredible views surrounding it. The health post is basic but is well stocked with basic medications and equipment, somewhat loosely comparable to a GP surgery. This allows for a generous consulting room and a private examination room (which doubles up as the bedroom) in which to practise, as well as a small waiting room and decent kitchen.
The first week was especially busy in terms of patients, but we quickly established a system that seemed to work. With Tula translating to Castellano (I must admit, life was made much simpler by being able to speak Spanish, although not essential), a comprehensive history was easy enough to obtain and follow with examination and an appropriate management plan.
Conditions we encountered were mostly chronic back pain, gastritis, infections (of varying types) and the usual signs of ageing (poor vision, aches and pains, loss of strength). The village would most certainly benefit from some dental care and education seems to be the key step missing to further develop the health of the region.
We spent two days in the secondary school teaching about nutrition, mental health and general health. We were keen to address sexual health, a topic which is too frequently ignored or avoided in this region given the reserved nature of its people, however it is essential that any proceeding visitors do their utmost to educate the teenagers about this. Persistence is key, and has been successful in the past with vast reductions in teenage pregnancy rates.
I spent most afternoons teaching the local children English, with ages ranging from 6-16. This was very rewarding and its nice to see kids who remember how to play, using their imagination, and not have their eyes fixed on a screen at all times! We also brought school resources and skipping ropes etc to share with the children and schools.
Juan would cook breakfast, lunch and dinner and free time during the week was spent updating computer records (kids height/weight, consultation records, inventory), training Tula and doing home visits. Weekends were spent trekking and visiting nearby towns and villages. Juan and I trekked to Pombabamba (about 12-14 hours the long way around) and spent a weekend their, restocking and buying gifts for the children. We also visited the two lakes and attempted fishing (NB: spinners or ‘mariposas’ are useless, you need to sink a worm to have any chance), and spent a day at the big Sunday football tournament in Pochgoj.
The political stance of the village is not easy to gauge, but with an elected president representing the people, there is normally someone who knows what is going on. With big companies trying to exploit resources by giving false promises and strange new laws on employment of teachers, it is quite unclear as to the political direction of the village. The most important thing is that the health post continues to have its positive impact on the community, and with consistent support from the majority of the local village, and in fact surrounding villagers, this should not be challenged any time soon.
Tula is great with patients and is keen to learn to further her ability to help others. She is trusted and respected by the patients, and is a key asset to the health post. Juan, who plays a multi-faceted role of translator, guide, cook, entertainer and friend is an easy going Peruvian, and with an innate ability to read people, he knows just how to keep spirits high!
Returning home, we took the lazy option of a coach to Pombabamba and a bus back to Huaraz (about 14 hours of travelling door to door). Back in Huaraz I spent a week in the local public hospital in general surgery/A&E, which was eye opening to say the least. Here the interns taught me and treated me as one of their own, generously inviting me to meals and nights out. They exemplified the welcoming and humble nature of the Peruvian people.
Overall I had an amazing experience, and one that I will surely never forget. I would like to thank Val, Juan, Tula and the Crew (Melki, Antonia, Freddie, Augustin (Cuchin)) for their help throughout my stay. I am also most grateful to the people of Peru who made the experience so rich and memorable.
Interested in volunteering with us in Peru or Nepal? Use the Contact LED form on the website (www.lighteducationdevelopment.org), or message us on facebook.com/LEDCharity, to find out about opportunities in 2017.
For photos, look at our LED at work – Peru 2016 album on Facebook.