Monday, November 23, 2009

Quechua Benefit- 1st Medical Outreach

Quechua Benefit, the group which which Mirian and I volunteered, has provided a variety of services to the Quechua (native people, original alpaca breeders) of Peru for over ten years, with an emphasis on dental care and support of orphanages and food programs. They have also supplied emergency food and blankets to remote areas during extreme weather, etc. This was their first general Medical Outreach trip, and it wouldn't have been possible without the persistence of Dr. and Mrs. Dwight and Deborah Bailey of Seven Springs Alpaca Farm in VA and the volunteers they recruited. Having led medical mission trips in many countries around the world, the Baileys had the experience and enthusiasm to help make the trip happen and Quechua Benefit's leaders were willing to give it a try.

We all paid our own airfare, and were requested to bring along medicines that had been donated by various international charities as well as some paid for by Quechua Benefit or donated by individuals. Each of us carried two large suitcases, mostly stuffed with meds with only a little room for our clothes and supplementary food. After two full days of travel, we gathered on the eve of our first clinic to organize the mobile suitcase pharmacy.
The entire team was divided at this point to work in two different villages, and everyone began to get acquainted a bit. We had two doctors (Mary Beth and Jim), two nurses (Ursula from Maine and our awesome team leader, Dewanda, from Virginia), myself and Mirian, two interpretors from Peru, and Mirian's brother Yodi, who had met us at Juliaca airport with flowers in hand.
We were happy to be staying at beautiful Malkini, a private lodge and ranch at 12,500 feet, owned by Michel fiber company- they fed us well and provided comfortable surroundings for the three nights that we worked in the area. The altitude had its way with me in terms of insomnia for nearly the entire trip, but the medicine we took (Diamox) prevented other problems such as severe headache and nausea.
The first day we worked in Munani, a small village about 30 minutes from the lodge. As is typical, there were people waiting already when we arrived at the clinic. The dirt streets were filled with piles of rubble (construction is everywhere), dogs, and the occasional pig. We were stationed in a multi-use building that is a medical facility and town hall- we scoped it out and quickly moved furniture and supplies for our makeshift pharmacy room and arranged cots into exam rooms. The doctors got started examining patients- a little bit shell-shocked and slow at first as they worked through interpretors to determine the source of each patient's complaint.
Those waiting in line were eager and friendly, though sometimes the children were wary of our gringo faces- some having never seen light-skinned or blue-eyed people before. My job on the majority of the clinic days was to fill prescriptions. This entailed trying to read the doctor's instructions (MB and Jim wrote legibly, the others...!), counting out pills into a ziploc bag (or mixing antibiotics), and then either writing out instructions in Spanish and putting them into the bag or finding the corresponding instruction slip which had been made up ahead of time. My Spanish is a work-in-progress, so special instructions were challenging. Sometimes the patients only spoke Quechua, and our interpretor Inti would normally interpret the instructions for them. Mirian was a "runner" for the prescriptions, and she passed out stickers, pencils and balloons to the patients and played with the children. Her familiar Peruvian features and sunny personality were a comfort to the children, and she enjoyed her popularity since she loves kids.I didn't work directly with the doctors, but always enjoyed hearing about their challenges and successes. One challenge was simply getting the patients to quickly peel off all of their layers for their physical exams. The babies were bundled up soooo heavily (no wonder the moms are protective, only 5 of every 10 survives to age 10), and were adorable in their handknit hats. One of MB's patients held the record for most skirts worn at one time.... 10! The nurses observed early on that the patients had nearly universally low blood pressures and pulses... walking everywhere at high altitude does have it's benefits. There was virtually no obesity or diabetes, the afflictions which are so common in the U.S. That's not to say that the Quechua didn't have their challenges... intestinal parasites, aches and pains, horribly chapped skin, cataracts from years in the bright sun and other afflictions were very common. Serious cases such as heart murmers and cancer were referred for more specialized help in larger cities, and hopefully Quechua Benefit can help to facilitate some of those referrals. It was interesting to me that there was virtually no H1N1 (yet, and all of our team members had been vaccinated so we couldn't spread it), though in some areas lots of the children had upper respiratory infections. The doctors prescribed many medicines for pain that we all have in our purses and medicine cabinet and completely take for granted. Common antibiotics, ibuprofen and aspirin were treated like gold by those receiving them, and the recipients were extremely grateful for the little bit of hope in each bag, dispensed with a smile. Things went a bit more smoothly as we worked each day. The second clinic day we made a 3 hour trek (each way) on switchbacked dirt roads to the tiny village of Picotani. I figure I may be the only American to have ever had the privilege three times to see this remote cooperative where endangered vicunas are carefully managed. They have huge alpaca herds here, too, and we all appreciated the challenges of trying to raise something and survive in such a harsh place. This was likely the first time many of the patients had EVER been examined by a doctor, and they seemed to appreciate the care and attention given to them by each person on our team. I really enjoyed the great attitudes and encouragement with the team members while we were doing serious work. We had a good laugh with Dewanda over her trying to weigh this precious baby in all it's garb!

There were some sobering events as well, such as one toddler that was seen by Jim that has cerebral palsy and was unable to walk or talk, well-cared for by his young mother who was in tears. The realization sunk in that there weren't more children like this one seen as most don't survive. MB saw a patient with advanced melanoma, and tried her best to prescribe appropriate pain meds and give her some comfort and attention.

The memories began to run together as we worked at Mirasol orphanage and Accoyo and then joined the team for three clinic days in Macusani where Mirian formerly lived. There were many loooongg days and lots of moving suitcases filled with meds, and it was particularly cold at the hostel where we stayed in Macusani, where we slept in full clothing. (At least I didn't experience any strange critters on my bed as one team member did one night in a different hotel!)Mirian and her cousin, Katarina

I hope they won't mind my telling it, but Mary Beth and Jim were part of an awesome story... MB (our good friend who describes herself as NOT a very touchy-feely person) briefly came crying into the pharmacy on the 2nd day and said, "It may not be like adopting a child, but we are buying hearing aids for one!" She went on to relay the situation of a young girl and her mother and the sad story of this girl not attending school for two years due to her hearing loss. MB felt called to do something for her, but before anything could be arranged the girl and her mother were gone. In discussing how to find them, Mirian overheard the conversation and said, "Oh, that girl was my cousin!" Not an hour later we ran into them on the town square and requested that they come back to the clinic the following day so that arrangements could be made for her hearing aids. It's going to be awesome to follow this touching story, the answer to Katarina's mother's prayers.

I'm sure that every other volunteer on this trip is feeling as we do- especially grateful for our recent opportunity to serve and also glad to be back home in our comfortable and familiar environments. With over 2700 patients seen by our team's doctors and dentists, the trip was a huge success and a lot was learned that will help Quechua Benefit to do an even better job in future endeavors. As we go about our Thanksgiving, enjoying abundant food with family and friends, I know that my sense of gratitude will be more full than ever.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Where to begin? Peru, 2009

After mostly just sleeping since we arrived home yesterday (plus enjoying my own good-ole home-cooked dinner to celebrate Paul's birthday last night... yum!), I'm unpacking, washing aromatic clothes that can stand and walk on their own, and wondering how I can begin to blog about our joys, tribulations and accomplishments in Peru. I've decided I'll try to "chunk it", with a quick overview today and then subsequent blog posts about:

Quechua Benefit Medical Outreach Clinic Days- what we did, how it worked, the numbers, MB's little miracle, the happy and sad. Coined by some "the best Quechua Benefit trip ever" (among dozens), you'll hear why it was so successful.... and challenging and exhausting working at high altitude! Alpacas in Peru- See photos of alpacas and llamas along our journey, hear about my 2nd trip to the Accoyo Ranch in Macusani, learn how our friend Marcus fulfilled his dream of shearing a 21 pound fleece off of an Accoyo alpaca, and hear about how the workers of Accoyo were seen by our team's doctors (many for the very first time in their lives). The Inca Princess- How one Inca Princess (Mirian), accompanied by 16 gringos (plus her brother and 4-5 translators), got to visit her birthplace and homeland, celebrate a memorable birthday with some family and old and new friends, make a significant contribution of herself on a medical outreach trip, and travel back to her home and family here in Kentucky... happily! Textiles and Fiber- Learn about the afternoon we spent with an antique textile dealer in Cuzco, see the weavings we purchased and hear their history, learn about how acrylic is finding its way into the "alpaca" products being sold in Peru's handcraft markets, preview the items we hand-picked for sale at our holiday open houses here on the farm! Macchu Picchu- Always sunny and beautiful on my previous visits there, the intermittent fog on this visit piqued one's imagination and enhanced the famous views of this beautiful and mystical lost Incan city. Twelve of us travelled there after the work of the Quechua trip was over. It's always soooo good to come back home after travelling; one's priorities and perspective are sharpened and I always feel more acutely grateful for what I have. As a fellow traveller said, you can almost feel guilty for having gotten more from the blessing of giving on the trip than what one can give. I highly recommend it, and am most grateful to God for the opportunity.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Phenomenal Peru

If I could, I would simply post photos here that would tell the story of our adventures in Peru so far. Since I cannot and have limited time, I will have to post a few highlights here....

First few days were incredibly exhausting between the bumpy roads, high altitude (we have now been at close to 16,000 feet!), lack of sleep (1.5 hours on first travel night), but the adrenaline of helping so many people (over 1,500 patients seen to date) has kept us all going and we are all catching up slowly on rest and acclimating to the altitude and food.

The experience has been amazing for Mirian... she has seen so many special people from her past and celebrated her 14th birthday at the orphanage the evening we arrived in Macusani (after spending the entire afternoon at Accoyo).
I am writing from an internet cafe in Macusani, with the sounds and smells of town wafting in from outside and beckoning us back out to experience more. I will write more when we get to Cusco, but for now let me just say that God is so good, I have witnessed miracles this week and I cant wait to share more later. Just wanted to let everyone know that we are okay and having an unbelievable and fruitful trip with a fantastic team of people. More soon....
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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Time for Peru!

Quechua Benefit Trip 2004, Mirian in blue

The countdown which started at 45 days out is over and the time for our adventure to South America is finally here! Mirian and I leave today for what I know is going to be an amazing trip. Little did I know on our first trip to Peru in 2000 that I would end up going back there at least five more times in this decade, with a beautiful daughter added to the mix (two of the trips included our entire family visiting her and subsequently staying there a month to complete her adoption in 2005).

Mirian and I will be travelling as part of a team of around 18 people on Quechua Benefit's first general medical outreach trip. On my first trip to the altiplano (high plains) with QB, I was part of a dental team- no, I don't have any medical background (other than as an animal person and mom!) but assistants are always needed on these types of trips to help organize supplies and people, as well as to help with triage, cleanup, etc. It was a profound experience with many challenges and rewards, the greatest of which was meeting and subsequently adopting Mirian. On our best day on my first Quechua Benefit trip, we treated a record 308 patients in a single day.

People lining up for dental care on previous trip

I'm told that on this mission we're likely to be helping people young and old with the effects of living in a very harsh environment- malnutrition, parasites, arthritis, respiratory illnesses, etc- the health problems that plague much of our world's population that live below the poverty level. Mirian and I and all of the other team members (mostly alpaca breeders from several states, some doctors and nurses) are carrying along suitcases filled to the brim with antibiotics, prenatal and children's vitamins, skin creams, and other medications which will be dispensed by the doctors that are going. It's going to be exciting to see my great friend Mary Beth and her husband in action as doctors, as I've only experienced MB as my riding buddy and very close amiga!

As you can imagine, this will be an emotional trip for Mirian since it's her first return to her home country. She has longed for Peru in every way since leaving.... missing her friends, her language (Spanish and Quechua), the food, the mountains, the Andean music, her culture and her original home. Now as an American girl, she's going to miss her family,pets, and the many comforts of home. She is now firmly attached here and experiencing a little bit of uneasiness alongside the excitement of returning. Fortunately, our family, her teachers and friends have been extremely supportive of our trip and have encouraged her in every way- we know we'll be in the prayers of many. This is a unique opportunity for Mirian, perhaps the first of many, for her to come full circle and learn more about herself, God's plan for her life, and the gifts that she has to offer others.

Mirian will be seeing her older birth-brother who lives in Peru, Jodi, and he'll be working with our team as well. We're hoping that they'll be better able to stay in touch after this. Everyone's natural curiousity about Mirian's background has been piqued by the trip, and I've gotten in the habit of answering questions that are a bit too prying with, "That's Mirian's story to tell if she chooses to tell it..." Most get the message and I know that people only mean well, BUT....

We also look forward at the end of our trip to seeing the adoption attorney who worked with our adoption agency, Children's Home Society and Family Services in MN. Elisa is an incredible woman- warm, efficient, super-smart, just a super-woman is all I can say. Without the help of Elisa, the nun at Mirian's orphanage (Sister Jessie from India, who unfortunately isn't in Peru anymore), Dr. Willy in Peru, and the encouragement of Mike Safley and Mario Pedroza with Quechua Benefit, the daunting process of adopting an older child from Peru would have never happened! We are about to submit our final update to the agency- they require four years of bi-annual follow up reports and the red tape will FINALLY be over.

We have already started taking meds for the altitude, as we'll be going straight from Lima (on the Pacific Ocean) to Juliaca which is at 12,000 feet with no time to acclimate- over the next few days we'll be going as high as 15,000 feet! Our accomodations should be safe and fairly comfortable though extremely remote, so I won't have internet access much except in the middle and toward the end of the trip. I hope to write as I can and will probably blog a novel when we return, just before Thanksgiving.

Macchu Picchu, 2003

The last few days of the trip, most of us are travelling apart from Quechua Benefit to Cusco and Macchu Picchu. I absolutely love Cusco and can't wait to experience Macchu Picchu with Mirian and our friends. I only wish Paul and Robert would be with us, especially since it'll be Paul's and my 20th anniversary- what a great ride it has been!

If you'd like to learn more about Quechua Benefit and the people we'll be helping (as well as to hear the plans for the new orphanage they're building), be sure to check out their website and please consider making a tax-deductible donation.

Special thanks to Charlotte and Michael Goldston of High Meadow Alpacas for sending a huge box of over-the-counter medicines for the doctors to disberse as needed. Thanks, too, to Bari and Andy Horisberger of Birch Knoll Alpacas for sending along toothbrushes and toothpastes that were collected by a Girl Scout troop that visited her farm. Thanks, too, to my parents and others who continually supported us as well as Quechua Benefit. (And special thanks to my sweeties Paul and Robert who will be holding down the fort here while we're gone). Reporting next from Peru! Pin It Now!