Saturday, September 21, 2013

This may have been illegal, but it was for a good cause!

On Sunday, we left Arica for our first excursion of the semester to Tacna, Peru. It was only about an hour drive, but it took a little while to get through customs with a group of 23 (not nearly as long as it would have taken to get through customs in the US; it was much simpler than that). So we arrived on Sunday evening, and even though it’s only an hour away, there was a two hour time change from Arica to Tacna, so we got there at the same time that we had left, which was kind of cool! We had the evening to explore the center and shop around, and then we had dinner back at the hotel.

The next day we put on our white coats and headed to the Centro de Salud in Tacna to learn about the health care system in Peru and the different health programs they offer. Peru’s health care system is very similar to Chile’s, but for some reason Peru’s is much worse… I guess the execution of the system didn’t work out as well, and the different government and mindset of the people also play a role in how the health care system runs. After a quick little snack break we split up into small groups to help conduct home visits with the doctors and nurses at the clinic. This was a bit uncomfortable because although the patients had agreed to let us come, it still felt a bit invasive. Though I’ve come to learn that privacy in Chile and Peru is not really a things like it is in the US; they’re much more about familiarity. They have maps up in the clinics of where people with certain illnesses live, they call patients by their full names and were more than willing to share a patient’s entire medical profile with us. Never having done any sort of medical work before in a clinic or hospital setting, it’s all pretty new to me, but I have a feeling that this wouldn’t go down so well in the US. But that’s just the culture here!

We went out for lunch at a delicious Peruvian restaurant, and although it took forever to get our food, it was well worth it. Food in Peru has much more flavor than in Chile, but it’s also a lot spicier, so I was sure to double check with the waiter that my order would not be spicy. After lunch we went to the University in Tacna and talked with the medical students there on several different health topics in Peru, and then we had the evening free to shop and eat dinner. Things in Peru were cheaper than Chile, so lots of shopping was done, indeed!

The two activities that we did the next days were probably my favorite ones we’ve done so far. On Tuesday we went to a clinic in a much more rural part outside of Tacna. This little town was created largely by people who lost their homes in the earthquake a few years back, so it was a much poorer population than what we saw the previous day. After getting a tour of the clinic, we got to take part in a nutrition workshop for new and expecting mothers. We all paired up with the women at the workshop and talked with them about anything and everything for about a half hour before actually starting the class. I actually got two partners to chat with; one was a 20 year old who was about to have her first child, and the other was a 38 year old who had just had her 4th child. Two very different situations, but it was so nice to get to know these women and to share experiences with them. The workshop consisted of going over important nutritional information not just for the babies, but for the mothers as well. They talked about different food needs for different ages, and when to start introducing what, and then we were put to the test to see what we had learned. We split up into 5 groups and had to make a full meal for a specific age and for a mother as well with all the food and ingredients provided. So my group had to make a meal for a 7-month-old baby and the mother. We went to the food table and gathered our ingredients and started preparing the plates! Us students didn’t actually do anything in this part and were more there for support so that the mothers could get the hands-on experience. Afterwards, each group presented their meals to everyone and we went over all of the important foods that were included in each meal to make sure it covered all of the necessary nutrients. And the great part was that it took very little time to prepare these meals, and all of the ingredients were very basic and were supposed to be affordable for theses mothers as well.

It really did feel like a successful workshop and it was really cool to watch some of the more experienced mothers helping the new ones and offering advice. I’ve been thinking about doing a topic like this (infant nutrition) for my Independent Study Project this semester, so it was really cool to be a part of this workshop and gain some really good insight to the nutritional situation in Peru.


The second event that I really enjoyed was an HIV/AIDS campaign at the university in Tacna. They were giving free testing, information sessions, and condoms to all of the students that day, and we got to help! There were three different “stations” that we rotated between so we could see the whole process. So we walked around the campus in small groups with a medical student informing students about the campaign and testing that was going on in the front of the campus, and we handed out booklets with information on STDs and HIV/AIDS, and then if the students wanted to sign up to get tested, the received a “protection packet” as well. Then there was the information sessions that were happening at the same location as the testing, because before getting tested, we had to be sure they knew what HIV/AIDS was, how it’s spread, how to prevent it, etc. So we would rally in students as they passed by, asked what they knew about AIDS and if they wanted to get tested. Apparently us “gringos” were really good at this because they said they’ve never had so many people come to get tested before! We even had two students from our group who started giving a Condoms 101 talk. They drew quite the crowd.

The third station was the actual testing. Now once again, let me remind you all that I’ve never had any medical training (besides CPR in health class in 10th grade), so I thought they were kidding when they asked us if we wanted to give the tests… Nope, they were serious. Even though it was just a finger prick blood sample, it was still a very serious process, and I didn’t feel that qualified to be giving an HIV/AIDS test. But I did it! Because what an experience!! I’m sure it was illegal for us to be giving those tests, but it was for a good cause, so I figured, why not? Another example of how privacy isn’t a big deal here… The test results were all just sitting out on the table with people’s names on them while they waited 5 minutes to get their results back. But no one seemed to mind! Apparently Tacna has an extremely low rate of HIV/AIDS, and we didn’t have any positive test results, but it still felt a bit invasive.

Nonetheless, it was an incredible experience to be a part of the campaign and to help inform people on HIV/AIDS. Most of the students I spoke with said they had never been tested before, nor had they ever seen a place where they could get free testing, so I felt pretty accomplished knowing that I was helping ☺

Okay sorry I didn’t mean for that to get so long, but if you stuck with me the whole way through, good for you!

I’ll be updating again soon because I still have more to tell you about Peru! For now, we’re back in Chile and celebrating Independence Day (the 18th)

All for now!


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