CHAPTER 2: What I Did While Volunteering
My time in La Merced was divided into two different sessions, June and July. I volunteered with a group of twelve other students from various universities and colleges in the United States. We all shared an interest in the healthcare system, whether it was public health or medicine, which made for a diverse group dynamic. We were able to use our various strengths to help one another during our volunteering activities. We also had a range of Spanish-speaking abilities, from non-Spanish speakers to conversational and/or fluent.
Below I explain our various volunteering activities.
A large part of our volunteering was dedicated to the Vida Saludable program through which FIMRC works with local partner schools to lead weekly health education workshops. In our groups, we would usually have a dedicated time during the day to plan, organize and prepare for the 45-50 minute lesson. Our workshops focused on interactive learning, and would always include activities, a visual aid (like a poster), and a worksheet for the kids to fill out at the end of the lesson to test them on what they learned, but also for us keep track of their progress. For these visits, we always had two FIMRC staff members assist us with delivering the content when we were having difficulties with the language barrier.
For the first month, my group and I volunteered in a school called Naranjal, about 20 minutes away from La Merced in the smaller neighboring community of San Ramon. We were assigned to teach two 50 minute sessions, one for the first and second graders, and the other for the third graders with a 15 minute break in between the classes. During each lesson, my group members and I would switch in leading different parts of the presentation. For the handouts at the end of the lesson, we would go around the class to individually help the students if they needed assistance. Being able to interact with the kids one-on-one was probably my favorite part of the lesson because I was able to have a more personable interaction with them.
For the second month, I volunteered in the small, beautiful native community of Shawan Rama, which sits on a mountain side between La Merced and San Ramon. This experience was very unique because instead of a typical classroom, we sat outside in the communal area with thatched roofing where we could see the valleys that held both cities below us. Additionally, many of the younger children were not enrolled in formal schooling, so a lot of what we taught was based on interactive learning and focused on healthy living and environmental care. We would include various activities like physical exercise, small dance routines, collecting litter, playing a game, and/or coloring worksheets to demonstrate the subject we were teaching. What I loved most about working with these kids was their boundless spirit and energy. They were always so excited to see us, and would give us a lot of hugs, smiles and laughter from the moment we would arrive until the time we had to leave. I certainly fell in love with this community from the start, and I continue to miss them today.
PRONOEI is an education program organized for children who do not have access to formal education because of their marginalized, rural communities. Every week my group and I would accompany two FIMRC staff members to visit three different PRONOEI locations to help assist with education workshops focused on health and the environment. The first month focused on nutrition and the “ideal plate”, which explains the correct portions of protein, carbohydrates, and fruits and vegetables that make up a healthy diet. The second month focused on the environment and the ways we can protect it. Each trip we would visit up to three different schools to share our workshop.
It would usually take us at least two hours by van to arrive to our first location, during which I would watch the towns fade away leaving us to the rural roads that weaved along the lush mountains that held the bouldered river in its valley. I always enjoyed these trips because we were able to go visit communities tucked far away into the mountains and interact with the kids from the local school. Usually the classroom would consist of multiple age groups (pre-high school) with a single teacher. My fellow volunteer and I would assist our FIMRC staff leader with leading a group activity before the presentation of material. In the end we would always give handouts of a crossword and a coloring sheet based on the lesson. Every PRONOEI trip was a humbling experience because unless you travel out there, you won’t know how life is in these small, distant communities. While each place was truly beautiful, they still lack in many resources because of how far they are located from larger communities like La Merced or San Ramon. Yet despite their more minimal resources, the people were always there to share their warmth and kindness, and I am really grateful to have been able to work with them through our workshops.
Another part of my volunteering experience included working on an independent project, specifically involving nutrition. The goal of this project was to create a locally based nutritional guide to share with FIMRC’s partners like PRONOEI and Vida Saludable.
In order to create this nutrition guide, myself along with two to three other volunteers had to first conduct research involving general information about nutrition, local market resources, as well as conducting interviews with local market-goers. For the interviews, we created a brief questionnaire survey that we conducted verbally and recorded the answers. For our interviews, we visited the San Ramon market, and with the help of a staff member, we were able to approach some market-goers with our survey. Once we finished with the interviews, we collected and analyzed the data, and organized a presentation to share the information with our fellow volunteers and staff.
Our second step in the nutrition project was to take our analysis and try to focus the nutrition guide based on the “ideal plate” theme and local resources. We organized the guide into a PDF file with categories explaining the general idea of the “ideal plate”, information about proteins, carbohydrates, and fruits and vegetables based on available local resources found in the marketplace.
In addition to our volunteer experience, the SIHF volunteer program also included biweekly hospital observations. We would usually go in pairs accompanied with one of our translators to visit the different sectors of the hospital, which was a ten minute walk away from our homestay. During my shadowing experience, I was able to visit the OR, cardiology, pulmonology, traumatology, physical therapy and triage in which we helped take and record blood pressure and pulse of the patients. Additionally, we also would volunteer in the Child Development Unit (CRED) in San Ramon during which we would help measure the weight and height of the babies, and record their growth in a paper chart. During our hospital observations, sometimes the doctor would explain to us about the patients’ symptoms and treatments. Through these observations I was able to gain insight into the healthcare system in Peru and learn about common health issues that, for example, may be a result from lower socioeconomic status.
Out of all the areas we observed, I visited the OR the most. I was able to observe various surgeries involving gall bladder removal, clavicle fractures, foot fractures, and C- sections for example. Occasionally the surgeons would interact with us and explain the process during the procedure. I am really grateful for having the opportunity to observe in the OR as many times as I did especially since I have been considering being a surgeon since high school. While I really admire the hard work and dedication of the surgeons, I know now that is not what I am looking to pursue in my career.
Aside from our volunteer work, we would also have activities where we would go together as a group for mini excursions and bonding activities. I really appreciated these times I was able to spend time with our FIMRC staff aside from our volunteer work and continue to grow as friends.