Tag Archives: health


7 Jun

We never really know how lucky we have got it until we open our eyes and see other people’s stories. One of the moments that will never leave me is the afternoon I spent with Peru’s Challenge on a social house visit.

Her name is Lucia and she has four children. From the rural village of Puma Marca, she has overcome adversity and is a testimony of the successful work that Peru’s Challenge is doing in Cusco.

She ate infected pork meat which led to her developing a brain cyst. Despite her obvious deteriorating condition, she was unable to see a proper doctor due to monetary constraints which is an unfortunate commonality in Puma Marca. However, when she began to lose her motor abilities she went to see a local doctor but he missed the cyst because he did not have the adequate tools to see what was really wrong. Peru’s Challenge intervened and paid for a proper visit to a hospital because at that point, she could hardly walk or remember her children. That is when they found that she had a cyst. Peru’s Challenge scheduled her in for an operation at their cost. It cost them a few thousand but it was successful because after a week, she was able to move better and start constructing some coherence in her sentences. After two weeks, she was able to remember one of her children.

All the while, Peru’s Challenge faced opposition from the village because Lucia’s husband was depressed because they kept Lucia in the hospital for so long. He thought that they were taking her away. The women in the village gossiped about Peru’s Challenge, saying that they were doing Lucia wrong. However, Iris (the social worker) mediated and set the bar straight and told them of Lucia’s situation. She said that Peru’s Challenge was helping her and her family. It was necessary that they step in because Lucia was not receiving adequate care on her own. Unfortunately, she was discriminated against because she is a rural lady and the disparity between rural and city folk is still great. Without the support of Peru’s Challenge, she would not have received the care that she got.

After seeing the work that Peru’s Challenge did in Lucia, the village grew to respect the NGO greatly. Lucia is significantly improving. She can remember two more of her kids and her husband’s depression is getting better. Peru’s Challenge have also started teaching the family about hygiene and cleanliness in the house. They have built them rooms and a pig pen.

Remembering this story brings tears to my eyes because I saw her. I met Lucia and I saw the state of her house and her family. I felt her old hands grip mine as she looked into my eyes and smiled. She was real. I cannot take for granted the work that local NGO’s do because they are effective. I have so much love and respect for Jane and Selvy who are in the midst of people’s struggle and poverty, helping them in whatever way they can.

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The Golden Van

28 May

This formidable beast rode up mountains, sped over rigid terrain and fit all of us in there like packed sardines. I miss it. I am not a huge one for hugs and personal space invasion; I like wide-open spaces and a good arms length (or two) from me and the next person. So being squished in this car with everyone, everyday was hugely overwhelming but something that I grew to love despite the stench of some people after a days work on site – a mixture of sweat, dried mud and wet grass.

The kids chasing our van down, yelling "stay stay don't go"

This old bus became our friend. One day we got into a little crash with it coming back from the school. The route back consisted of a narrow and windy dirt track populated with potholes. It was a thrill, though sometimes genuinely scary. The car that we hit was a little white one akin to a really outdated Toyota Corolla but still not as flash, but it miraculously still fit people eight in it. The car’s front window prominently displayed “Dios Es Amor” upon the top, meaning “God is love” in Spanish. It was really awkward crashing into a car declaring that.

It felt like a wild adventure atop a monstrous mountain. Imagine it now, a huge golden van colliding with a tinsy winsy car and both were left dangling millimetres of the mountain’s edge. It wasn’t that dramatic, no one was hurt thankfully and neither car was too damaged surprisingly, given the size differences. Our car ride that however, only got more exciting as two people in it were close to getting sick. They were infested with salmonella and you could imagine why everyone (except for me woo!) got so sick being cramped in close proximity of each other, always. Everyone was breathing in each others’ diseases and their bodies were unable to fight it due to the high altitude. I don’t know why I didn’t get sick, I must be super human or something, or maybe I just played in too much mud and filth when I was a kid and I’m now immune to everything. Moral of the story – eat things off the floor, you’ll be stronger for it.

Look at us, cuddled up nice and close

Drivin' the beast (well pretending to)

Food Perspective

19 May

Response to Carlos’ question:
How did you deal with the problems you had while on your volunteer placement?

Isn’t it funny how our short time, comparatively, in our countries have changed the way that we live our lives. Or at least for a while it did. I saw confronting and unforgettable poverty in Peru and I vowed that I would change my materialistic ways and for a while I was doing good. I would indignantly get angry when I saw superfluous expenditure. I would judge people when they would overindulge in their meals, while comparing them to the kids in Quilla Huata who barely had a thing to eat. I know it was not fair for me to impose a standard of living because food and money is more accessible to us in the Western world. Even as I write this, I am eating blueberry pancakes with honey accompanied by orange juice and peppermint tea. Though not super fancy, it still kind of is compared to what some of the kids in Quilla Huata normally get.

The transition from my world to theirs and vice versa was undoubtedly the most challenging thing that I faced. It was culture shock but not in the sense that the Peruvian culture is vastly different to mine, more so a sense of lifestyle shock, if there is such a thing. It was impossible to ignore. Inescapable, surrounding me like a misty haze on a dark night.

It was something I never got used too. The disparity did not plague me incessantly but sporadic pangs of guilt crept up when I would arrive in the village in the morning after having a scrumptious, rich and nutritious breakfast made by our chef at our home. After a while, I was numb to the difference, naively or ignorantly I faced the fact that life was just like that. I’m rich and they are poor and that’s why we were there to help. But somehow, and thankfully, it isn’t so black and white. As many others have mentioned on their blogs, they have so much more than monetary wealth and fancy meals, they have a true and joyous spirit and that matters so much more. So much more.

So when I came back to my real world, I made a conscious effort to not be frivolous with my money (not that I had much by our society’s standards) but still generous with what I have. The cost of meals perturbed me here as I silently and constantly say in my head how much that amount can feed in Peru. Now, four months later, I am still challenged by the difference of our lifestyles. I have learned to cope but feel so helpless sometimes. A few of my friends are ‘living below the line’ this week and I have seen how hard it is for them. Seeing my friend do it has challenged me to remember my little Peruvian kids and appreciate being here where I can eat what I want, when I want.

A meal for $2 a day in Sydney buys:

  • Tea bag
  • Half a cup of rice
  • An egg
  • Half a cup of oats

A meal for $2 a day in Quilla Huata buys:

  • ½ fried chicken
  • Half a plate of hot chips
  • A plate of rice
  • Salad and vegies

If we saw a meal like that here for $2, we would be rejoicing on mountain tops because that is a bargain! But that meal is an extreme luxury for most people in Quilla Huata. My biggest challenge taught me PERSPECTIVE.

One of the amazing things that Peru’s Challenge started this year was providing the kids with food at school to help with their concentration and health. Also Peru’s Challenge are aware that some of the kids have nothing to eat at home so by providing a solid meal at school, there is a greater chance of the kids actually attending school now.

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Travel + Illness (an almost inevitable occurrence)

20 Apr

So, I should probably introduce myself before I get started. My name is Sandra and I happen to be enrolled in the degree which has the longest name of any at Macquarie University: Bachelor of Science with a Bachelor of Arts in Natural and Cultural Heritage and Museums. Quite the mouthful. Yet, of more interest, is the fact that my degree has very little to do with Development. I guess this information is neither here nor there, yet it gives a context to where I’m coming from.

Anyway, what I wanted to talk about in this post is my experiences with being sick while volunteering in the Philippines. During my 7 week stint there, I was not sick for approximately 2 weeks. The rest of my time was divided between catching a flu, then a cold and then a flu again. While this was, to put it lightly, annoying, I find myself being eternally thankful that I wasn’t plagued by internal parasites like some other volunteers I have spoken to.

The thing about being sick in a developing country is that – while you know you should go to see a doctor – it’s such an inconvenience to do so, that you put it off; constantly saying to yourself “it’s okay, it’s just a flu, it’ll go away, it’ll go away”. This is a stupid thing to do. I cannot stress this enough, do not do what I did! I found out the hard way that, whilst travelling, my body was no longer capable of kicking out the sicknesses that it was usually so adept at doing. I learned this when, in the middle of the night, I awoke to the nastiest ear ache I have ever had in my adult life.

The next morning I was ushered into a  Jeepney (after a bumpy ride on a tric) with my group’s in-country team leader. After a switchover to another Jeepney and then yet another tric ride, we arrived at the hospital closest to our base of operations (which was at the Bahay Tuluyan centre in San Antonio, Quezon). My memory fails me here as I cannot remember exactly how long it took for us to get there, but it must have been well over an hour. (For my own ailment, this was not such a big deal; but I often wonder what the local San Antonians do in the case of an emergency: how do they make a speedy trip to the hospital and what happens when that isn’t possible? These are questions that I find painfully hard to dwell on as I know that, ultimately, it was my relative wealth which enabled me to travel to the hospital in the first place, let alone dish out the cash for the required medications.)

Of my actual experience in the hospital, there is not much to tell. It was a speedy visit and I was there for no longer than half an hour. The hospital was clean enough, although it was a little dilapidated and I was struck by the fact that the hand washing sink had no roof over it. (This relative cleanliness is in contrast to my experiences with an airport clinic in Jordan where cigarette butts littered the floor.) The doctor who saw me took my temperature and my blood pressure but did not deem it necessary to look in my ears nor listen to my chest before declaring that I had both an ear and chest infection.

I have since come to the conclusion that my flu should not have had the chance to develop into two infections. Once I first started to have inklings that I was sick, I should have organised to see a doctor or at least taken the antibiotics that several team-mates offered me. I was stupid. But I was also lucky. Because my ailment was easy to get rid of and I was within relatively easy access of a doctor. Other travellers have surely not been so lucky.

So, fellow travellers, I want to hear your experiences with treating illnesses whilst abroad. What did you catch? How did you gain treatment? Did you have to be admitted to hospital? How long were you struck down for? Tell me all; my ears (or eyes) are wide open.

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