There are some people that are destined to follow in their family’s footsteps; whether it’s growing up in a family business or always wishing to be the next doctor in line. My family has always been simple in careers and my pursuit of helping people in the health profession was going to be the first of my family…. or so I thought (a little more about that later). The past couple of weeks have been eventful, overwhelming, surprising but in the best way possible for the organization and the future of Comunidades Unidas Peru. This past week Mathilde, Michael, Igor and I have been working diligently on forming yet another great connection with DIRESA, Direccion Regional de Salud Loreto (http://www.diresaloreto.gob.pe/portal/index.php/quienes-somos), a government organization committed to primary prevention of health. We have also formed a bond with an amazing student organization called Sociemap, comprised of local medical students from the Iquitos medical school. It only takes a little hope and some good people along your path to land where we are now. We jumped right in on our newest assignments of Malaria prevention, diagnostic, and treatment trainings for the “agente comunitario de salud” (the new name for CHWs down here!). We also decided that this year we would start handing over some responsibility to other advanced CHWs that have shown success in their trainings and in their communities. As much as I just wanted to sit in the air conditioned room of Nativa Apartaments (CU Peru’s home away from home) where I could lay on a soft bed, drink a cup of hot coffee, actually take a bath, and maybe do a little Facebook stalking, I knew that it was back to the jungle for me. The crew saddled up our backpacks and once again took the fast boat to Mazan, grabbed some street food in the market (we haven’t learned, but my G.I tract is still going strong), sweated like no other, and then were off to our first advanced CHW trainings of the year. These trainings were designed to see how proficient in an area some of the advanced CHWs were and give them guidelines on how to teach there colleagues different themes including vital signs, how to use the Donde No Hay Doctor (Where There is No Doctor) book, and respiratory illnesses.
After four hours on a less than fast boat ride, we finally made it to our first destination: San Juan de Floresta where were greeted by 142 steps to the village. We trekked our way up slowly while the members of the community seemed to run up with 50 kilo sacks of rice on their shoulders. It really makes you think sometimes how capable some people can be to support their communities and families. We finally made it up to the small village and made our way through the curious stares of children up to the CHW’s house. Although surprised to see us, he greeted us with open arms and was excited to hear the news that he was chosen as an advanced CHW to help us conduct trainings. One thing you learn about these communities is that small things go a long way for these people and they find anyway to make us feel like family. They opened their community to us for the night, made us a meal, and allowed us to set up our hammocks in their community center. Simplistic, yet so satisfying and exactly what we had hoped for. For the next day and a half we went over the curriculum with Julio and Gilver including how to teach during the trainings and what to expect in the next couple of weeks. You could tell that they were just as excited as we are to know that little by little, the sustainability of the project becomes a reality. We also learned that hammocks with bug nets do not always protect you from mosquitoes no matter how covered you think you are. Michael and Igor woke up to a friendly surprise of hundreds of mosquito bites sprawled across their backsides. Mathilde and I must not be so sweet…. And I have nothing to complain about in that regard.
After we left our first village, we were excited to continue on; and we were not disappointed. We went to what many people would call Urco Mirano, or what I would call a backpacker’s paradise. We cruised through luscious green forests in a smaller subset of the Napo River and were greeted with an open clean water lake. We all gazed around us as if we had found a lost city. There was clean water below, blue skies above, and the village ahead looked like the best we have seen so far. Bridges stretching a mile long that connected the village and green grass spread throughout. We knew that we were in for a treat. Per usual, we were greeted with curious children wondering who the funny looking people were coming to their village. Big brown eyes staring and examining each and every one of us trying to understand; yet they are innocent stares and I always greet them back with smiles and “Buenas dias” (good morning). We traveled just a small ways and found one of the village’s CHWs doing what they do best; talking with their community members. Again we came with a surprise but per usual hands were open, hugs, kisses, and handshakes were online casino exchanged and both CHWs of the village were off finding us a place to hang our hammocks and a place to share dinner.
Our 2nd advanced training started late afternoon, and although we were pretty tired from our travel, we still had enough energy to be blown away by the experience and aptitude of this particular CHW, Elmer. Not only was he knowledgeable about the topics we chose, but also his energy and ideas to help his community were exactly why I joined CU Peru in the first place. He really is a true example of a CHW; someone who is well-known, passionate, cares about his family and community, and is willing to work hard to change how people view their health. We couldn’t ask for a better person to help us with the trainings and hopefully continue them in the future. We also collaborated on ideas to motivate his community on the importance of building and maintaining latrines for hygiene and sanitation and will hopefully have a project for our lengthier community visit in the coming weeks. Although my first training of any type was difficult and trying, people like Elmer helped increase my passion for working with communities to build a healthier and happier future. He exemplifies what CU Peru’s mission, which is to strengthen communities’ health through sustainable practice and trainings of well-motivated people such as CHWs.
I could go on and on but then I would never reach my point. As I reflect upon our week’s adventure into another part of the Amazon, I always think how this came about. How did I get put into a position where I would be in the middle of nowhere helping people learn about how to increase their community’s health? I never expected that I too would be walking in similar footsteps of my family. I skyped with my father upon my return and again told him of all my adventures. To my surprise, my father knew exactly what I was talking about and began talking about how his father was also a CHW for his small village in Mexico. My grandfather was known as “El doctor” to everyone along their village, and everyone would come to him for almost anything and everything; machete wounds, gun shots, colds, etc. My father told me that it would take almost 7 hours by horse to get to the local health post when you needed medication or help. Could this be true? Could my grandfather really be the exact person that I was helping in Urco Mirano and San Juan de Floresta? Was he one of the men that many people in the community looked up to and came to with their health concerns? I never met my grandfather, but I know that if I did he would be just as amazing as the other CHWs that we visited and he would continue to strengthen my passion for health and commitment to helping people live healthy lives. I am glad that I have the opportunity to follow in my family’s footsteps in one of the most unexpected ways possible and I am excited to see where these next few weeks lead.
Ashlee Cerda,2nd Year MPH Student