Loma Linda Students Offer Aid,
Peruvian highlands get education, care
BY HEATHER REIFSNYDER, Special Project Editor, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California.
he people of tiny Lluco, Peru, had never experienced outsiders coming to stay with them. Not until this summer, when four Loma Linda University students were dropped off in this dusty village for a three-night home visit, ready to learn about public health in an international setting.
Lluco is one of three villages in the Peruvian highlands where LLU global health students went, taking their classroom on the road. This annual trip builds up a partnership that benefits both the local people and the students, who are there to learn by serving.
Eleven students, three team leaders, and their Peruvian support staff were divided among the villages of Lluco, Ccotos (STET), and Chijnaya—remote locales where the indigenous population often wears traditional clothing and speaks the Quechua language. LLU is working to build relationships with these communities; this was the second summer going to Ccotos and Chijnaya.
For several days, the students are absorbed into village life, learning what it’s like to live on a few dollars per day—or less. They stay with families in small adobe homes, partake of the local diet, and glimpse a rural indigenous life that few Americans ever see.
They also work hard. This year’s projects included helping build an eco-latrine, assisting in the construction of a cattle shelter, offering dental hygiene education (accompanied by toothbrush distribution), fluoridating children’s teeth, and conducting community surveys and assessments. The students and professors designed these tasks with the input of the local communities and nonprofit organizations that work with these villages.
MEETING OTHERS: LLU student Melissa Preciado (center) interacts with children in Ccotos, Peru. [Photo: LLU]
The eco-latrine, for instance, is a project requested by the local women’s group in Ccotos. Prior to its construction, there was no toilet at the village’s sole health clinic. Now there is a facility that, when properly used and maintained, will not attract flies the way the town’s pit latrines do. It also creates a safe, effective fertilizer for local crops.
Cattle shelters are a project gaining ground in the region. The students in Lluco were able to lay the foundation for a three-cattle shelter, in which the animals will get sick less often and be protected from the frigid climate at 12,000 feet above sea level. That means a 30 to 40 percent boost in milk production, which “translates [in]to a significant improvement for family income,” says LLU adjunct professor of global health Ann Stromberg.
But beyond the labor that they do, students say that the relationships formed with the local people are a big part of the trip’s significance—both for themselves and the Peruvians.
“That’s definitely God working both in our lives and their lives to be able to have such a special exchange,” says student Nikki Grey.
Dana Johnson, a student, agrees, noting that the team members were taken in as family. He believes that participating in the daily lives of Lluco’s people made the biggest impact of all their activities.
“As the first-ever outsiders to stay in the town, I think the best thing we did was to simply connect on a human-to-human level,” he says.
An important part of this connection is remembering that each side has something to offer the other. When working in international development, it is key to avoid setting up a paternalistic dynamic of giver and receiver, haves and have-nots, notes assistant professor of global health Juan Carlos Belliard.
“One of the best things we can do when we go to a community is make sure that they understand we’re all students and we’re there to learn from them,” Belliard says.
This message was brought home to students including Jamie Goyette, who discovered that she had more to learn from the community members, and how they have adapted to their environment, than she could teach them.
And she says there were plenty of things the people of Lluco wanted to demonstrate about their day-to-day lifestyle and achievements: organic quinoa farming practices, cheese production from local milk, and traditional artisan craft-making, to name some.
“They were just so proud of the things that they’d done on their own. Even the Seventh-day Adventist church was built in three months by three members of the community,” Goyette says.
While learning what they could, the students also reached out to educate where they were able. This included impromptu moments such as when the mothers group in Ccotos asked whether vaccinations for their children are wise.
“We had the opportunity to share why they were good, using the examples of specific diseases that are rarely seen in the United States because of routine vaccination,” says student Pat Oddie.
The students were also able to demonstrate through their example practices such as routine hand washing and the use of respiratory masks during tasks that create irritants.
But the big educational drive in each village was oral health. In Chijnaya, for example, the team held three different events to get the message out. First, they hosted a community theater night during which local individuals created skits demonstrating principles of maintaining a healthy mouth. At another gathering, the team discussed how food choices affect oral health.
STRONGER TEETH: LLU student Danielle Richey applies fluoride to a young girl's tteth in the highlands of Peru. [Photo: LLU]
Finally, on the last day in Chijnaya, the students went into the local primary school, where they used skits, puppet shows, and posters to educate 98 children on caring for their teeth. They also fluoridated the children’s teeth.
Tina Pruna worked with a group of fiourth-through-sixth graders. When the children stepped outside to practice using their new toothbrushes and toothpaste, she observed that several of the kids’ gums bled because of gingivitis and lack of routine care. During the fluoridation, she saw more damage.
“I don’t think I fluoridated a single child that didn’t have a cavity,” she observed. “Lots of cavities, lots of rotted teeth—some were basically skeletons of teeth and remnants of what used to be there.”
But there is hope for these children’s oral health. The team’s goal is for children to continue receiving fluoride treatments every three to four months at the local health clinic, which has been stocked with enough fluoride to last through March 2010, thanks to a donation from the Peruvian American Dental Association.
The work in the villages is part of a three-week course in Peru, during which the global health students also engage in activities such as observing the work of global aid organizations—including ADRA International—listening to a lecture by the country’s head epidemiologist, and visiting hospitals to learn about Peru’s health care system.
“Before traveling to Peru, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in global health, but this trip only helped to solidify that goal,” says Silvia Trigoso.