In the summer of 2007, I had the fortunate opportunity of participating in a Project Suyana humanitarian/medical volunteer trip to Puno, Peru for five weeks. Project Suyana is a student organization at the University of Michigan dedicated to improving gynecological and obstetric healthcare conditions in Puno, where maternal and infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world (for more information, please visit the website.)
Under the generous grant endowed by the Wallenberg Committee, my work in the area included volunteering in a health clinic and teaching English to kids and healthcare professionals.
In the Regional Hospital, my experiences included accompanying physicians in their daily rounds in ICU and Surgery, observing routine checkups and surgical procedures, observing interactions between physicians and their patients, and learning some basic knowledge about medicine and the Peruvian healthcare system. I also frequently made efforts to initiate conversations with the patients to learn about their health conditions and lifestyles. These experiences are immensely valuable to me personally as an aspiring physician. After spending 30 hours per week in a hospital, watching multiple surgeries and encountering a countless number of people being cured of their illnesses, my desire to study and practice medicine grew even more intense – I wanted to be a part of the life-saving process that I’d witnessed on a daily basis in the hospital.
After working in the hospital, we taught English to schoolchildren and some hospital staff. Since they often receive English-speaking tourist patients, the hospital workers were enthusiastic to learn English, so I utilized my medical Spanish vocabulary acquired in a Spanish class. The children we worked with were ages 6 to 13 and from a poverty-stricken area of Puno, and their families had very little means of providing them necessities like notebooks and pencils, let alone a good education. But the kids were so eager to learn from us; by our second day, our class had doubled in size. I believe that our presence in their lives gave them very positive messages—that education is important, that they matter, and that we care about them. The whole experience was emotional; our farewell on the last night was filled with tears.
During my trip, I gained an understanding of the local culture, improvements in Spanish communication and exposure to clinical medicine and surgical procedures. But most important, this experience solidified my enthusiasm for humanitarian work and intensified my passion for medicine. I believe I will continue to devote myself to efforts of similar nature.