Many of you may know the book by Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains, which tells the story of Dr. Paul Farmer and his work in Haiti. It's an exciting and inspiring read and one that's been very challenging to me, as well. I have recently been reminded of this title by what I've seen the past few days.
This week I have worked in Huaraz, a city at the foot of the Cordillera Blanca in west-central Peru. Huaraz has a population of approximately 100,000 and sits at and elevation of about 3050 m (10,000 ft.). It's a beautiful area, with clear blue skies and views of snow-capped peaks. I travel with a Peruvian colleague of mine as a matter of course (since I continue to struggle with learning spanish), but an added bonus this trip was that my oldest two daughters came along to share the adventure.
Huaraz has its share of 'global health' problems. Many of the people in the mountains suffer from malnutrition, as their diet lacks protein. Potato and corn, corn and potato....these are the staples. Like every area I've seen thus far (and as is true all over the world), access to clean water is also an important factor in the levels and types of disease with which people suffer.
One of the areas we visited is Challhua, a small barrio on the edge of Huaraz. An interesting (yet alarming) note is that this community is located only about 2 blocks from the local Ministry of Health office. About 300 children live in this community, which is not recognized by the local government as it was the result of a land takeover by a group of people burdened by poverty.
Consequently, the area lacks electricity and ready-access to clean water; there is a raging (for now) stream that runs next to the community from which many people draw their water (in addition to using it to wash clothes, food, and who knows what else). Homes are of adobe, lack space and heat, and are highly susceptible to the rain and cold which exist in this area. While we were visiting, a steady rain came down making a complete mess of the roadways and in many of the homes.
One opportunity here for Wabash students is that of education for the kids who live in this community. This community (and most others we've encountered) lacks for good information on the causes, and prevention, of parasitic and infectious disease. Baseline data on infections do not exist, and there is a lack of understanding of the multi-faceted causes of the disease problems. Again, clean water and modest hygiene practices (e.g., it's a good idea to not live in the same room with your dogs, chickens, and pigs) are key.
The beautiful thing is that kids are the same everywhere. I had great fun in the short time we were there interacting with the horde of kids who were attracted to our small group of visitors. We were meeting in the "classroom" of a small community center / kindergarten and were surrounded by inquisitive and bright young kids. It was fun to have them swarm as they jockeyed for position to see their pictures on my camera.
Education and opportunities for sampling also exist in Llupa, a small village in the hills above Huaraz. This was another beautiful area that masks some of the struggles the Andean people have; a large percentage of the population suffers from malnutrition and diarrhea because of their diet and some of the parasites which can be found in the water. Access to this area is relatively easy as it's a short (but steep) trip from Huaraz.
We also took a trip further up the road to visit an inn (the Lazy Dog Inn) that's run by a couple of Canadian expats. They've been there nearly 10 years and have a registered NGO, the Andean Alliance. They do a good bit of education and community development work in addition to running an environmentally-conscious inn. They are striving to be totally off the grid in a few years; we had a great time talking with Diane Morris, one of the owners, about possible projects on which students could work, etc. Having previously lived in Ecuador and Colombia, they have a good on-the-ground perspective on global health issues and how those are approached at the local and regional levels. Their inn sits in an absolutely gorgeous area with amazing views all around them. It was an instructive and enjoyable visit.