2008 PFIG Recipient Moira Carroll
College of Arts & Sciences
2009 Graduation Year
Internship: Nexos Voluntarios in Peru
Notes on the first week
My arrival in Urubamba, Peru, a rural community nestled in the mountains outside of Cusco, marks the end of my first week working with Nexos Voluntarios. The NGO´s home base is in Lima where I began preparing for the reproductive and sexual health campaign that another volunteer and I are putting together for the Urubamba community. Because we are piloting the program, our plans and outlines for the campaign continue to change significantly. Our initial goals included the creation and implementation of separate reproductive health campaigns for primary and secondary students and a general campaign for women in the community, each modified to suit the needs and concerns of each group. However, once our project coordinator began making contacts with heath professionals and teachers, they recommended that we create 4 different sessions for both primary and secondary school students so that we could have a more lasting impact on the students. The four sessions for the students, as of right now, will include workshops about self esteem, sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections. Within the Cusco area, teenage pregnancy and sexual abuse continue to be significant problems. Although the structure of our information sessions may change as we are beginning to learn more about the culture in Urubamba and the reproductive health needs of its residents, our goals to educate students and other members of the community still remain the same. We hope to impart basic reproductive heath knowledge while building the self esteem of students and women to empower them to make decisions about their own body and health. Hopefully, because of the information provided in the campaign, the number of unwanted teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections will decline in Urubamba.
After only 4 weeks in Peru and 3 in Urubamba , I cannot believe that I am halfway through my internship. My teammate in the project and I are keeping busy organizing presentations on the various topics of reproductive health and trying to figure out, in the meantime, what are the prevalent issues that we need to address. Because this is the first kind of education program about reproductive health, we are hoping to have a chance to talk with as many students in Sacrado Corazón, the school we are working at, as possible, meaning 6 different grades and students ranging from 11 to 19 years old. After laying a fairly large foundation, hopefully, more volunteers will come and implement the program with some consistency. Then, it would be easier to narrow down the presentations to one or two age levels, making it easier to start working with the program in other schools nearby.
We have spoken with a teacher of another school in the town and he wants a copy of our work so that he could implement the program at his school. The fact that he wants to start the program is very exciting because, if the teachers here were the ones teaching the students about reproductive health, it would be a more effective and sustainable way to communicate this vital information instead of relying on volunteers to come to Urubamba . But not everyone has met our program with the same enthusiasm. The director of the school Sacrado Corazón told us when we started the program that he decided to have us come without the permission of parents. For the most part, we have not received to much negative feedback save for the occasional teacher who, while we are talking to the director, would come up and say that we should not be teaching the students about reproductive health because it would upset the parents. We have yet to hear from the parents themselves and the majority of the teachers thanks us for talking about a subject that has been culturally taboo for so long.
The reception of the students, on the other hand, makes all the nights of drawing rough representations of reproductive tracts and kid-friendly charts to explain methods of contraceptives worth it. Basically anytime I walk into the school yard, the students start punching each other and smiling, I'm not sure if it is because they are excited or just a result of the taboo themes of our talks. I have even had some students come up to me in the street outside of classes to ask when I will be coming back. However, I feel as though they are learning a lot and my Spanish is going through a crash course as I have had to learn how to explain things from why Down's syndrome occurs to how quadruplets are born while fielding their many questions.
Sometime in the next few weeks, we are looking to expand to community presentations but, for the time being, we are focusing on the students because that is where we think we can have the most affect in preventing unwanted pregnancy and the transmission of serious infections and diseases.
Somehow, we managed to wrap up the campaign for the students in the school before I left, which originally was not on the schedule. Right before our first presentation for the adolescents back in June, we gave them a Pre-Test to gauge their knowledge of anatomy, contraceptives, and how pregnancy occurs and dangerous STIs are transmitted, including HIV/AIDS. While serving to show what we needed to teach the students, the test also was a base for us to compare the effectiveness of the campaign and how much the students learned. At the end of the final meeting with each class, I gave them the exact same test to compare with the Pre-Test. Every single class improved their scores, some even by 30%, proof that our workshops improved their knowledge of reproductive health and their rights. I left Urubamba very confident that all of them learned the basics such as how a pregnancy occurs, how to prevent a pregnancy or infection, and their rights regarding their sexual health.
On my last full day in the small town, I actually had to take a small trip outside of Urubamba . After emailing back and forth with the contacts in the rural community called Mismanay, I finally was able to schedule a chat with the adults in the community. Another volunteer and I went out to Mismanay a week before to meet the president in the community and familiarize ourselves with the needs of the community. Later that week, we returned for the 9 AM meeting to find that no one had come. Our contact took the word to the street and convinced the skeptical women that they could talk to us foreigners about sexual and reproductive health issues. About 13 Quechua-speaking women came and we sat in a circle and talked about their reproductive rights and family planning issues, with the aid of a Quechua translator. Despite the fact that a health clinic was about 20 minutes down the road from their homes, none of the women knew that they could receive gynecological consultations and any form of contraceptive for free. We even spoke about the financial repercussions of family planning. The women agreed that having too many children unplanned caused financial struggle. After informing them of the resources they have in Mismanay, they seemed to feel more empowered to seek out contraceptive methods and take control of their reproductive health.
It is incredibly hard to sum up my internship in Peru in a few paragraphs but I can easily say that I learned countless invaluable lessons, ranging from simply seeing how another society lives to the power of education as a preventative tool, a huge part of public health in any nation. I enjoyed confronting new and surprising challenges as they sprung up. More importantly, however, I was able to get a firsthand glimpse into how the Peruvian health system works and ways that I can use my skills and knowledge to help out.