Gratitude is the recurring theme that is everywhere throughout our week in the communities of Cusco Peru. The gratitude in the words, eyes, and smiles of our patients and the gratitude between ourselves and the local interpreters, coordinators, and leaders as we work together to make the clinics successful. Additionally, there is the appreciation for the many blessings that we have and often take for granted as we get to know communities with far less.
When we came to Cusco a year ago, we trusted the local coordinators to get us in a good place to help and to make a difference. We learned a lot, yet we left with countless questions. There was no doubt in our minds that, as Dr. Tim Appenheimer put it, “this was a good thing to be doing.” We were helping the people of Peru, and in many instances, we were helping a lot.
At the pharmacy table, I dispensed prescriptions in little baggies and explained what each medication was for and how to take it. I was communicating in my broken Spanish, and through interpreters, information was often translated to local Inca Quechua language. Along with the language challenges came literacy, visual, cultural and other barriers.
As we prepared for this year’s trip, we worked to build on what we learned last year. For the pharmacy, we brought prescription labels to reinforce verbal instructions and patient education. I’ve worked to learn more Spanish which as it turns out is a rather daunting task. We brought pharmacy counting trays to build efficiency, allowing more time for patient education. We brought a suitcase full of vitamins allowing us to dispense for a couple of months. We worked to learn more about the Peruvian healthcare system to know how to guide the patients to continue important maintenance medications after their little baggy of pills ran dry. All little things, but our hope is that such improvements add up to make a larger impact. These little things likely just scratch the surface of what could be done and this year we are working on learning more and more about the culture and healthcare system here and how we can best help in a more impactful and sustainable way.
As we work to build on what we know and to put ourselves in a better place to help, it’s gratitude that fuels our effort. The smile and tears of happiness from a mother when a pharmacist takes a minute to find her child a new pair of shoes. The ear to ear grin on a young girl’s face as she hugs a dress given to her and that palpable gratitude from a local mayor as he expresses his thanks for our helping the people of his very remote Andean village.
Cusco and the Peruvian Andes are an amazing, beautiful place and we are blessed to be able to visit and to share what we have and know with the people of Cusco. At the end of the week, I am not sure who benefits the most from the experience, ourselves or the people that we are here to help.