Reflections of a final year medical student for whom Project Peru arranged an elective placement during which he stayed and helped at the refuge.

My stay in the Casa Hogar in the summer of 2006 was definitely one of the happiest that I’ve known. From the moment I arrived I was made to feel welcome and instantly felt at home. I am reluctant to tell people that I have done some voluntary work in Peru, because “work” can never be that much fun. My “work” included a daily football match, jigsaw competitions, being taught how to make paper aeroplanes, dancing and cooking. Everyday at the refuge was different and there were always so many things to do. Some personal highlights included the “dia los niños” (day of the children) party which included a huge parilla (BBQ) and piñata and also watching the children rehearse traditional dancing.

My time at the refuge was dovetailed with medical placements in clinics in communities in the surrounding areas. To be able to practice medicine in such a contrasting environment was both eye opening and humbling experience that evoked lots of different emotions. The warmth and hospitality I received from everybody is not something I have experienced before.

I also had the pleasure of trekking the Inca Trail to raise money for Project Peru- a truly spectacular trip that I would recommend to everybody. My lasting memories of Peru however will not be of Machu Picchu, the Nazca lines or the jungle, but of the fun and love that I had the privilege of experiencing in the refuge in Zapallal. I hope it is not too long before I am able to return.

I didn’t find the language too much of a barrier, although talking to the younger children was much easier than conversing with adults… we agreed that I would start my medical placement the week after my arrival. From a medical point of view I bought one of the children a corticosteroid inhaler to hopefully try and prevent his asthma attacks (he’d had one the day before I arrived). This is in line with current NICE guidelines and this was verified by a respiratory consultant who later visited the refuge.

I then spent two weeks in a children’s clinic in SOS Aldeas. The daily routine consisted of myself, Dr Felipe, Cynthea (a dentist) and Omar (lab technician) who would take blood. We would go to community centres in various villages around Comas and perform a general health check, assess teeth and take blood to look for anaemia. On several occasions Dr F did not attend and left me alone to perform medical examinations. This was a fantastic opportunity for me as I got to perform up to 80 examinations per day which allowed me to develop my clinical skills and gain confidence. I relished the extra responsibility.

The following two weeks I attended a general medical clinic (Centro Salud San Martin De Porres) during which time I was under the supervision of Dr Crispin C. I had less clinical responsibilities but spent time in every department including general medicine, TB clinic, gynaecology and ultrasound. Dr C. also took me to visit the College of Medicine in Miraflores, Universidad San Martin de Porres and Universidad San Marcos.