|It is difficult to translate the profound experiences that have continued to confirm my world view from serving the people in Peru. Here are some snapshots that will forever be imprinted in my heart and mind and moments that will continue to change me as I assimilate back into my Orange County routine.
On day No. 5 of our journey, we were riding a boat in the Amazon where the morning sun gleamed off the smooth and vast surface of this enormous river. Along the banks, grass huts were scattered, lining the shore, all raised about four feet to compensate for when she (the Amazon) overflows. I can only imagine what it is like when she is at full strength and her arms stretch out to fill all the low-lying areas. I must come back and witness this, as it would be magnificent to see the countryside change.
Our mission? To serve at a medical clinic that took us roughly one-and-a-half hours to get to by bus, boat and foot. Carrying in medical supplies, our team hiked amidst dense vegetation, rickety bridges and elevated walkways to arrive at the clinic in Penguana. As we approached, there was a line of roughly 200 people waiting to be treated. Serving alongside doctors and volunteers from Camino de Vida (Road to Life), my daughters and I witnessed the resilience and perseverance of the human spirit. The children’s smiles amidst getting their teeth pulled and getting treated for malaria was incredible. The wholeness of life that seemed to reflect in the eyes of the people despite their disease and poverty will stay with me always. At the end of the day, the human spirit triumphs over despair, and the people of Penguana and the seven surrounding villages that traveled to see us were given love, dignity and hope. At the end of the day we serviced almost 500 people. We didn’t change Peru, but we made a difference to them and that was worth it.
On day No. 6, it was very humid from the rain the previous night but my discomfort was quickly diminished when I saw the line of hundreds who had arrived early to be treated at a clinic in Inca Roca. My initial responsibility was that I was put in charge of retrieving water for everyone that was, ironically, being stored at la casa de Walker. When I arrived at the Walker hut, it was humbling to witness a family with the same surname that was struggling to survive, living in dingy conditions; a sharp contrast from the Walker casa in Orange County. My youngest daughter and I admitted patients into the clinic with our limited vocabulary.
The line seemed endless with mothers checking in children, elderly and even a 13-year-old girl who checked in her three siblings, most of them suffering from malaria. The day pushed on and the need was so great that people started forcing their way in. Thankfully, the clinic also served as a compound so when the surging crowd tried to force themselves inside, we were able to shut the gates and control the chaos. Several hundred people had been admitted but there were still hundreds more waiting outside that were not going to be seen. Eventually the demand exceeded our abilities and when the people outside realized they were not going to be treated, they started yelling and banging on the gates. The sound echoed throughout the courtyard like something you would see in a movie. The need was too great to be met.
We left exhausted, but went to an early dinner at a nice restaurant floating in the center of the Amazon. I felt hypocritical as I looked back to the city of Iquitos and as we were far enough down the river to blur the imperfections of the realities we had just experienced.
On day No. 7, I witnessed the love of a mother exhibited in the truest sense of the word. This image will forever be branded in my memory. I saw this mother cradling the most disfigured and handicapped man I had ever laid eyes on. He was not a boy but a 26-year-old man that lay in his mother’s arms wrapped in a blanket. I was speechless as I absorbed the reality that this mother had been carrying her son for 26-years. That is incredible! For the man to even be able to sit she would lay him on the dining room table and massage his back to loosen him up, otherwise, he was rigid like a board. The man’s face was so disfigured that it was difficult to look at him, and very candidly, cannot be described. The mother was overjoyed with the gift of a wheelchair for her son but I don’t think her son was coherent enough to realize he was given mobility.
Day No. 8 was spent at the Nancy Cole Home, which caters to young girls and women who have suffered abuse. These women have incredible stories of rape, incest and complete disregard for their human dignity. Our mission was to celebrate these women by doing their hair, nails and make-up. At the end we had a makeover party and these ladies came alive! It’s amazing how these small acts of love lifted their spirits and took them to new heights. The old saying, “people don’t care until they know how much you care,” became a reality.
Our last night was spent in Lima where we treated ourselves to one of the most famous restaurants in town called La Rosa Nautica. It was nostalgic to be there as I can remember walking the pier to visit this restaurant 20 years earlier. I reflected on how much my life has changed and how thankful I am to serve the people with my two precious daughters.
Now that I am back home and back to my daily routine, I think often of my experiences in Peru. Just walking the aisles of the grocery store takes me back to visiting a local store in Miraflores where the commodities were perfectly aligned but the prices in general met or exceeded our prices. Even putting gas in my car reminds me of how fuel prices in this Third World country are triple what they are in the U.S. I consider how extremely inexpensive their labor is in comparison to how expensive their resources are. There are 28 million people in Peru and 25 million are living below our acceptable poverty levels with the vast majority living in extreme poverty.
Although I put just a small toe in their shoes, I am thankful and grateful for the experiences that will forever impact my children and me.