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Peru – Beach Clinic??

October 21, 2007 - Peru

by Steve Henrichon

We had made up our minds to focus our efforts closer to Pisco…and to partner with ACER. After our tour of Chincha, we took the bus back to San Clemente and met with ACER to tell them we would like to proceed with the partnership. We wanted to get this ball rolling as soon as possible because there are many things to be done. Finding a location for the clinic, a permit to offer healthcare in Peru, setting up a bank account, etc.

At this point, we were leaning towards setting up the clinic in San Clemente. If we were going to be spending the next couple months working in San Clemente, we might as well start sleeping there. We found the best hostel (and only) hostel San Clemente has to offer and checked ourselves in. 25 sol…8 US dollars. We were told to make sure we do not go out in San Clemente at night because it is dangerous since the population is so poor. We took this advice seriously, and we were in our room at 7:30p. This hostel did not have the luxury of a toilet seat, or a mirror in the bathroom, or even a pillow that wasn’t saturated with dust and mites. Our night was accompanied by someone banging on our door at midnight…still don’t know who it was…and then were awoken at 5am by the man at the front desk blasting some crazy Quechua music as loud as his little stereo could play. It was awkwardly loud for it being 5am. In my travels, I have stayed in some pretty seedy places. This night in San Clemente was one for the record books.

We decided to leave San Clemente that morning…drive to San Andreas, which is another district of Pisco on the complete other side of town…and simply make the commute to/from San Clemente everyday.

I was looking forward to exploring San Andres as a potential site for the clinic. In order to ensure San Clemente is the right locale, it is important to remove any doubt in our minds by at least considering other areas such as San Andres, Chincha, Pisco Centro, etc. The geography of the area looks like this. The Panamericana del Sur is a 2-lane highway that runs north to south along the entire coast of Peru. Like highway route 101 in California, some parts of the highway are right on the coast, and some parts are more inland. After traveling south along the highway for two hours, you first reach Cañete which the furthest town north affected by the earthquake. One hour later, you reach Chincha. Another 45 minutes, you reach La Cruce, and then one more hour south to Ica. La Cruce (cross) is called such because it is the intersection for the road to Pisco and the Panamericana del Sur. La Cruce is a few kilometers in land. You drive towards the coast and a few minutes later, you are in downtown Pisco.

The part of Pisco right along the coast is called Pisco Playa and adjacently south to Pisco Playa/Centro is San Andres. To get to San Clemente, you travel back to La Cruce and jump on the highway going north for a few kilometers. San Clemente is inland…situated on the East side of the highway and stretches towards the Andes. Although San Clemente is part of Pisco, it is a bit removed from the center of town.

San Andres was a breath of fresh air.

Right on the beach. It is a fishing village…and the majority of the inhabitants work for one of the few big fishing companies in San Andres (such as the one where the Tzu Chi distribution was held). We had a name of a woman, Fanny, who operates the Miramar hostel in San Andres so we visited her first. On the comfort spectrum, our room at fanny´s hostel was at the complete other end of the spectrum when compared to our room in San Clemente…for not too much more money…$15. A big room, with a couch, dining room table, and ample windows. I could get used to this!

We tell Fanny about our mission in Pisco and she says “You could build the clinic here! There was a German group that was using part of the building for a school for children. They left after the earthquake. We would like to help in any way!” We then took a tour of the area which was once a school…and we both identified it as being perfect for a clinic. A large open room, a few smaller rooms for exams, bathroom, electricity, water, an entire shaded outdoor area which we could partition off for rooms. It was in tip-top shape…already painted with whales and sea animals and other designs. It was perfect. Maybe too perfect. Would this be a cop-out? Building the clinic at a beautiful beach-side setting?

There is no reason to make this project harder for ourselves if we don’t have to. San Andres is also a poor section of Pisco so we would capture that clientele. In addition, the clinic would be more accessible by the residents in Pisco Centro than would San Clemente. Maybe this could work.

That afternoon, we took a tour of San Andres. The damage was significantly more than San Clemente. We met with the Director at the UN. He told us a bit about San Andres and San Clemente…and gave us some damage reports on both. Almost all the buildings in San Andres where affected by the earthquake and 65% in San Clemente were affected…still an astronomical number. The difference is that the buildings in San Andres are mostly concrete whereas in San Clemente, they are mostly all made from adobe which crumbles very easily. If all the buildings in San Andres were made of adobe, they would have all collapsed. The UN Director personally thought it would be a good idea to work in San Clemente because it was a growing community. If it is a long term solution we were implementing, then San Clemente would be the best candidate for a clinic.
They are badly in need. The people from San Andres do have a small clinic and they can also visit one of the two hospitals in Pisco Centro. We still weren’t convinced.

Later that night, we met with our good friend Jimmy, a local friend from Ica, who suggested San Clemente would be a better choice under the circumstances. Still not convinced. Then Dr David, the “Good Doctor,” paid us a visit and offered his advice. He actually lives in Pisco. He currently lives in a tent with his wife because he lost his home in the earthquake.

We thought he would be onboard for San Andres since it is so close to home. But no…he too said San Clemente was the best choice. He pointed out that initially the new free clinic in San Andres would attract quite a crowd from all over Pisco for a few months. But then, the excitement would die down and the people would just visit whatever health center was closest…which would include two rebuilt hospitals in Pisco Centro. In addition, the people from San Andres have a bit more money and resources to help themselves. That is why they have concrete houses (not adobe) in the first place. In San Clemente, our clinic would be their only option…and it would be a long term solution in a community that is growing fast. In addition, San Clemente is the gateway to Huancavelica. Huancavelica is a mountain state to the east. The road to Huancavelica passes right through San Clemente. The people from Huancavelica are extremely poor and they do not have any healthcare at all. Although it is a 3 hour trip to Huancavelica by car, people have been trying to walk down to San Clemente to receive medical care and they have been dying along the street. Our clinic in San Clemente would have an outreach program to help the people in Huancavelica and escort them to our clinic for treatment. So…the clinic in San Clemente could have a profound impact in the surrounding areas.

It is now official. We will be working in San Clemente. I think we were looking for reasons why we should work in San Andres. It would be so comfortable and easy! But this isn’t a vacation. Our goal is to build a clinic in an area with the most need. It will be hard work, but that is to be expected. Our direction has been solidified and that in itself is comforting.

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