by Jana Siu

Vicki the pharmacist described to me the neighborhood of Cleto Rojas in San Clemente as rustic. I found “rustic” to be an understatement. This area increased dramatically in size after the earthquake. Houses are constructed of wooden poles and mats of weaved reed stalks as roofs and walls. Plastic sheeting, some that have the emblem of medical relief organizations long gone, insulate these homes. It’s a very dusty, windy, dry part of town. We chose Cleto Rojas as the location to do our preventative health campaign.

Tumbling out of our cramped motos with our supplies and anticipation, we were slightly disappointed to see all of 5 people sitting outside. But knowing that information spreads pretty quickly through paper-thin walls (literally), we soon found ourselves in a crowd of 60.

One of the major problems found here is a significant parasite infection rate. There is no running water so the municipal district fills these above-ground concrete wells shared by groups of neighbors. Water gets contaminated quickly. Add in all the stray dogs, close bathroom quarters, and poor hygiene practices, people get sick.

Hand washing for hygiene demonstration

First things first, each child was given an anti-parasitic. Next, our staff gave a presentation on proper hygiene, food preparation, and basic parasitology. We concluded with a hand-washing demonstration. Our audience was engaging, participatory, and it was a fun and interactive experience for everyone.

Luisa giving dental cleaning demonstration

Luisa, our volunteer dentist pulled out her dental model to everyone’s delight, and talked about dental hygiene. “What else do we brush besides our teeth?” Luisa asked. “Our tongues!!” chimed the kids in a loud chorus.  I have no doubt that her lesson stuck. The children squealed in delight over their new toothbrushes that we passed out and got a helping of fluoride, although they admitted to liking the taste of toothpaste much better, so we passed those out too.

Our lecture on women’s health created so much input from the women that we had to institute the “raise your hand before you speak” rule. This was one of the few times that I was happy that people couldn’t wait their turn to talk.

2 hours later, after questions were answered, teeth were made a little stronger, and free gifts were passed out, people trickled back home. I find that you can never over-do preventative health. And unless vaccinations are involved, everybody has a good time and learns something new. If we happen to lose a few clinic appointments due to proper hand-washing then…hooray!

Children with new toothbrushes

More information and reporting about our clinic in Peru can be found here.

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