Muchas Gracias, Peru

Hey everyone,

Sadly, today marks the last day of our Peruvian Medical Experience.  We celebrated our return to the United States (arriving in the Atlanta airport this morning after a red eye flight from Lima) with a much-anticipated, proper feast at Buffalo Wild Wings at 9:30 am. I’m not sure what felt more surreal, eating completely American food at a completely irregular time, or realizing that our trip was really over. The past three and a half weeks have been absolutely amazing. Words cannot accurately describe this incredible experience, but we will give our best effort to recap it for you.

It all started at the orphanage in Cusco.  We arrived there understanding we would be assisting our providers at the medical and dental clinics, but quickly realized there was more to it than that.  The relationships we built with the kids were incredible.  Whether it was through soccer, an intense game of tether ball, flipping water bottles, taking pictures, or going shopping, the boys and girls at the orphanage and shelter quickly became not only patients, but true amigos. They will forever hold a special place in our hearts.

We then made our way to the Willoq community to set up similar clinics.  Here we were immersed in the deep culture of this beautiful community, and were greatly humbled by their memorable welcoming ceremony for us.  We saw numerous patients and were given the opportunity to have a meeting with the elders to learn about the future needs of the community.  Our goal for these meetings was to better inform the future groups so that we could continue building our relationship with the Willoq community. There is such a strong connection between the community and Peruvian Odyssey team already, and we feel confident that it will continue to change lives on both sides in the upcoming years.

For our last week, we stayed in an impoverished area of Arequipa.  We spent our mornings assisting in various public health service projects to help the community, and were exposed to the heartbreaking, difficult realities of poverty. The addition of multiple guest speaker talks, group discussions with Father Alex, and a few days to explore the city of Arequipa gave us the opportunity to bond even more closely as a group, and to really reflect on everything we had seen.

We also wanted to thank and acknowledge all of the amazing people who made this journey possible for us. We learned so, incredibly much from the providers who came with us (Doug, Diane, Eric, Dan, Becky, Murt, and Kolby), as well as the providers who met us in Peru (Wayne and Roberto). There is no way we could have successfully navigated through Cusco without our incredible tour guides and translators (Odon, Jenny, John, Wilson, Alfredo, and all their families). We were grateful for the hospitality and translation help from Father Alex and our HBI friends in Arequipa (Bob, Karen, Maria, Ericsson, Lydia, Sergio, and others). The tour of Lima would also not have been possible without our tour guide, José. And of course, Sara was with us every step of the way to guide us and learn right alongside us. All of these incredible people did everything in their power to make this the best, most memorable learning experience possible for us, and we cannot thank them enough.

Despite our over-tiredness from a long day of traveling, combined with our excitement to sleep in our own beds and take hot showers again, it was still bittersweet to say goodbye to Peru. We came here with the hope that we could truly make a difference and change peoples lives. Perhaps we did. But what we can say with certainty is that those people made a difference and changed our lives. Thank you for everything, Peru. Truly, this was an experience that we will never forget.

Jack and Annie

Adios Arequipa

Today we wrap up our week of public service and reflection in Arequipa. This morning we continued work on the five public health projects; observing surgery, helping at the clinic, walking with the social worker, cooking in the kitchen, and working outdoors at an orphanage. Father Alex identified an orphanage that was in need and we were eager to assist with cutting the grass, tilling some land, and cleaning up the playground in addition to our usual projects.

This afternoon we had a discussion with Father Alex about religion, love, and the work he has accomplished in this area of Arequipa. We were also invited to attend an evening mass celebrating the conversion of Saint Paul and the commissioning of two new missionaries going to Cuba in two weeks.

We are thankful for the work we were able to do here and for the time we have had to reflect on the multitude of lessons to be learned from this community. We were wholeheartedly welcomed into a community that is full of love and gratitude despite many hardships. While it will be hard to say adios to Arequipa, we are excited to learn more about the Peruvian capital, Lima, during our day tour tomorrow.


Aileth, Caitlyn, Janelle, and Laelle

Historical Hospital

Today we continued with our community public health projects.  Work was continued on the house building project by nailing up plastic to protect the house from water damage in the upcoming wet months.  The kitchen peeled countless carrots and potatoes to contribute to the community meal.

After lunch, the group toured a hospital in Arequipa.  The hospital celebrates its 105th birthday on the 11th of February and has been declared a historical monument in South America.  Over the years, the hospital has suffered damage due to earthquakes.  It continues to rebuild and provide the best possible care to its patients.

Tomorrow is our last day working with Father Alex and HBI.  We will miss helping them serve and fulfill their mission to help the growing community of Alto Cayma. Their dedication to the poor is an honorable and noble quest to better this society. That oftentimes receives little attention and thanks. We are extraordinary grateful and thankful to have been in their presence these last few days.

Peder and Cece

Taking Time to Reflect

This morning we participated in an activity of our choice. This is the second day we have had the opportunity to be immersed in the community of Arequipa. One new activity today was shadowing surgeries at one of the local hospitals. The other groups prepared food for individuals in the local community of Alta Cayma, shadowed in a clinic, visited homes with the social worker, or worked on filling in the roads that have been eroded by the rain.

The individuals working on filling in the road were able to repair the area with sand to make it drivable again. As we were working this morning, one woman from the local community stopped by and helped us shovel sand. Every member of the community that we have met has always been willing to help in any way that they can, and it was great to work side by side with someone from Alta Cayma. After our group filled the gorge to the best of our ability, we drove to one the homes under construction for one of the women in the community. The house this woman had before is in shambles, and the work crew will demolish it in the upcoming days. For the new home, our group was able to finish digging a trench around the house to direct water flow. Some students also built a rock wall in the front of the house to distinguish the property line. We decided that our artistic abilities for designing the rock wall were not the greatest, and we came to the conclusion that we needed to have more “Incan genes” to build a rock wall without any mortar.

The clinic today was slower than normal, but the students that volunteered there still got the opportunity to shadow the medical professionals. This included a chance to see how they take vitals, record medical history, perform lab tests, and diagnose acute conditions in Peru. We had the unique opportunity to shadow Maggie, a resident from the United States who is treating patients in Alta Cayma for one month. The doctors and residents we shadowed provided excellent care to those in need despite their limited access to equipment. As pre-health students, we also appreciated the insight they provided during examinations, and we enjoyed working with the translators throughout the day.

Today we also took time to relax and reflect. Our afternoon was free, and many students engaged in playing soccer, playing board games, or watching a movie. We also spent the evening journaling about the rewards and challenges we have faced on this trip and how they relate to our future vocations. Over the past few nights in Arequipa, we have also been able to reflect about our experiences with our “reflection buddy.”

The days of our trip are winding down. As we embrace these last few days, we hope to take in the last experiences to the best of our ability. Soon we will be leaving this beautiful country, but our memories of our experiences in Peru will be long lasting.

Steven and Amy

La Ciudad Blanca

Today was the second day we spent exploring La Ciudad Blanca, or Arequipa. The morning was spent leisurely exploring the vast expanse of the white city. As the Ole students that we are, we engaged in a multitude of opportunities to learn about the local culture, history, and faith.Members of the group toured to the local Alpaca farm, learning about the Peruvian textiles industry, others visited the Ice Maiden exhibit of Incan child sacrifice, and some engaged in history of the Catholic faith at the Santa Catalina Monastery and  Basilica Cathedral. Even our free days are filled with endless learning opportunities.

A handful of our group had both an educational and spiritual experience this morning  attended mass at Basilica Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas. Having already toured the cathedral and it’s affiliated museum, we thought it would be fitting to actually attend a Sunday  morning service. We were so fortunate to have such a spiritual experience take place in a such a stunning place. Mass was lead by the Bishop of Arequipa, which, for many of us, was the first time we had encountered such a figure of the Catholic church. As many noted after the service, it was interesting to observe cultural distinctions between our practice of faith at home and what we experienced here. To use Jack’s words, “Communion was kind of like driving in Peru.” It was a bit of a free for all as everyone rushed to approach the alter, without guidance of the usher or orderly procession.

Upon reflection on our experience within Arequipa these last two days, the group recognized the vast socioeconomic and racial trends throughout this city, particularly as we ascend upward toward our place of stay. By living on the very outskirts of the developing city, we are gifted with the opportunity to not only see, but experience the drastic contrast between the absolute poverty of Alta Cayma and immense wealth of downtown Arequipa. The city itself is within a mountain basin, and the developing communities extend upward toward the mountains. Along this vertical incline we have observed a socioeconomic decline. Another trend in this socioeconomic slope up the the mountain, is a trend in the race of the local citizens observable as easily as the shade of their skin. The combination of these two trends speaks strongly to the racial difficulties this country faces which has been a topic of discussion throughout our time in Peru.

We look forward to our last days spent in this developing community and our final days in this wonderful country. See you in four days!

Annika and Colten

Arequipa–The Land of Disparities

Today we had the opportunity to sightsee in the center of Arequipa, an area very different from where we are staying. The city is located in the center of the valley, with the center being in the flat part and the outskirts of town going up the mountains. As you leave the city center, there is a stark difference in infrastructure and level of wealth. We are staying in Alta Cayma, where the roads are sparsely paved and subject to erosion where the dogs outnumber the humans. If you head even higher up, the neighborhoods resembles a slum.

In contrast, the city center of Arequipa is filled with ornately decorated, colonial buildings and cathedrals dating from the 1800s. The architecture and feeling resembled more of a European city. There are lots of restaurants, stores, and gorgeous homes. We went to a local market, toured the cathedral, visited the local monastery, and went to a National Geographic Museum showcasing frozen mummies that were sacrificed during Incan times.

One thing that was very evident was the difference in racial composition between the city center and the outskirts of town. The outskirts of town are primarily populated by migrants, many of whom have native roots and have moved from rural villages in hope of better opportunities. The city center, in contrast, is full of people who are more middle class and have established themselves in Arequipa. This difference in race and wealth illustrates the inequalities that predominate in Peru.

Our host, Father Alex, has mentioned these disparities and how they have evolved over time. When he first arrived, the outskirts of town were closer to the city center. However, as the population has grown and development has occurred, the poorest areas have moved further from the city center. As development has occurred, Father Alex has moved his focus further from the city center to assist the neediest people.

We look forward to continuing to explore the city center and learn about the needs of the people in Alta Cayma and how we can assist in this area.

Michelle and Ryan

A New Perspective on Poverty

Hey Everyone,

Today was our first full day in Arequipa.  After getting much needed sleep after a long travel day, we split up into our public health groups for the day.  One of the groups had the chance to get their hands dirty and build trenches around a new home, another group spent the morning shadowing local physicians, dentists, and nurses at a private clinic, and another group helped make meals to serve to families in the community.  Lastly, a group of five students walked through the community with a social worker going on home visits.  This was an amazing experience to be able to witness true poverty first hand.  All of us were humbled by the kindness of this community despite the many difficulties the people face on a daily basis.

This afternoon we welcomed a Peruvian doctor to the volunteer house to shed light on his experiences in both the Peruvian and Cuban healthcare system. Dr. Manuel was born in Peru, but decided to study medicine in Cuba due to its superior health care system.  Being a medical mission trip, it was really interesting to learn his perspective on the problems surrounding medicine in this country.  Coincidentally, we (Jack and Annie) were discussing the effectiveness of medical mission trips last night, and it was really encouraging to hear that a Peruvian doctor highly appreciated and valued our efforts.

Before dinner, a very special guest joined us for yet another insightful conversation.  Father Alex, the founder of the parish we are working in, came to talk to us about his vocation and work in Peru.  It was informative to hear Father Alex’s reasons for the existence of poverty in Peru and how he incorporates both spirituality and action into one mission to assist this community.  We are looking forward to more discussions with Father Alex and to continue our public health projects in Arequipa.

Annie and Jack

Adiós Cusco, Hola Arequipa!

Hello everyone!

Our day began ‘bright’ and early at 5 AM when we said goodbye to our friends and health care providers. It was very difficult to say goodbye after such a great time together. Nevertheless, we embarked on a voyage to the city of Arequipa and were warmly welcomed by Bob Geringer, a pediatric hospitalist who also works in Arequipa with the organization Health Bridges International.

After breakfast and mingling with Bob about the city of Arequipa, we went on a tour of Alto Cayma, the outskirts of Arequipa. We learned that the city of Arequipa has continually developed outwards from the city center up the surrounding mountainsides. On our tour we learned a lot about the water sources for these new communities; communities fund large cisterns to be filled daily by water trucks. Each family gets a stipend for how much water they have access to each day. Every few blocks there is a water spigot for families to fill up their water buckets and carry back to their homes. This was much different than any other living conditions we had been exposed to in Peru and was a reality check to the luxury of running clean water that we have in our homes.

Later in the afternoon we learned more about Arequipa from Richard, a South American historian. We discussed major political issues and religious practices,  such as former military dictatorships and the separation of church and state. We also covered topics of food and geography. We learned about ongoing conflicts about the drink ‘pisco,’ and whether it originated in Peru or Chile.

Today was an educational and fascinating introduction to the history and culture of Arequipa.

Until next time!

Meaghan and Zach

Last Day in Cusco

This morning all of the girls spent time shopping with the women from the women’s shelter. We were able to give them each their own money so they could spend it on what they felt that they needed. It was such a joy to see their smiles when they saw that they could pick out their own stuff and when they found what they wanted to buy. Although they are all teenagers they immediately went for practical items such as shirts and pants. In addition to the money, we were able to supply them all with basic toiletries such as shampoo and conditioner as well as some fun items such as perfume. All the women were so thankful and so welcoming. We immediately felt like we were close friends and were sad to have to tell them that we wouldn’t be back the following year.

While all of the girls were shopping with the  women from the women’s shelter, all of the guys went shopping for the boys at the orphanage. Using some of the money we raised, we were able to buy all thirteen boys currently living at the orphanage a sweatshirt, soccer jersey, athletic shorts, and multiple pairs of socks. We also were able to get them a new soccer ball and football, since many of their balls were either popped or in poor condition.

After shopping, we all went over to the orphanage to give the boys their new clothes. It was amazing to see the looks on their faces when we started handing everything out. They were all unbelievable grateful and filled with joy after receiving their new stuff.

The rest of the day everyone was free to do anything they wanted. Some went shopping, others adventures around Cusco, and others went back over to the orphanage to hang out and watch a movie with them. For those that went back to the orphanage it was very fun to see the kids, but also sad knowing it was most likely the last time we see any of them again.

Tonight we will all be going out to dinner together for one last time before we leave for Arequipa in the morning. Tonight is also the last night with all of our amazing healthcare providers, who will be heading back home tomorrow.

Will and Leah


Machu Picchu!

Yesterday we spent the day at Machu Picchu. Apart from the medical experiences, this was one of the moments many of us in the trip had been anticipating. Our day started off with an early train ride to Aguas Calientes, on which we could see many remarkable views of the Andes. From there, we took a bus up to Machu Picchu on a road full of plenty of switchbacks. The views were amazing! We learned many things about the Incas and how the city was built and found from our awesome guide Odin. We had a buffet lunch at a nearby hotel and we’re able to try some of the typical Peruvian foods that we hadn’t yet had. After lunch some of the group went back up for more hiking to the SunGate. Rain was trickling down a bit but once we got to the top, the beautiful view was worth the climb. The rest of the group stayed at the main site to explore more of what we hadn’t yet seen if the city. It was very peaceful because the rain drove a lot of visitors out of the area, allowing us to take many reflective moments is such a unique and special place.

On the train ride back to Ollantaytambo, the staff on our train danced a traditional Peruvian dance. A lady was in a colorful costume and performed a dance meant to honor Virgin del Carmen. It was special to be able to see more aperuvian traditions, but those that were asleep on the train were startled awake by the loud music and then immediately met with the costume that consisted of a bloude wig, face mask with devil horns and vampire fangs, and a colorful shirt and skirt. It was memorable to say the least. After this dance the rest of the staff put of a fashion show to items made from alpaca wool. It was fun to see some Peruvian fashion, but also humorous to watch a random fashion show on our hour and a half long train ride.

After arriving in Ollantaytambo we picked up a few of the professionals that stayed behind at our hotel. We then stared back to Cusco, where we will be spending two nights before the students head to Arequipa and the professionals head home. Today we have a free day in Cusco, during which the women are going shopping with the girls from the girls shelter we worked with and the men are shopping for the boys shelter.

Aileth and Janelle