Working with Grassroots Community Clinic in Rural Peru

by Sam Steeter '13, TH '14, International Internship, Peru, Sacred Valley Health

In addition to my academic interests in engineering, I have a long-term interest in global health and medicine in rural and under-resourced locations. In the spring of 2012, I undertook a Dickey Center internship in a small mountain community called Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley of the Inca, Peru, with a newly formed, non-governmental, non-profit organization called Sacred Valley Health.

SVH provided mobile medical clinics in a number of communities throughout the Sacred Valley free of charge and was in the early stages of implementing a collaborative, grassroots community health workers education program in isolated Quechua villages throughout the Sacred Valley. My work involved organizing and processing remote community baseline health data from mobile clinics, which was eventually used in the training, monitoring and evaluation of the SVH community health workers education program.

Each day I joined my Peruvian family for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a daily basis, and participated in family outings around Ollantayambo and on trips to neighboring towns for community events and celebrations. I ran and played soccer with my host brother, learned to prepare Peruvian recipes with my host sister, and learned dance moves from my host mother during the annual La Festividad del Señor de Choquekillka celebration. I joined fellow SVH volunteers on exploratory backpacking trips through the towering Peruvian Andes that rim the Sacred Valley. My experience with my Peruvian host family was phenomenal and my Spanish speaking skills improved drastically. I gained an intimate glimpse of Peruvian culture, family and community dynamics, traditions, history, education, and cuisine.

My internship bolstered my interests in global health, rural healthcare, and in applying technical engineering and computer programming skills to solve real-world problems. Simultaneously, my time internship presented me with the most significant cross-cultural experience of my life. Lastly, my internship impressed upon me the ethic complexities associated with international volunteerism, otherwise known as "voluntourism," encouraging me to carefully consider the motivation for and the implications of volunteering abroad.