Volunteer Name: Veronica Ralls
Project Location: Cusco, Peru
Program Dates: From 12/27/13 to 01/04/14
Volunteered at: Medical Clinic
1-How was the local ABV Coordinator and the support provided in-country?
The local ABV coordinator was very sweet and greeted me at the airport. She took lots of great pictures of her and myself in the city as well as with members of the host family. Although she tried to share as much information as possible, some information did end up falling through the cracks and I did feel uninformed or unclear about a small amount of information. Overall, I had a positive experience.
The host family was amazing. They were very hospitable and allowed me to consider their home my home. They made sure I had everything that I needed including food even if they themselves were not eating. They were very flexible and patient with me as I was learning Spanish and really helped me to feel at home.
2-What was the most surprising thing you experienced?
The most surprising thing I think was the fact that we could not flush the toilet paper down the toilet. All toilet paper must go into the trash. Although this was surprising, it was very easy to adjust to.
3-What was most difficult to experience?
I think the most difficult thing to experience is things not being as clean as you are used to at home. This is possibly because of all the rain, but your shoes will get VERY messy. You don’t really walk around the house barefoot like you might at home instead you wear your shoes or slippers. When you go out in public it is recommended that you bring your own toilet paper because it is not readily available; bringing sanitizer is also a good idea because soap is not always available either. This was probably the most difficult for me to adjust to since I usually take my shoes off at the door at home.
4-Any tips for future volunteers… (clothing, travel, personal items, donations)
Bring thank you cards with you if you want to give them to your host family, Spanish teachers, etc. They don’t have thank you cards (from what I found) in Peru. Bring rainboots if traveling during the summer (Dec-Mar) because it literally rains everyday. I brought a pair of regular boots, a poncho, and a raincoat, but I would have preferred to have my rainboots. Learn Spanish BEFORE coming to Peru (if possible). Almost everyone in Cusco speaks only Spanish or Quechuan (I think is how it is spelled). Bring hiking boots.
I believe the paperwork says sturdy shoes, but hiking boots specifically would be great especially for Machu Picchu (or other Cusco excursions). If traveling during the rainy season (summer) make sure there is at least 10 hours between your flight from Cusco to Lima and your connection to the US. Due to the rain, there are A LOT of rescheduled or delayed flights and you want to ensure you don’t miss your connection. This may involve staying in the Lima airport for hours, but its better than missing your flight, many others are doing the same, and the airport is open 24/7. If you want a full work week packed with clinic and Spanish lessons, do not come during the holiday. If you want a combination of vacation time/mission work come during the holiday. Be careful with your personal belonging in large crowds as people will take advantage and pick pocket you.
5-Personal Paragraph (ABV Program Testimonial):
The experience with ABV has been delightful. The only thing I did not realize is that me traveling during the holiday meant some “holiday hours” at clinic. This is completely reasonable and expected, I just didn’t think about that prior to coming. This fact proved to work in my favor as I had a good combination of working with patients, learning Spanish, and exploring Cusco. The food in Peru is AMAZING and I recommend you try everything at least once. The host family I stayed with made something different every day and for every meal so I had a good selection. Working with ABV has given me the opportunity to experience another culture, build relationships, and serve the medically underserved.
6-How would you describe your accommodation, meals, security (e: host family, onsite,
I had my own room in the host family’s house, which was about 15min driving from the clinic. I was able to take a cab for a reasonable price to each place I had to or wanted to go. Based on my personal experience and comments from people living in Cusco, I felt like it was pretty safe. I still would not suggest walking around alone at night, but during the day I had no problems and never felt unsafe. There is police everywhere at all times. The only thing to be aware of is large crowds, celebrations and night time. Lunch is the main meal of the day and the only true meal. You may have something small for breakfast or dinner. If you are hungry during these times however, getting food is not a problem; it is just not likely that the host family will eat a large meal with you. The clinic is likely very different than what you are used to in the US so be prepared for that. Our procedures and protocols are very different as well as our access to materials and equipment. Be open minded, flexible, understanding and willing to learn a new way of doing things.
7-What was your favorite memory of this trip?
I think my favorite memory of this trip was Machu Picchu. Since I was alone on my ABV trip, Machu Picchu really allowed me to get to know some new people. I met some people from Lima and hung out with them basically the whole time. I was able to practice and learn Spanish, meet some great new people and had some great food suggestions. Also, just a note, coming alone on the trip was not a problem AT ALL. There was much support in Cusco and the travel agency for Machu Picchu makes sure you know where to be at all times and you are well taken care of.
8.-How was the ABV USA support prior traveling?
The ABV support in the USA was extremely helpful and responsive. I did not have many direct interactions (having booked with my medical student association group SNMA), but when I did send an email, someone responded almost immediately each time. I appreciate the timeliness and willingness of the staff to answer all of my questions.
9 – Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers