Volunteer Name: Eytan Palte
Project Location: Cusco, Peru
Program Dates: June 15-July 10
Volunteered at: Health Center
1- How was the local ABV Coordinator/staff and the support provided in-country?
María Elena was extremely helpful and nice. She was at the airport to pick me up and took me to work the first day to introduce me to the clinic staff. She was helpful in telling me different information about tours and goings-on in Cusco. She also ALWAYS made sure there was something for me to eat, given that I am a vegetarian and Peru is a very meat-based culture.
2- What was the most surprising thing you experienced?
1) Prevalence of natural medicines/supplements
2) How willing the clinic staff was to teach and let students practice
1) How central lunchtime was. It wasn’t grab food and go depending on your schedule, but rather everyone sat down together to eat and share experiences
2) The different definition of “hot” water for a shower. Hot here is warm. It’s fine, just took some getting used to.
1) How terrible the traffic/drivers are. You have to extremely careful crossing the street, even if you have the ‘green man’, and you’ll probably be a little scared your first time or two in a taxi. But I’ve never been in an accident so it’s safe, just very different to American driving.
2) How few places accept credit card. I ended up having to withdraw a lot more cash than expected because many places, especially tour agencies, only accept cash.
3- What was the most challenging thing you experienced?
Program: The language barrier. My Spanish was pretty good coming in, but you have to pick up on a lot of slang and medical jargon to understand fully what is going on. That includes ailments, body parts, instruments, etc.
Host Family: Adjusting to the eating schedule. It’s a tiny breakfast, and big lunch, and then a small dinner that is pretty similar to breakfast. The food is all great, the meals just work differently to in America.
Country: The confidence just to be independent and explore. Overall, it’s pretty safe, you just have to be wary of pickpockets, etc. It’s really worth just going and walking around, even alone, to see Cusco. It really is a great city with lots to offer.
4- Any tips for future volunteers… (clothing, travel, personal items, donations)
1. Bring layers, it gets cold at night! Thermal wear for under your clothes is especially good because then you don’t feel like you’re carrying around a big bulky jacket the whole time. Sleep with socks on. It makes all the difference.
2. There isn’t a lot of milk here, so I went to the grocery store and bought yogurt, and found that to be a good source of protein and calcium. Most of the calcium here comes from things like quinoa and occasionally cheese, but yogurt was a good way to supplement that.
3. Eat in restaurants! Even as a vegetarian, I found lots of good food here. I didn’t eat in that many restaurants, but I didn’t ever have any bad food. The fish here is also great, and apparently the meat is great. Even if you just go with friends to a restaurant once a week, you’ll get a good sample of what there is to have!
4. Explore different parts of Peru! It’s probably a given that if you’re coming to Cusco you’ll go to Machu Picchu, but definitely explore the Sacred Valley as it is pretty spectacular. I also did a trip to Lake Titicaca which was beautiful. There are other trips you can do which I did not get a chance to (Nazca, Arequipa and Colca Canyon, Manu, etc.), but Peru really has a lot to offer so see as much as time/budget will allow
5.1-Other things volunteers should know before coming here:
a. Lots of places don’t take credit card, and restaurants will rarely split checks. Be prepared to use cash
b. The best thing for the altitude is just to stay hydrated and rest. After a day or two, try just walking around to get used to it. The more active you are, the better you’ll acclimatize. Expect your limits to be lower than they would be at home, but after a week or so you could start running and exercising just fine
c. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, so take advantage! Be ready for rice and potatoes in the same meal!
d. Bring very warm clothes to sleep in! You’ll have lots of blankets, but the houses here don’t have central heating, so it’s worth bringing thick socks and maybe some thermal wear for when you go to sleep
6- Personal Paragraph about the experience (ABV Program Testimonial):
My time in Cusco with ABV has been excellent. The city and culture are amazing, and the work has been very educational. I wouldn’t say I learned a ton in a medical sense, but more in a healthcare sense. I learned how basic health services are provided to the poor and how alternative medicine is integrated into their care. Staying with a host mom was a great way to practice Spanish and feel integrated into the culture, rather than being surrounded by backpackers in a hostel, for example. The nurses and doctors at the clinic were so friendly and helpful, and that just made the whole experience that much better. They really do appreciate that we came here to help. I had a great time overall!
7- How would you describe your accommodation, meals, security, friendliness, quality others:
Everything was great. I shared a room with one other volunteer and a bathroom with a few, but it never generated problems. The meals were great, and Maria Elena always made sure there was something for me to eat. I never felt unsafe, you just have to guard your personal items in crowded areas, like you would in any tourist place. The people here are very friendly and always willing to help and give you directions or whatever you need.
8- What was your favorite memory of this trip?:
Program: Drawing blood for the first time in the laboratory. The lab tech showed me how the first time, and then the next patient said “ok, your turn!” It was a little nerve-wracking but I feel confident now!
Host Family: The various birthday parties! It always meant a feast and a little bit to drink on the side, and it got everyone together to hang out and share experiences.
Country: At the time of writing this, I haven’t been to Machu Picchu yet, but so far it has been Lake Titicaca, which was beautiful, and we got to see how the locals live.
9- How was the ABV USA support prior traveling?
The ABV staff in the USA was very helpful. I received responses very quickly, either the same day or the next. They were willing to answer all of my questions and made very clear what my expectations for the trip should be. The only criticism I have is that I was told there would be a burn unit in the clinic, which there is not.
9.1- What do you think about the reservation system online?
It is very good and allowed me to see what was lacking and what I had already filled out, as well as what they received. The only time I was a little uncertain was emailing PDFs with my credit card number and things like that. Perhaps a secure online submission form would be better, even if using a third-party payer system (PayPal or a smaller one).
ABV: paypal/credit payment is implemented for deposits and final payments
9.2- Who did you find Abroaderview website (keywords, search engine, word mouth to mouth, recommended by .., other)
I found it on Google, but then realized someone else on my scholarship program had done an ABV program in Tanzania, and she highly recommended it based on how organized and efficient the organization was, as well as the quality of the work.
10 – Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers?
Apparently this question is asking if I would recommend the program, and I would for other pre-med students as it is good clinical exposure.