Friday, September 11, 2009
Rotary Trip to Peru August 2009
It was like running a marathon to get there, but after a day and a night and another day without going to bed we finally arrived at the Heliconia Lodge on the Amazon River. After a little rest the fifteen members of our Rotary Club group were ready to go to work. The purpose of our trip was to work on some humanitarian projects that Rotary International had funded for the benefit of two small villages on the Amazon, San Pedro de Manati, and Pucallpa.
Working with the Rotary Club of Iquitos, the Logan Rotary Club was able to get grant money from Rotary International for bathroom facilities and a water purification project for each of the two villages. Before the Rotary projects bathroom facilities were almost nonexistent and water was taken directly from the Amazon without any effort to make it safe for drinking and other uses. As anticipated when we arrived we found both projects were nearly completed. All that was left to do was some final tweaks to the water projects and some painting and finishing touches on the bathroom facilities.
The village of San Pedro de Manati is located on Yanamono Island in the middle of the Amazon River about 25 miles down river from Iquitos. Heliconia Lodge where our Rotary group stayed is directly across the river from the jungle trail that leads to San Pedro. The jungle of the Amazon is extremely hot and humid and after an hour on the trail to get to San Pedro the heat and humidity had taken its toll on our group.
A huge celebration in the school building welcomed us to San Pedro. Public officials spoke and young people sang patriotic songs and demonstrated some of their native dances complete with costumes. After the dancing demonstration each member of the Rotary team was invited to participate in more dancing. We were all good sports did it whether we wanted to or not. I’m sure we provided entertainment for the people of San Pedro with our clumsy rendition of their native dance. I thought the drum beat and the dancing would never end. A trek through the jungle and attempting the steps of the native dance for what seemed like an eternity produced fifteen tired sweat-drenched Rotarians. It was obvious the citizens of San Pedro appreciated our visit.
The same thing happened later the same day on our visit to the second village, Pucallpa, It appeared that the entire village lined the bank of the Amazon to greet us. They sang songs to us, village dignitaries greeted us, they danced, then we danced, it was hot and humid and once again the heat and humidity took its toll. We were all hot, tired and sweaty by the time the celebration of our arrival was over.
Part of the preparation for the trip was gathering of clothes, shoes, books, school supplies, medical supplies and other items that we could leave behind that the locals could use. Each member of the team took an extra fifty pound bag chock full of items for the people, mostly children, of the villages. We left the items with village officials to be distributed as needed.
In addition to accomplishing some work on the Rotary projects we planned some other activities for the families and the children. We brought with us a portable battery operated digital photo printer. While some members of the team worked on the projects, others spent time taking digital photos of family groups. Taking family pictures, printing them, and presenting the photos to the families was a huge hit. Sometimes it was hard to get the families to smile for the photo, but after they received the photo smiles were everywhere as they admired themselves and their family.
Because of the intense sunshine and ultraviolet exposure on the Amazon most of the people have developed an eye condition called pterygia which is wedge shaped fibrous growth on the surface of the eye. In extreme cases the growth may progress to the cornea and cause vision problems. Logan residents Dick Criddle and his wife JoAn have conducted screening in many countries in South America to find out how common the condition is and to try and figure out what can be done about it. The Criddles supplied us with the necessary information and procedures to check the villager’s eyes for pterygium. They also provided, with the help of Hope Alliance, a suitcase full of reading glasses of various strengths to be distributed to the people in the villages as needed. Unfortunately out of the approximately 150 people we examined for pterygium only a few didn’t have it. Those who didn’t have it were young enough that their eyes hadn’t been exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays for decades like some of the older citizens. Many of the older people were fitted with reading glasses.
At one of the eye testing sessions I was designated as the one to determine who had developed pterygium in their eyes. In my very crude and limited Spanish I would greet the person, ask them their name and invite them to sit in front of me so I could look into each of their eyes. When I finished the eye exam in very crude and limited Spanish I would attempt to tell them on a scale of one to five if they had developed pterygia and how far it had progressed. It was important that I knew their age so when I asked them their age I had to listen very carefully so I could get it right. Most of the time they spoke so rapidly that I had a hard time understanding, so I would ask them again, but this time please slow down, so I could understand them. After testing one gentleman I asked him his age and would he please, “hable mas despacio, por favor,” (speak slower please). He then replied in very plain English with a huge smile on his face, “sixty eight.” I looked at him and asked “Habla Engles?” He said with a big wide grin “yes.” We both had a good laugh because we both knew that he was having a little fun with this pale faced gringo who was attempting to communicate with him in very bad Spanish.
While most of our group was working on the various projects the two dentists in the group Larry Hogge and Doug Gray set up shop in a small room where they could invite patients with dental problems to pay them a visit. They brought with them the necessary tools and drugs to do the work. The majority of their patients were children with a simple tooth ache. Unfortunately the only thing the two dentists could do was pull teeth. They had lots of patients and pulled lots of teeth and distributed lots of pain pills.
Jamie Dickerson, Kathryn Kemp, Michele Hall, Melissa Richins, and Abby Colston were the young women in our group and were a real hit with the girls. It was not uncommon to see the young women surrounded by the young girls of all ages. Everywhere they went they had a large following of young people. They painted fingernails, took pictures played games and did other fun activities with the children.
Mary Jarvis came prepared to teach the women of the villages how to sew and create craft items that they sold to earn a little extra money. Mary made available various fabrics and patterns for them to use. In the sewing room there were three Singer treadle sewing machines and other sewing tools they used to create bottle holders, purses and other items they could sell. Mary also helped the children with crafts projects.
Everyone on our Rotary team was impressed with how happy people in the villages seemed to be. Compared to what we have they don’t have much and live a very simple life. Their dwellings consist of a small hut covered with Palm leaves to protect them from the weather, mostly rain. All of the buildings in the villages are mounted on stilts so they won’t be washed away from the annual floods of the Amazon River during the rainy season.
Logan Rotary Peru 2009 was considered a success even though we didn’t accomplish a lot of work on the Rotary projects. We learned a lot about the people of the Amazon, how they lived. In our small way maybe we made life a little more comfortable for them with the items we left behind and the help they received with the dental and eye clinics.
When the time came we left the villages on the Amazon to visit some of the other sites of Peru, including Cusco and Machu Picchu. Our final day in Peru was spent in Lima. Before heading home we had dinner at la Rosa Nautica on the Pacific Ocean. It had to be one of the nicest restaurants in all of Peru.
Our trip back home was exactly what it was when we left ten days earlier, like running a marathon. It was a day and a night and another day without going to bed before we arrived back in Salt Lake. It was nice to hear the immigration official in Los Angeles after examining our passports say, “Welcome home.” Our trip gave us a new appreciation for what we had and for our homes in Cache Valley.