April and May – Saying Goodbye
The last weeks of my volunteer work in Atalaya, Peru were by far the busiest of my time there. I hardly had a moment to reflect on the amazing experience I was getting ready to complete. My work in these months was almost entirely composed of educational and training sessions both with the casa de espera and the promotion of vertical birth.
I helped to reinforce and expand the promotion of vertical birth through six training sessions and continued support to midwives I had already trained in offering this birthing option to their patients in Atalaya. The training sessions were held in three towns in Ucayali, including Bolognesi (on the Ucayali River), Sepahua (on the Urubamba River), and Atalaya. Those in attendance included health care providers not only from urban and rural areas around the three towns but also a group who traveled from the region of Junín, which is just south of Atalaya. The sessions included lecture, demonstration and hands-on practice.
In addition to the actual training provided in Sepahua and Bolognesi, we also brought the materials needed for the Centros de Salud in both towns to implement a space for vertical birth equal to what we had already implemented in the Centro de Salud of Atalaya in January. The training of local health care providers was one of the most significant parts of my efforts because they are the ones who are continuing this important work.
As well as training health care providers, I also continued our campaign to educate the public. I participated in and helped organize five educational sessions held by the casa de espera and organized three smaller educational sessions on my own. With the casa de espera, we went to a neighborhood in the city of Atalaya and four native communities along the Urubamba River traveling by boat. These educational sessions were structured the same as our previous sessions completed in March, covering topics such as the casa de espera, family planning, hand washing and vertical birth.
To reach the native communities, we traveled far up the Urubamba River and therefore had to camp overnight in one of the communities along the way. The local people were very welcoming. One family invited us to dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. We had duck stew for dinner and then fish from the river and coffee for breakfast (unlike what I am used to in the United States, breakfast in this region of Peru is more like lunch or dinner, with foods such as fish, rice, chicken and soups).
The three smaller educational sessions were also in native communities, but along the Ucayali River. To reach these communities I tagged along with another volunteer from an Italian NGO, COOPI, who was doing work helping native communities recover from flooding the previous year. Because I was the only one presenting at these educational sessions and because we were on a tighter time schedule, I had limited time to talk so I focused only on promoting the casa de espera and vertical birth, with the goal to encourage women to come to Atalaya and give birth safely in the position of their choice at the Centro de Salud.
At the end of the six months I spent in Atalaya, I was surprised at how much I was able to accomplish. I ended up doing a total of 29 public educational sessions, one Pap smear campaign, several public awareness marches, and cared for 11 families in the casa de espera. Furthermore, I completed a total of eight training sessions in vertical birth and helped to implement the space and tools needed for vertical birth in four health care facilities. Although I personally only delivered four vertical births, my work inspired a total of 25 vertical births from January through April, which were attended by local midwives. Finally, I prepared various materials and tools that I left with the local midwives, nurses, doctors and other professionals who would continue this work, as there is still so much more yet to be accomplished.
Although there were times during these six months when I felt as though I would never get through it, in the end it flew by. I had a lot of fun times and saw some beautiful and amazing things, but I could not say that this experience was easy or a “great time.” It was tough, and I faced many professional as well as personal challenges along the way. However, facing and overcoming such challenges is how we learn and grow, so what I can say is that volunteering in Peru was an empowering and enlightening experience.
Saying goodbye was bittersweet. I was ready to return to my home and the family and friends I missed so dearly, but I was also saying goodbye to new friends who I miss already. This world has its fair share of difficulties and heartbreak, but there is also great beauty and an abundance of loving people working hard to create a better tomorrow. I am extremely grateful for this experience and to have met some of these amazing people!