The lady sat ram rod straight in the chair, her royal blue skirt with hand embroidery depicting crimson hummingbirds, emerald green fish and golden rabbits; the white straw hat sitting perfectly squared a top long black braids. Her wind creased face was nut brown and her eyes were closed. She was old.
Dr. Thomas Barreto an optometrist from Portland, Oregon slipped a pair of prescription glasses onto the bridge of her nose fitting the temple pieces snuggly behind her ears. In an instant her eyes opened and she gasped; smiling brighter than the sun above. She jumped to her feet and clasped Dr. Barreto in both arms; her head barely coming up to his chest. This emotion was repeated hundreds of times over the next 4 days at the Chivay Clinic sponsored by Quechua Benefit in the Colca Valley of Peru.
There is no place in the Valley, with a population of 45,000, for people to buy eyeglasses. Arequipa, 4 hours away, is the closest city where glasses and exams can be purchased. But at about $100 – $300/US no one can afford them.
Mario Pedroza witnessed the scene and commented “I have extracted 10’s of thousands of teeth in the highlands of Peru and no one has jumped up and hugged me. Dentists don’t always create joyous reactions in their patients”, he said “but I’m sure they appreciate the care, its just not apparent for a few days.”
In March, Mario took Dr. Barreto and 4 other optometrists from Portland together with 5 optometry students from Portland’s Pacific University to Peru. The origin of the trip was a conversation Julie Safley and Dr. Barreto had while touring a garden in Amsterdam, Holland. Julie mentioned Quechua Benefits charity work in Peru. That conversation led to Tom and Amigo’s International, an optometry charity, organizing a clinic that saw 1148 patients, dispensed 931 pair of eyeglasses, and diagnosed 197cataract cases along with 42 cases of glaucoma. The value of these services in the U.S would be $294,630, (1148 exams @ $135 + 931 pair of glasses @ $150).
Liz Davis-Wallace was on the trip and her overall summary of the experience was “WOW”. Liz said that patient after patient had some version of the following to say; “Now I won’t lose my alpacas/ llamas/ cows”, or,”now I’ll be able to see the guinea pigs.” Liz also noted that “Most of the glasses we handed out were held in small Ziploc bags and those bags seemed to be almost as desirable as their contents, it makes you realize how spoiled we are when something so small has such value to others.” Dr. Barreto put it this way, “The Peruvians are such a kind and gentle people and were so appreciative of what we did for them. But I think our group got so much more out of seeing the joy on their faces with their new vision than they received with the gift of sight.”
Amigo’s is the latest group Quechua Benefit’s Ambassador Program has shepherded to Peru. They provided land transportation, organized food and lodging, obtained the permits and gathered the needy at the Chivay clinic. The whole operation cost Quechua Benefit about $5,000.
The first group that Quechua introduced to Peru, International Children’s Network (ICN), locates sponsors for children living in orphanages. Quechua Benefit supports 5 orphanages where ICN is helping hundreds of children. This relationship began as a result of a conversation with Bob and Barbara Reagan who raise alpacas in Washington. Bob is on the ICN board. In 2006 he led a trip to Peru facilitated by Quechua Benefit to lay the ground work for ICN’s effort.
The connection with ICN led Quechua Benefit to the Mount Rainier Christian Center in Washington State where their Pastor Greg Daulton was initiating a mission team. After debating whether they would work in Africa or Peru, the church group decided on Peru. Again, Quechua Benefit led by Dr. Willy introduced them to Peruvian towns and orphanages from Macusani to the Colca Valley. The team ultimately elected to sponsor Musqa Runa, the orphanage that was nearest to Don Julio Barreda’s heart, in Macusani. They consider it a long term commitment. To date, they have done repairs, hired a full time tutor for the children and made plans to install a greenhouse on site. This is in addition to the team’s individual attention to the girls that live there.
Quechua’s Ambassador program is currently working on projects with Health Bridges international (HBI) headed by Dr. Wayne Centrone and Medical Ministry International (MMI) volunteer Dr. Robert Gehringer to create a cataract clinic where the 197 patients who were diagnosed in Chivay can receive sight giving surgeries. This clinic will operate at the Goyenche Hospital in Arequipa in July of 2009. Quechua Benefit will provide the patients transportation from the Colca Valley to the clinic.
There is also a plan to take a team of medical doctor’s, from the alpaca community, headed by alpaca breeders Dwight and Deborah Bailey of Virginia to the Peruvian highlands on November 5th 2009. Dwight is a general practitioner and Deborah is a nurse, together they have carried out missions in South America and Africa. The team will bring a large dispensary of donated medicine and treat such aliments as worms, infection and dysentery. If you are a medical professional who is involved with alpacas consider this your invitation to join the team. They will be accompanied by Dr. Wayne Jarvis a Quechua Benefit board member who will provide dental care.
The board of directors for Quechua Benefit would like to ask all of you to refer any groups, charities, churches or professional organizations to one of our board members if you think they may be interested in serving the poor in Peru. We will help them find a worthy mission and we will support their effort.
The Ambassador’s program is attempting to leverage Quechua Benefits donor money and the charities on the ground knowledge into an expanding ability to serve the Quechua people who gave us all our alpacas. There is much we can do to show our gratitude. Please contact us at www.quechuabenefit.org.