Friday, June 25, 2010

Chao Peru!

Wow. I can hardly believe the memories I am taking back home with me today. This has been 6 weeks of my life that I will always look back on as an experience that changed me for the better. Above everything, I will always remember the people. I will always remember the kids, who have nothing, who are victims of poverty, abuse, and hunger, but yet are full of so much joy and love for life. I will remember how they hung on to me from day one, saying "hermana Elisabet, no te vayas!" ("don't leave!"). I'm blessed to have been able to stay here for so long with them, but that makes it so much harder to leave them today. I will also remember their mothers who I spent some time with as well. Women who are struggling in more ways than I can imagine, but still took the time everyday to ask me how I was doing and thank me for my work. I will also remember how welcoming all the OSA staff members were to me during my time here. They have truly been my family for the past 6 weeks. I've learned so much from each and every one of them and will miss them dearly. I have also learned so much from Christopher and Jessie. They have showed me what it looks like to step out of your comfort zone to serve others and serve God. I will be forever grateful for their hospitality and for making this experience possible for me.

This past week has flown by....

I celebrted birthdays with neighbors Jhovana and Miguel, and we also celebrated the construction of their new roof:

I witnessed an idol worshiping procession in the streets of Collique:

I taught nutrition classes to the OSA kids:

I taught my last Estimulacion Temprana class:

Jessie and I went to Las Brisas de Titicaca to see the cultural Peruvian dances:

And, of course, I created lasting memories spending time with the OSA kids:

If you'd like to know more about my experiences and what I have learned, don't hesitate to ask! I'd love to share! I am so grateful for ALL of the experiences I had while here. God has been faithful to me and all of the people in Collique. He is moving in great ways here through the people He has sent to be His hands and feet in a needy area. Thank you to everyone who made this experience possible for me, and thanks to those who prayed for me and encouraged me along the way. I am blessed.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Beautiful kids

I'm not looking forward to saying goodbye to these beautiful faces tomorrow!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Only 1 week left in Collique

I only have a week left in Collique! I can't believe how quickly the time went!

On Monday of this week Blanca, the OSA program director, took me to a place called San Genaro which was about a 2 hour trip from Collique. San Genaro is another non-profit organization that is very similar to OSA. San Genaro provides educational, nutritional, physical, and spiritual support to more than 50 poor children in the area, and feeds about 80 children daily. Blanca wanted me to experience another organization that is impacting the lives of kids and families in Peru. The staff members at San Genaro were so welcoming and excited about my visit. The kids eat lunch there everyday, just like the kids here at OSA, so they were even gracious enough to feed me! We also wanted to make a visit here to pass out warm hats and scarves that women at South Main (my church in Houston) made. The children were all beautiful and so grateful for the gift.

On Tuesday, I went with Gloria again to distribute more prenatal vitamins. Gloria had A LOT of patients today, so we only passed out about 10 bottles and then she had to go back to the clinic. Because we finished early, I waited in Gloria's office with her while she did her check ups with her patients. I felt awkward being in there at first, but apparently this wasn't unusual...other patients and staff members kept walking in and out of the room during her appointments too. This made me so grateful for the privacy we have in the US when we go to the doctor! I was also shocked at how unsterile the examinations were. Things such as the examination table were not cleaned between each appointment, and all the women used the same examination gown. Also, without getting too graphic, the nurse used the same gloves for two different check ups! She only rinsed her hands with water between appointments. Although I was shocked by a lot of this, I was glad I witnessed it. Now I understand more what its like to receive medical attention in a poor country, and will be forever grateful for the healthcare we have in the US. Gracias a Dios! Another thing I thought about during Gloria's appointments, and something I've been noticing throughout my whole experience here with pregnant women, is how non-existent the excitement of pregnancy is. I've been thinking a lot about it, and I think because it is just so common, the women don’t get as excited about having a baby. Or maybe the baby wasn't wanted in the first place. Many of them don't get excited about the gender of the baby or what they're going to name it. In the United States, its the opposite. We rejoice with expecting mothers by throwing showers, suggesting names, and buying presents. I really doubt most of the women in Peru get this same attention.

I had an amazing morning yesterday teaching my second Estimulacion Temprana class! In these 2 hour classes, I have been teaching the women how important it is to show love and affection to their babies in different ways so they can mature and develop. I was so excited because 8 mothers and their beautiful babies showed up to the class! Most of the babies were from 1-5 months, and a couple were from 8-12 months. I had a lot of great activities planned, but was nervous about how they would go over with 8 babies (9 including Diego) in the room! But thankfully, everything was a success and, for the most part, all the babies were content and happy! I taught the mothers many activities to do with their babies that would stimulate their senses of touch, vision, and hearing. I also showed them how to make a couple really inexpensive toys that would stimulate their babies such as a rattle made out of an empty coke or water bottle and little bells. Most of the women cannot afford to buy many toys for their children, so this was a good alternative! I also gave out prizes of blankets and toys if the mothers answered a question correctly. We had such a great time in this class that I'm already looking forward to next Thursday! Let me know if you have any ideas of activities we could do with music next week!

I am already dreading leaving Collique next Friday! Its not because I'm not excited to come home (I am, Mom!), but because its going to be VERY hard to leave the amazing kids I've been spending every day with. They have impacted my life in great ways! Its also going to be very difficult to leave all the OSA staff members, who have been my family for the last month and a half! Please pray that it will be as easy as it can be to leave everyone next week!

I love you all! Thanks for reading and praying!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Chef Elisabet

Buenos dias! I can't believe I've been here for a month! A LOT went on this week, so I'll highlight the most important things:

On Tuesday I went out with Gloria, the OB nurse, again to make more house visits and distribute more prenatal vitamins. We took a combie higher up the mountain to the 8th zone of Collique. I live in the 4th zone, and this was my first time to go this far up. I knew that Collique was a big town, but this was my first time to realize just HOW big it is. About 1/4 million people live here! We made about 20 visits and stopped when we ran out of vitamins. I was really excited because one of the girls we visited was the girl who came last week with her mother to our prenatal class. It was great running in to someone I knew this far away from OSA, because it made me feel more a part of the community! Please continue to pray that all the women will understand how important it is to take the vitamins we gave them.
This week I also had to opportunity to teach two cooking classes to the OSA mothers! Charo, the OSA social worker, does a lot of work with the OSA families and all the mothers come once a week to a class with her. They do different activities each week and learn about things such as health, personal hygine, birth control, how to help their children with their homework, how to organize their houses, etc. Charo asked me if I would do a cooking class with them this week. So on Wednesday and Thursday (the mothers are divided up in to two groups), I taught the senoras how to make pancakes and a chocolate cake from scratch! It was a great learning experience for everyone, including myself! I had to learn to make substitutions for some of the ingredients that aren't available to the women in Collique or that they can't afford. For example, we used evaporated milk instead of regular milk, and we had to beat everything by hand - no such thing as electric mixers in Collique! The senoras were so fun and SO patient with me as I learned more cooking vocabulary during the process! And they each had a blast making their own pancake in the skillet. Everything turned out great...except for the cake we made in the first class that burned to a crisp... I was impressed by the senora's determination to salvage the edible parts of it. Luckily, I had practiced making the cake the night before, so we ate that one instead :) I am so grateful for this opportunity I had to spend time getting to know these women. I learned so much from them. Since I already know each of their children really well, it was fun seeing where the kids get their personalities. All of the mothers work so hard and have amazing attitudes in spite of the hard lives they lead. I was blessed by their dispositions and eagerness to learn.

On Thursday morning, I taught my first infant stimulation class! I am teaching this class for the 3 Thursdays in June that I am here. This is a very important class and something that the OSA team really wanted me to teach Collique mothers. Many of the women here, unfortunately, do not show much affection to their babies. As we know, this affection is so important for babies' growth and development. Because a lot of the women are single mothers, they just have to throw the babies on their back while they work long days. And others just don’t know how important it is to give their babies attention to stimulate their minds so they can develop motor skills and improve their neurological functioning. At the beginning of the week, Chris and I walked around the 4th zone of Collique to hang fliers about my class. The idea is that mothers with babies between the ages of 0-12 months will bring their babies to the class and I will show them activities that they can do with them to stimulate their muscles and minds. On Thursday morning, I had no idea who would show up, but all I could do was pray that I would have someone to teach! Luckily 4 women and their beautiful babies came! Two of the women came an hour late (I'm now getting used to Latin America's sense of time) so I ended up teaching two classes. The youngest baby was 1 month old and the oldest was a little over 1 year. They were precious! During this week’s class, I taught the mothers how to give their babies a massage and exercise their muscles. It was such a rewarding feeling when the babies would smile or show their mothers that they liked the activity, and this made the mothers happy as well. It was also really interesting for me to watch the mothers interact with their babies. It was really obvious which mothers were used to showing affection to their babies and which were not. I realized that all of the babies may not have been wanted in the first place. This broke my heart, but it was also a great feeling to teach the mothers ways to interact with their babies so they could form a bond and relationship with them. The last activity we did in the class was a mother and baby exercise, so I made the mothers work a little too! This was a lot of fun, and although the mothers were laughing, I don’t know how they felt about me making them do crunches and bench presses with their babies… :)

Please pray that more mothers will come to the next two classes. If you have any ideas for activities the mothers could learn to do with their babies, let me know!

Luis and Ruth Campos arrived in Collique yesterday afternoon -it was a lot of fun having them here at OSA! They’ll also be at church tomorrow so I’ll get to see them again! Many of the OSA team members (including myself) have been sick this past week, so please pray that we’ll all be back to 100% soon!

God bless!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Take your vitamins!

Yesterday was a great day in Collique! In the afternoon, Jessie took me to meet up with an OB nurse, Gloria, from the Posta (the community health center). Gloria is an amazing nurse who knows almost all of the pregnant women who live in the community. All of the women are supposed to come to at least 6 controls, or check-ups, during their pregnancy. However, most of the women only come to 2 or 3. These controls are very important because Gloria checks for anemia, high blood pressure levels, malnourishment, etc. When the women don't come to their control, Gloria makes house visits to check up on them. Because we have a lot of donated prenatal vitamins here at OSA, Gloria let me go with her on her house visits to distribute them. Most of the women here don't have access to these vitamins that are SO important for the development of their babies. This is one of the reasons why so many of their babies are born malnourished.

This was a great experience for me that I will never forget. I expected that Gloria and I would have to walk pretty far to get to the houses where the pregnant women lived. However, I was shocked at first because it seemed like a pregnant woman lived in every house on one street, and we didn't have to walk very far at all. At every house, Gloria asked the expecting mothers why they haven't been coming to the controls and told them to take the vitamins once a day. I was surprised that many of the women seemed like they had never taken vitamins before and had many questions about how and when to take them. This is something that is very hard for us to understand, but we have to remember that in the U.S., taking vitamins (especially during pregnancy) is a normal practice. But think about all the resources we have that contribute to our habit of taking a daily vitamin: (1) we have access to the vitamins (2) we have water to take them with (3) we have the education to know why it is important (4) we are used to routine. These are all things that the women here just don't have. After taking all this into account, I realized how hard it is to cross all of these barriers to get the women to simply take a vitamin a day. However, all the women were very grateful for the vitamins and seemed like they were going to take them. We can just hope and pray that they will!
I brought about 15-20 bottles of vitamins with me and we passed out all but one. The women ranged in ages from 17 to 40 and were in different stages of their pregnancy. We also passed out handouts that Dr. Campos gave me about possible complications during pregnancy and gestational diabetes.

Gloria and I ended up having to take a treck up a mountain to reach one of the houses, and I thought we were going to get eaten by los perros at one point! Heres a picture of Gloria and the dogs that almost ate us for lunch:
So....after that, we stopped at a little store on the top of the mountain to treat ourselves to an Inca Cola. I think Gloria was really appreciative of the prenatal vitamins, and asked if I want to make house visits with her again on Tuesday. I'm also going with her the next two Fridays that I'm here!

I feel so blessed by everything I saw yesterday. I was amazed at how grateful the women were for something as simple as vitamins. It reminded me how little the people have here and reminded me not to take anything for granted.
Thanks for reading! and thanks for the prayers too. God is good!

Monday, May 31, 2010

My buddy, Elias

I had a great week with the Tallowood team and it was sad to see them go!

On Thursday, I helped with the prenatal class again. Jessie had to be at Joshua's school this morning, so I was in charge of setting everything up for Maria, the nurse. Unfortunately, only one new girl, Estafani, and her mother came. We think there must have been some miscommunication with the mothers because it was unlike them to not show up. But it was still great to have someone new come! Estafani is 16 and 6 months pregnant. I think she and her mother learned a lot. Maria's lesson was about family planning (aka contraception). I was surprised at how little Estefani and her mother new about this subject. I learned that in Peru, only about 40% of births are desired/planned births. Also, the grand majority of people don't use contraception at all. One thing to note is that birth control is free in all of Peru. It is free because reproduction is a huge problem here and the population is continuously growing. This means that the reason women aren’t taking birth control is not because of the money. It is because of lack of education. Another thing to mention is that the local hospital in Collique has the highest maternal death rate in Lima. This is not because of malpractice, but because of malnutrition and anemia. The mothers either don’t know that they are supposed to take their prenatal vitamins, or they don’t have any, or they just don’t do it. This hospital also has the highest rate of cesarean sections because they don’t use epidural so the women get so tense and can’t relax enough to have a natural birth.

While the Tallowood team was here last week, they spent a lot of time painting houses for a few of the OSA families. On Friday, I was able to go help paint two of the houses. We were working on the first house, and before we knew it, we had about 6 little boys from the neighborhood helping us paint! You could say that we pulled a “Tom Sawyer” on them....but they were all so anxious to help out. While we were painting, we got a chance to tell them why we were doing this. (I think they were a little shocked that we would do this for free!) I know that the Lord had us painting that house at the perfect time, because we were able to have some great conversations with those children. Jennifer from the Tallowood team told the kiddos about Jesus, prayed with them, and handed out New Testament Bibles to all of them. I was surprised at how receptive all the kids were to this. Isnt' God awesome?
There’s another cute story I have to share about this experience… while we were painting, there was a group of older boys down the street whistling at us and yelling things at us. They were harmless and really did not bother us at all, but a precious 6 year old boy who was helping us paint, Elias (yellow shirt), stood out in the middle of the street with his hands on his hips and yelled, “No saben ustedes como respetar a mujeres?!” (“Don’t you guys know how to respect women!?”) It was the cutest thing ever, and it warmed my heart that this little 6 year old would stand up for us like that in front of his older peers. Too cute.

One of the houses I helped paint was Nilda’s (the woman who just had baby Moses). We asked if her and her children would like to pray with us for her house. After the prayer, she told us how grateful she was for our work and that she didn’t have the words to thank us enough. It was a beautiful moment because even those in the group who couldn’t understand what she was saying literally, knew was she was trying to express. I love how moments like these can be bigger than the language barrier.

This weekend I went to Miraflores with the Tallowood group. This is a very nice, touristy part of Lima and was a HUGE change from Collique. It was a lot of fun to experience this side of town, but it was also hard for some of us to accept the fact that the kids we had been working with all week have never seen any of it. My favorite part of the weekend was going to the markets on Saturday! The Tallowood group left Saturday night and it was hard saying goodbye to them! They were all great people and a lot of fun to have around.

I’m also very excited about a project that the OSA team and I have decided would be good for me to work on while I am here!…. Here at OSA, all the kids in the program receive a nutritious lunch when they arrive at 1:00 every school day. Three different OSA mothers come to prepare the meals everyday according to a schedule. It is very important that the mothers come on their assigned day, because if they don’t, the children don’t eat. Unfortunately, this has happened 3 times since I’ve been here. In addition to the kids not eating, the child whose mother didn’t show up to cook gets suspended for the week. If the mother doesn’t come 3 times, the child gets suspended from the program. This is a very hard rule to enforce, but is necessary to teach responsibility. Many of the kids who used to be malnourished are now at a healthy weight because of the daily meals, which was the hope of the program. We have the height and weight measurements from the kids from 2007 till now. So the project I’m going to work on is to organize this information and make a growth chart for each child to show how they have grown since they started receiving these meals. Metche and I will be taking the kids’ measurements this week.

last thing - i have to share this paparazzi shot of Diego:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

learning a lot

It’s been a busy few days so I have a lot to update you on!

Saturday, Christopher and Jessie took all the kids (aka me, Joshua, and Diego) to Lima Central and La Plaza de Almas to visit the cathedral. Afterwards, we walked around in a few markets and ate lunch at my first peruvian restaurant! When we got back, the women’s sewing group was here so they had me help by inspecting and ironing the beautiful pillowcases they are making. They are sewing them for an organization, called CBF, that will sell them in the states in order for the women to make a little extra money for their families. Their attention to detail and pride for their work amazes me.

Sunday, we went to church and met up with the Tallowood group that is here for the week. It was great meeting them and it has been a blast having them here! The Roses go to a church here in Collique and I enjoyed the service a lot – the pastor spoke slowly so I was able to understand the majority of what he said! Later Sunday evening we got a chance to talk as a group and hear a little more about how the Roses got to Collique and all about what OSA does in the community. I even learned a lot of new things that I didn’t know already. Afterward, we took a walk around Collique so the Tallowood group could get acquainted with the area. While walking around, I saw a couple OSA kids that I recognized from the program. I was excited to see them, but it was also hard because it was the first time for me to see them in front of the homes they live in. Their struggles and suffering became even more real to me when I saw the humble houses they sleep in each night.

While we were walking, Christopher also explained Collique’s water system. Unfortunately, the water here really is not okay for anyone to drink because it has many parasites in it. However, they drink it anyway because it is what they have and can afford. They can’t afford to take parasite medicine, so instead they just choose to live with the discomfort. When the OSA medical teams come, the doctors always give out parasite medicine for this reason. They are told to boil their water to kill whatever is in it, but to do this they would have to spend more money on gas to heat the water which is often not an option. About HALF of the world does not have clean water to drink and Collique can be included in this. How blessed are we to have access to clean water and not have to worry about what we are drinking?

I’ve also been learning that most of the people in Collique and Peru are what we can call “cultural Catholics.” Meaning, they are really non-practicing Catholics who participate in all the traditions and social aspects of their religion. For example, they have parties and processionals throughout the year where they will honor and worship saints, idols, and objects that they believe to be holy. Because of this, their beliefs are not focused on a relationship with God, but are more focused on the traditions.

Yesterday, I got to go on a house visit with Charo (the OSA social worker) and Metche. We went to the house of a woman named Nilda who just had a baby last week. It was so gracious of them include me in this trip to visit the baby and his mother. This house visit was both beautiful and heart-breaking to me. On one hand, we were able to celebrate with a mother the arrival of her healthy baby boy, Moses. On the other hand, it was very hard for me to see an infant living in the conditions that I saw. Nilda, her three children, and the father of her children live in a small two bedroom house with dirt floors and thin sheets of wood for walls. The baby sleeps on a twin mattress with his mother. There isn’t much electricity in the house so it was very dark and cold. Charo and Metche brought the baby many warm clothes and blankets so he can stay warm in the house. The good news is, both Moses and Nilda are doing well! During the visit, Charo said a beautiful prayer for the baby and for Nilda that almost brought me to tears. Nilda also said how grateful she was for OSA because without them, she wouldn’t have anyone to help her.

There are two other things that I stood out in my mind about the visit today. First, the women told me that Nilda had a tubal ligation after she had her other daughter, Rocio, 10 years ago. She was not supposed to be able to have children, but she got pregnant anyway. This means either the doctor didn’t do the operation correctly, or he didn’t do it at all. This made me even more grateful for the healthcare we recieve in the U.S.- when we get an operation, we can expect for it to be done correctly. I was also told later that Nilda is only 33 years old. I was shocked when I heard this because she looked to be at least in her late 40’s -this is the effect of her hard and stressful life.

We also found out today that one of the OSA mothers has TB. Unfortunately, we had to send her son, Isaac, home until he has a chest x-ray and tests negative. Please pray for Isaac’s mother and family, and that he has not been infected so he can return to OSA soon.

The longer I have been here, the more I am realizing that Collique is a place of poverty, domestic violence, drug abuse, and suffering. But it is also a place of hope. It is a place of hope because of the work God has started through OSA and through the people on staff at OSA.

Other than what I have mentioned, I have been helping the Tallowood group with their morning and afternoon science classes with the kids. They have had so many great ideas and have done a lot of fun activities that the kids have loved! We also had an OSA team meeting today and I am excited about the projects I will be starting in June!

In the meantime, please pray for:
- Baby Moses and his mother, Nilda
- Isaac’s mother who has TB
Love from Peru,

Here are some precious OSA kids to make you smile like they make me do every day :)