Global Learning Blog Posts

  • Parkin Fellows
Sustainable Change

by Nicole Caputo

On my third day in Huancayo, Peru, I traveled with the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC) and the other volunteers to work on Project Amanecer. Project Amanecer takes place at a teen mom home, “Sor Teresa de Calcutta,” which is situated about 25 minutes outside of central Huancayo. Our goal was to help educate the mothers about different aspects of their health, with today’s lesson about nutrition and developing and nurturing their physical and emotional well being. I was told that many of the mothers were very young, and most had been sexually abused. When we arrived at the home, I was greeted by six Peruvian girls who were all younger than me, some pregnant and others having toddlers or babies. I was astounded by the amount of responsibility that these girls had to take on in their lives so early. I approached one girl, asking her how old she was, to which she told me that she was eleven and eight months pregnant. She held her swollen belly with such maternal tenderness, and I was shocked at how mature she was. 

Nicole Caputo teaching a health course to young mothers in Peru

After meeting the mothers, we began the lesson on nutrition. We brought with us a traffic light with the red, green and yellow lights, and correlated them to unhealthy, healthy, and ok foods, respectively. After explaining what kinds of foods belonged in each group, we handed the mothers cutouts of various foods and asked them to place them where they thought they belonged in their diet. Some of the girls were eager to participate, approaching us excitedly hoping for more cutouts, while others were much more shy, trying to stay in the back with their children. We then asked the girls what could happen when someone eats a poor diet. The responses varied from obesity to diabetes to elevated blood pressure. While working with FIMRC, we did a lot of physical medicine aid, like taking vitals in hospitals or running health campaigns where we took glucose levels, but I began to realize how important the educational aspect of our work was for sustainability. We were trying to create change that would last after we left.

That afternoon, we traveled to Aco, Peru, a small community about 45 minutes away from Huancayo, to help FIMRC continue Project Cuy, which was created to help combat anemia in the highland regions. In Peru, “Cuy” is a term for cooked guinea pig, which is rich in iron. Before I arrived in Huancayo, the volunteers had already begun creating sustainable change to combat the lack of iron in the diets of the residents of Aco. The mothers in Aco were taught how to grow gardens and were given the seeds necessary to cultivate their own produce that is high in iron, and were eduacted on how to prepare meals that would be high in iron. Families were each given two guinea pigs, which were to mate and then produce offspring that the family could sell or exchange to get new guinea pigs to breed. Then they could kill the original parents and make “cuy,” providing a nutritional source high in protein and iron. Additionally, FIMRC volunteers travel to Aco and lead educational sessions on various topics, and mother who attend are given FIMRC money, which can be used to buy items when FIMRC members set up a bazaar in Aco.

Nicole Caputo drawing blood with FIMRC.

During my Fellowship, I helped to educate mothers about how to treat and wrap deep cuts and burns, and when a cut or burn is serious enough to merit a trip to the hospital or health clinic. Then, my job was to lead a mini group and help them attempt to patch up a deep wound on a dummy arm that had a bloody cut. FIMRC’s importance on education as a tool to progress health care is an integral part of their mission and success. In both scenarios, I felt that the FIMRC projects in place are meant to evolve and continue over long periods of time, rather than to simply aid. Looking back on my time with FIMRC, I have a new perspective on the best path to create positive change in any community: to start challenging and engaging people’s minds.