This latest entry is from Kathleen Rees ’10, a double major in Health: Science, Society, and Policy and in psychology, and a 2009 Sorensen Fellow of the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life. Kathleen is interning this summer in the town of Urubamba, Peru through the organizations ProWorld and ProPeru. Here she details her first few weeks at her internship.
I knew coming to Urubamba was going to be an adventure when I could not find it on any of the maps of Peru. Although it is a place contained within the pages of some travel guides, it is not a common place for tourism. A small community nestled between the Andes, Urubamba is a peaceful place where the pace of life and concept of time are very different from my American customs. This is not to say that the people here do not work hard. Many work for the majority of the day. Rather, the cultural values mean that the amount of work done and the time it takes to complete it is not as important.
It is commonplace in Urubamba to see women, men and children wearing traditional clothing, participating in ceremonies and festivities in the streets, and speaking Quechua among the other non-indigenous peoples here; a juxtaposition not present in Cusco or Lima. Yet, despite this free presence of indigenous peoples, discrimination and oppression of these indigenous people is rampant. It is common to see non-indigenous persons served before indigenous people and even for jokes to be made about the indigenous peoples by others in the streets. Volunteering in a clinic, I have found that the nurses generally make the women and children who are in traditional clothing and speaking Quechua wait longer, even though the nurses themselves speak and understand Quechua.
While Urubamba is a beautiful place, the difference between those with money and those without money (which strongly correlates to whether the person is indigenous or not) is very evident. The indigenous people live in the surrounding mountains and you can identify which children in the schools are indigenous by the burns on their cheeks, scars from continued exposure to the cold, and the lack of shoes and clean clothes on their bodies. Their teeth are often blackened and broken. I have heard that it is common for these children to walk at least three hours to reach their schools. A piece of bread is often the only food they bring for lunch. In contrast, the non-indigenous children have clothes that are clean, with many layers for the harsh temperatures of the day, and they have shoes on their feet. Their homes are near the community plaza and these children have money to buy snacks and sweets during breaks.
Although a simple example of the contrasts within the community here, the contrast is most evident in the schools by the appearance and health of the children. This contrast is a major problem in Peru. The acceptance and perpetuation of discrimination against indigenous people here has resulted in over two hundred deaths in the last week as indigenous peoples peacefully strike against the Peruvian government to save their land from foreign companies
As such, the organization I am involved with, ProPeru, has begun many different initiatives to try to improve the health of the people here, specifically the indigenous population, to allow these people to have better opportunities and outcomes in the future. These projects include: building proper stoves in mountain communities to significantly decrease the amount of respiratory problems experienced by women and children, making and distributing water filters to allow mountain communities to have safe drinking water without parasites and other harmful bacteria, holding health campaigns in the mountains to educate families on the importance of hygiene and on the necessity to keep animals outside of the house and away from small children, and working in clinics to assess the health needs of the communities. More on these efforts later this summer.
Posted by Kathleen Rees ’10, June 18, 2009