Kim Bixby is a Senior here at UNH. She is a integrative neurosciences major, with a minor in animal behavior. Yet when most UNH students were trading in their textbooks for beach-bags last May, Kim was hopping on a plane to South America for an incredible medical excursion.
Kim spent four weeks volunteering in the slums of Peru, giving medical aid to the less fortunate residents. With the help of two translators, one for Spanish and one for Quechua (a native South American language), Kim was able to provide medical assistance and form relationships with the local Peruvians. I caught up with her to find out just what this trip entailed.
When was the trip?
The trip was from the last two weeks of May to the first two weeks in June.
Where exactly did you go? Where did you stay?
Lima, Peru. There were 15 different locations and I wanted the most random yet still safe option. The program placed us in a hotel/hostel in the nicer district of the city called Miraflores. We were put in rooms with 4 other people from the trip. By “nice” I mean nice comparatively, thus hot water and flushing toilets were not included.
How did you hear about it/get this opportunity?
I heard about the program, called International Service Learning, from my friend who had done it last January and spoke highly of it. The program was all college students, about 12 total. When flying there I was very nervous as I knew nothing of what to expect or what I was getting myself into, going solely on the testimony of my friend, but it really worked out better than I could ever imagine.
What did you do there?
I spent my time volunteering, giving medical aid to the slums of Peru. These were people living in houses made of sticks. Idid stitches and medical and bathing procedures. Similar to an internship, we had to diagnose and treat the patients and then two doctors would make sure we got it right. We also went to 2 schools and taught English and played with the kids.
Did this experience help you to better realize what you hope to do in your future career, and what is that?
The program is designed specifically for students interested in medicine. There are other programs that run for nursing and veterinary. Going into this experience, I was hesitant about what I wanted to do – research of medicine. I worked with patients who had seen a whole different side of life, where opportunity and proper care did not exist. Through use of one, and sometimes two, translators – I was able to form a real honest connection with these community members. Here we are coming from a different country, yet the members of the community opened up about life as if we were part of their community. It was miraculous. This really helped me see that I needed to work with people in some way.
What did you learn from the experience?
The honest truth of life and how in most cases it could go wrong. They were all there for medical aid, combined with welcoming spirits, curiosity and inspiration made me feel a humane connection I have never felt before. It was an intense feeling, especially from a different country through translators.
What was the most memorable part of the trip?
The most memorable part of the trip was working in a triage with two other students and solving the mystery of the patient together. We had to get a full family history, vitals, physical exam and then work through the chief complaint to narrow down a diagnosis and treatment plan. This was so memorable as we could not have this opportunity in the states and it really put a lot of techniques and characteristics to the test. The most memorable moment was seeing the joy in the people as we gave them treatment. The medical system and insurance system is so unorganized and incomplete in Peru that it does not fit the need of the people, so they are not able to receive proper treatment. Some patients had had stomach or back pain for ten years and had never had the opportunity to get medicine or proper treatment. The understanding that I truly made someone else’s life better was the best achievement I could have gotten out of this experience.
How did this trip benefit you an what did you take away from it?
From the experience, I learned a lot about myself, but honestly more about our country. For myself I learned that I want to work directly with people and that I enjoy medicine. Shots? No problem. Stitches? Piece of cake. That experience was neat because there’s no way as an undergrad that I could do that in the states. I also learned a deeper meaning of empathy and appreciation. It wasn’t the cleanliness or lack of food that made me see the states in a new light, it was the corrupt lack of government, lack of opportunity, and minimal education. Of 500 people treated, less than 100 got past 4th grade. Only 2 women had a job. That’s when I realized the importance of our government and history which is the last thing I thought I’d take away.