Field Report: It takes a village, sometimes even a continent. Education on the high Andes.

Out of the four medical centers that The Denan Project (TDP) is funding in some of the most impoverished parts of the world, namely Ethiopia, Peru and Mongolia, I must admit that our medical center in Uratari, Peru speaks to me the most. Perhaps it’s because I saw the community people building it themselves, brick by brick…perhaps…

In addition to the routine due-diligence activities, this time I had a special reason to be there. I wanted to work with the six high school students from The Pingry School (including three volunteers of TDP) who are visiting TDP sites as part of their leadership program organized by The World Leadership School.

[This report was originally written during my visit to TDP’s project sites in Peru in late June, 2018 in order to share the experience with my fellow board members and other volunteers at TDP.]

Day 0: A Country of Mountains, Jungle and Ocean

Soaking in the ocean air after a 17-hour journey from Munich to Lima. So began my third visit to this enchanting nation where you can climb the High Andes, turn to the Amazon rainforest, and touch the Pacific ocean.

Day 1: All Roads Lead to Anta

In order to get to any of the five villages on our agenda, we had to go through Anta, one of Cusco’s 13 provinces. In fact, the municipal office of Anta is our partner who’s been handling our local fund distribution so that we can save on money transfers from the US, and local transactions related to medical and micro-loan programs. So, our week-long agenda started out with going over the accounting records with the municipality of Anta.

Day 2: From the Ground Up

After another quick stop in Anta, we started the day with a meeting with the community in Churo. We huddled together and went over the details of a micro loan project the community wanted for raising cuys (guinea pigs which are a major source of dietary protein for the community people as well as a source of income). From Churo, we traveled farther to a neighboring village of Pampahuaylla.

As soon as we entered Pampahuaylla, I could see why this community is considered richer than Churo, our previous stop. A new elementary school, cheerful kids on the street and all others huddled around the only TV in the village to watch the Peruvian team playing in the World Cup 2018…it was lively!

This is where Elio (TDP’s first scholarship student who earned a college degree) came from. We visited Elio’s family and, over some meat and potato, shared our mutual pride in Elio’s success. With a mechanical engineering degree he earned, Elio was getting started to build his own business.

Day 3: Welcoming Pingry School Students to Uratari

Learning together with the volunteer students from the Pingry School was my main reason for the site visit this year. I was curious about the experiences the US high school students would have with the local communities, especially with the local students.

The visit started with a community-wide welcoming ceremony. Although I’ve experienced the warmth and hard labor the entire community puts into welcoming TDP volunteers before, I was deeply moved by the excitements and warm interactions between the students and the villagers.

Day 4: Breaking Potatoes Together

After my first overnight experience at the Uratari Medical Center (shared a room with the resident nurse), I joined the Pingry students to visit the neighboring village Choquemarca, the poorest community in the Limatambo district of the Anta province. We were joined by the TDP medical outreach team headed by Dr. Yair. Choquemarca’s biggest problem is the absence of a water supply. Facing this all-too-common issue across many small communities in developing countries, I was happy to hear that the community of Uratari was exploring ways to share their water with Choquemarca.

In between micro-loan program discussions and medical outreach visits, the team was treated with the local specialty of meat and potato, prepared and served in the way that only the originals can. (Right, potatoes are originally from Peru.)

Dr. Yair (right) examining a patient during TDP’s medical outreach in Choquemarca

Day 5: High Aptitude for Higher Education

As part of TDP’s support for school education, the Golden Condor awards (with cash incentives) are given to top three students in the 8th, 9th, 10th 11th and 12th grade students in Uratari. Our visiting students were joined by the entire community in the schoolyard for the award ceremony.

Day 6–7: TDP Goes to the Peruvian Congress

Discussing TDP’s proposal for building a boarding school with the President of the Peruvian Congress (center)

Back in Lima, a different topic was high on our agenda. Past few months, the TDP team has been working on a proposal to build a boarding school in Uratari (right next to the existing school, above). Our goals were: i) to give the children in neighboring remote villages a chance to get a higher education (there’s no high school in villages like Pampahuaylla we visited on Day 1, above); ii) to proactively reduce the possibility of the high school in Uratari having to shut down at some point in the future.

Our meeting with the Peruvian Congress was to get the support for the boarding school initiative — together with the Pingry School students. Thanks to Congressman Wilbert Rozas, who originally helped TDP select the project site in Uratari, we were able to meet with the Education Committee Chairwoman Paloma Noceda, and the President of the Peruvian Congress Luis Galarreta. After a series of discussions, the team was able to gain the support we were asking for — and walk away with the specific next steps!

Changes are coming…sometime too fast, sometimes not fast enough. I don’t know what changes I’ll see when I return to Uratari next time. Perhaps a shiny new boarding school. Perhaps another ambulance vehicle at the medical center. Perhaps…But I do know this much, the men, women and children of the community will gather around in a big circle and tell us all about it. The changes that happened. The changes they want to bring about.

__ Ends __

Where Herders Come for Healing

By Jean Shin, Board Member & Volunteer

Toilet paper? Check. Energy bars? Check. Cipro? Check. Email auto reply? Double check.

Packing light is something I already know how to do. But doing so with basic daily necessities, medicines, and clothing for multiple climates? Well, that turned out to be a rather distracting experience…at least that’s the only excuse I came up with while running for a long taxi line outside the Munich airport, trying to get back home to pick up my passport I forgot to pack. ‘There’s no way I’m missing the flight,’ I announced to the taxi driver. So it began on Jul. 5 – my first visit to The Denan Project (TDP) sites in Mongolia .

It’s not the mileage, it’s the connection.

After landing in Ulaanbaatar (the preferred spelling among locals) via Moscow and filling out a lost-luggage claim form, I was greeted with a news that Dick Young, the founder of our organization, was stuck in China and that his arrival time was unknown (something about his flight being cancelled, re-routed, reshuffled, etc.). Mongolia is not the farthest place I’ve ever traveled to, but definitely one of the places with the fewest direct connections.

Spending the eve of the Mongolian presidential election day in the heart of the capital city, I was trying to figure out why some of the street signs were still written in what-looks-like Russian Cyrillic. Right, the Soviet influence still remains in this country, sandwiched between Russia and China, trying to make their young market economy work.

Standing in front of a TEDx Ulaanbaatar poster against a backdrop of a new shiny building, I was reminded of my walks through Moscow and Shanghai…and some other cities in developing countries with similar shiny buildings in the making, Jakarta, Lima, Addis Ababa… ‘Let’s see how things outside the capital look,’ I murmured.

Economic and political participation of women.

Upon Dick’s arrival (about 30 hours after his departure in New York), the project team (including our local partners from Save The Children) met with the Mongolian Minister of Health Tsongtsetseg. Sitting across the table from the woman Minister and a room full of woman professionals at the same table, I couldn’t help but notice the stark difference from my visits to other TDP sites, especially compared to my meetings with an all-men group of elders in Denan, Ethiopia. As I walked back from the meeting – where the Minister awarded Dick with an honorary medal for TDP’s contribution to the wellbeing of people in the Arkangai province (about 700 km away from Ulaanbaatar) – I added this to my to-do list: google OECD’s report on women’s economic role and sustainable development. Read it again!

Nomadic living in urban ghettos—and in the Land of the Blue Sky.

Heading west from Ulaanbaatar, our 4×4 vehicle passed through some of the ‘ger districts,’ the Mongolian version of urban ghettoes surrounding the city center. Herders who fled the countryside, after having lost their livestock, were now stuck in the outskirts of the city with no running water, or proper sewage. Carrying all trappings of their nomadic lifestyle…but with no animals to herd, no fodder to harvest…

I was told that our drive should be smoother and faster than in previous years, at least for the first 1/3 of the journey, as more of the roads have been paved. ‘Hopefully not all the way,’ I murmured. I didn’t have to worry. The long stretch of paved roads, dotted with a few eateries and outhouses I didn’t dare to walk into, ended soon enough.

Then came something I’ve never seen before. Something I never had to describe before. A land of steppe and sky. Vast pastoral rolling grasslands…under a seemingly endless blue sky. I was beginning to get why Mongolians call their country the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky.

Low mountains started to dot the horizon…and I knew we were getting close to our destination Tariat, the second coldest place in Mongolia where winter temperatures routinely dip below -40 °C. Although my senses told me I was in an endless spread of temperate grasslands with grazing horses and yaks, I had heard enough about the harsh winters of the area to know that the July weather I was soaking in wouldn’t last much longer. In fact, that punishingly cold weather – in addition to the general lack of funds for heat and basic medical supplies – had a lot to do with why TDP came to Tariat in year 2011, and put a stop to the shortages that used to prevent the hospital from treating patients for 4 months a year.

Providing basic human services in developing countries.

So, how do you run a hospital without running water? The same question again. One of the first questions I asked myself while visiting our hospitals in Peru and Ethiopia. It’s a common problem that makes everything that much more difficult to handle – and those difficulties quickly add up. In fact, according to some stats, one-third of all hospitals in the developing world lack running water.

Beyond the glaring similarities across nations classified as developing countries, what I saw in Mongolia was distinctly different. In Denan, Ethiopia, our organization had to start from scratch (building the hospital from the ground up, trucking in water, etc.). In Uratari, Peru, the community rolled up their sleeves early on and built the hospital together brick by brick. In Tariat and Edenemandel in Mongolia, it became clear to me that it’s more about identifying the one last hurdle that prevented medical help from reaching the people in need.

What kind of last hurdles? Something I could only see by shadowing the doctors, meeting their patients, seeing the equipment and supplies they use, following the local doctors making house calls, etc.

Standing next to a young dentist, in front of a brand-new-but-never-used dental chair (a not-so-unique problem in many developing countries), I learned that with only USD1200 the dentist could get all dental supplies she needed for the next 4 months so that she could start taking care of her patients rather than waiting until January next year for the dental supplies, promised by the government, to arrive. In this case, that was the last hurdle. So, we resolved the issue then and there by allocating some of our leftover budget to the dental supplies.

Following a woman local doctor making a monthly visit to a herder’s family on a motorcycle, we learned that she ends up paying half of the motorcycle fuel costs out of her own pocket as the government’s fuel allowance covers only half of what she spends to cover the distance she has to travel every month. Having realized that the shortage is widespread and thinking that not every doctor would be able to make up the difference, Dick and I agreed to bring the issue to our board for next year’s budget.

Talking with a surgeon while shadowing doctors making rounds in Erdenemandal Hospital, Dick and I saw another hurdle we needed to address. The hospital has a surgeon who can perform a wide range of surgical operations, however the hospital has no anesthesiologist, limiting his scope to operations he can handle with partial anesthesia. Apparently there’s a nationwide shortage in anesthesiologists in Mongolia which makes it even harder for a remote hospital such as this one to recruit one. We left the hospital with a plan to provide extra incentives for a new anesthesiologist.

There lies the answer to the question I was asking while running back home to fetch my passport: so, what makes you think you will do more good by going there rather than simply donating that money? Why go there?

The answer? Because it matters. When the end goal is to get the care to the end recipient, we need to understand the entire flow. For many things, I prefer simpler answers. But what we’re trying to accomplish here requires understanding the complexity – and removing the barriers every step of the way. Besides, it’s in TDP’s DNA. We don’t just rely on secondhand reports. We go, inspect and improve.

Back in Munich, I find it easy to romanticize about the nomadic lifestyle I saw in Mongolia and to question the people who were abandoning their tradition and fleeing to the dismal life in urban ghettos. But ultimately, it’s their choice. And for those who decide to stay, I would like to think that they won’t be denied of the basic human care such as medical service. The children and adults who came to a neighboring ger and waited for their turn to see a visiting doctor…they are on my mind.