Presidents Without Borders aid Peruvian health clinics

Created: October 13, 2017
Last Updated: January 14, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (Oct. 13, 2017)—When Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) students and faculty teamed up with local medical professionals to volunteer in the area surrounding Lima, Peru, they saw a culture different from the one they know at home.

With help from the global volunteer travel company International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ) and its local Peruvian partner Tarpuy Sonqo, the W&J student group Presidents Without Borders (PWB) organized a week-long service project at three health clinics in the urban areas of Bella Vista and Carmen de la Legua and the more rural, impoverished community of Pachacutec.

While in Peru, students had to sacrifice certain creature comforts—like warm, running water—and met a people whose standard of health care is starkly different from what is available in the United States.

“This trip was full of not only new and challenging experiences, but a rush of emotions up and down the spectrum,” said Jared Rebman ’18, a biochemistry major and the PWB president, who organized and planned the entire trip with the help of then-PWB vice president, Heather Wells ’17. “We each entered with open hearts and minds and were all able to connect with the local people using our variety of skills. All of these things were accompanied by a healthy level of culture shock as we were able to explore the area during our free time.”

At the health clinics, the students assisted doctors in providing basic health and wellness care for the local people, like measuring blood pressure and body mass index (BMI), and giving fluoride treatments. Because of the language barrier, some students, including biology and Spanish double major Caitlin Shellhamer ’20 and biology major and Spanish minor Megan Yosko ’19, used their knowledge of Spanish to facilitate communication between patients and doctors.

Faculty chaperones Jason Kilgore, associate professor of biology, and Nichole Fifer, assistant professor of political science, were on hand to provide students with support throughout the trip, and both noted that they saw the benefits for students.

“I think Presidents Without Borders is an outstanding student-run, student-funded organization. Without a doubt. The students do all the planning and fundraising, and they recruit the medical professionals and the faculty chaperones. They develop an amazing amount of responsibility and accountability, and a greater sense of individualism and independent agency,” Dr. Kilgore said.

Dr. Fifer said many students on the trip were first and second year students who are trying to figure out if they want to go into medicine, and this trip helped them see that there are multiple facets to being a doctor.

“You get to a place like this and you see people who have no health care; you see these children with parasites and dental cavities, and you understand that these people really need your help,” she said. “I think it was really inspirational for a lot of our students to see this and say, ‘This is really who I am and this is what I want to do.’”

For Jared, the opportunity was life-changing.

“Those of us at W&J and institutions throughout the country have been given an incredible opportunity not only to learn, but to use our knowledge and time to help others,” he said. “Peru was just a snapshot of the kind of impact that can be seen when one person reaches out to another. The importance is more evident when considering the ripple effect of our actions. When a group travels and helps a community, there is a network of people who may be afforded a new inspiration or opportunity to pay the effort forward.”

Presidents Without Borders--Peru 2017

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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