Medical Volunteerism in Lima, Peru

I was able to spend summer 2013 as a medical volunteer in Lima, Peru because of recent bridges formed between the Center for Catholic Studies and the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, a community of consecrated laymen founded in Lima in 1971. The brothers of the Sodalitium operate various parishes, schools, clinics and other charities across South America and beyond.

Catholic Studies PortraitThis semester, for the first time, Catholic Studies students are attending a Sodalite college in Arequipa, Peru, and a Catholic Studies graduate, Benjamin Vasko ’15, is teaching social studies in one of their high schools in Lima.

As for my own adventure, I found in Peru a story of colonialism, terrorism, poverty and the struggle of the modern developing world: new realities I had not known before. My time was split between two clinics, one focused on public health and educational campaigns, the other on primary care. I shadowed doctors, nurses and lab techs, performed simple procedures and was immersed in the Spanish language. All of these experiences culminated in a real and practiced unification of the sciences with humanity and was a dream come true for a biology student such as myself.

As my side project in Lima, I spent Fridays teaching high-school English. I also was fortunate to become familiar with the spirituality of the Sodalitium, which today shapes the way I see the layperson as a participant in the Church and in the world. In my final weeks before heading back north, I took a long bus ride to the small Andean village of Ayaviri, stopping at the world-wonder Machu Picchu on the way. There, at 4,000 meters above sea level, I visited patients in a small hospital (where I also had the unique opportunity to work on a goat cheese farm – the Catholic diocese’s principle source of income). Here, too, I witnessed a compassionate style of practicing medicine that I will take with me far beyond my graduation this May.

The impact of these encounters overall? Profound. Life-changing. Paradigm-shifting. These words fail to tell fully of the way the patients, doctors, Sodalites and students opened my eyes to realities I had never seen and the human virtues of honesty and resilience that I saw bloom, despite the insufferable conditions in which many of the people live. Perhaps one day I’ll have the chance to return to those I met on the magnificent mountains and plains of Peru.