A lot of you have asked me to write about my experiences at Vive Peru, so here is a general overview of the program, my experience, and my thoughts! I spent a lot of time comparing volunteer programs — I was looking for an organization that promoted sustainable action within under-served communities, and a location where I could practice my Spanish. I hope that this provides you with the information you need to make a well-informed decision as you search for your perfect volunteer program!
Vive Peru does some incredible work in a local underserved community. Beliña is one of the long-term employees of Vive Peru, and in my humble opinion, she’s the MVP of the organization. She’s a feminist queen, and educates the local women about public health concerns, women’s rights, and leadership/communication skills. These women then host public health campaigns, and make sure all of the families in their neighborhood are informed and educated on important issues. The community program she runs through Vive Peru is the sustainable, conscientious non-profit work I fell in love with when I found Vive Peru, and honestly was an amazing experience. As a clinical medicine volunteer, you spend the afternoons working with this community (public health efforts), and this is what a lot of your money goes to, which I think is a great cause. The catch? Unless you speak Spanish at least conversationally, it’s going to be hard for you as a volunteer to actually contribute. You will still go to the community and build relationships, but the actual nitty-gritty work is mainly left to Beliña and her group of empowered, bad-ass women, and the volunteers who have the language proficiency.
Vive Peru has multiple programs, and I was enrolled in the Clinical Medicine program. This was a great program because I was really able to see the difference between US and Peruvian healthcare (it’s wildly, wildly different), observe in virtually every area of the hospital, learn clinical skills such as phlebotomy, and occassionally take blood pressure/height/weight on the medical campaigns. One medical campaign we participated in was a cleft palate campaign in Lima! That campaign, without a doubt, made this trip worth it. I learned SO MUCH about global medicine, mission work, teamwork, and the intersection between culture and medicine during this week. As a pre-med or medical student, you don’t have opportunities to participate in medical missions like this. I served as a translator for the week, which brought so many neat experiences in and of itself, but I am more confident than ever that I want to participate in global medicine as a physician.
To be transparent with you, this program was not what I was expecting based on the information from their website. I was expecting hands-on, clinical service. I wanted to fill in the gaps I was qualified to fill, and serve the people of Peru while also educating them about basic health, hygiene, and wellness. Instead, I spent the vast majority of my 3 months shadowing, with very, very little service in the hospital. The times I was able to participate, I didn’t feel that my help was needed, although perhaps appreciated. That was frustrating, to say the least. If you’re looking for an opportunity to actually work and serve in a clinical setting, this may not be the program for you. However, I would recommend some serious introspection, and ask yourself what you are actually qualified to do, and what you are expecting to do in a clinical setting. If you don’t have a medical or nursing degree, no matter where you go, you won’t be able to do a whole lot clinically. That may help you find your answer! In addition, I was oftentimes frustrated with the degree of unprofessionalism within the hierarchy of the Clinical Medicine program. I found myself having to navigate the balance between professional respect, and not being an ‘intern’ that bought people coffee. More than being an intern, I also felt micro-managed at times, and once was even sent to a neighborhood I specifically said I was not comfortable going to. This was not the case for every employee of Vive Peru, but within my program this was an issue that I faced through the duration of the program. Overall, I’m happy I did the program, and learned an incredible amount, but I do wish some things had been different during my time here.
My last big point is the personal projects. Vive Peru strongly encourages volunteers to design and conduct a personal project, and it can be whatever you want! Ryan and I decided to do a photography project, since we both love photography. Vive Peru was so incredibly supportive and helpful throughout our project, and we are displaying our exhibit at the art gallery downtown this weekend. In addition, I have had opportunities to teach the local women and children about exercise and wellness (my personal passion), and Ryan started an English club at the local university to help the students gain better conversational skills. These projects have been an awesome experience, and I’m glad we were able to use our unique skills and interest to benefit the community. All in all, Vive Peru went above and beyond to help us succeed, and I am very grateful for that.
Peru is an absolutely incredible country, and I am so honored to have lived here for three months. The people, the culture, the food, the history, the music… I love everything about it and I’m heart-broken to be leaving. I have also practiced enough Spanish to comfortably deem myself ‘conversational’, something that was incredibly important to me as I began medical school. If you have a heart to serve Hispanic communities as a physician, this program is definitely a great program for you. Overall, I’m happy with my decision, although I wish I would’ve done a 1 month program instead, been more informed before coming, and known I was coming to observe in the hospital and serve in the community.