Monday, June 30, 2008

Quichua Health Care Project!

btw: for some fun pictures and different perspectives on Ecuador, you all should visit Chrisitna´s blog

So.. though I love telling you all about the details of traveling and sight-seeing, real reason Christina and I are in Quito is because we`re working on an HST (Harvard-MIT) health care project with the Amazonian indigenous people called Quichuas.
The Quichua lack basic health care and suffer greatly from a lack of first-aid knowledge. We worked with a business school student and ER doctor this past semester and through this summer to develop a comprehensive wound kit and telemedicine scheme to aid the Quichua people.

Our project goals changed a bit since the completion of our HST class. We were to bring a portable aid kit for wounds to the Quichua community and teach volunteers about wound care so that they could treat emergency cases in the large and difficult-to-traverse community. We also worked on a partnership with Wound Technology Network who will provide the community free telemedicine consultation- the idea is that a health care volunteer will take pictures of wounds they do not know how to handle, email it to WTN, and then get free physican feedback on how to treat it.

We were able to commute to the community center (40 min motorized canoe ride) every day with the help of our amazing native Quichua guides, Javier and Freddy. They grew up in the Amazon but through their studies learned english very well and have studied at university. They really wanted to give back to their community so they work for Sani Lodge. We were able to give our medical supplies to Blanca, the community health volunteer who really appreciated them. We also got great response for our telemedicine scheme and our native guides really want to make it happen. We spoke to village headmen and community members to learn more about their health care system, deficiencies in health education, and their response to our telemedicine and health education schemes. We collected a lot of data and presented many solutions to their problems.

We are now in Quito and are workign directly with the lodges' administrative offices to get support and funding for our project goals. We were able to give a donated camera to the community and hope to get the telemedicine rolling as internet becomes more available to the community. We're goign to visit a shaman and the Quito Medical school later this week. We hope to get donated medical books and possible scholarships for people in the community to become better trained in health care. So far, it's been a very positive experience- Sani Isla is a really enthusiastic and forward-thinking community that's been backing us the whole way. We hope the positive experinece continues until July 9!

More on the Amazon soon...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Into the Amazon... at Sani Lodge

So last you heard from us we were debating a trip into the Amazon to carry out our wound care project... the next morning we were on a plane to the amazon region! It was pretty last minute due to lack of response from our sponsoring amazon lodge (Sani Lodge), but it worked out wonderfully.

During the flight (we quickly ascended into clouds due to Quito's high altitude) we were able to view some of the breath-taking mountains of the Andes- huge portions of the mountains were above the clouds! However, when we landed we were in the middle of Coca, a city built with oil money and at a pretty low elevation (it was much more humid and hot than Quito).

It's definitely got the makings of a ramshack rapidly growing town. It's a bit grungy and muddy. We were transported by lodge staff to a motorized river boat and traveled 2.5 hours on the large Napo River. It is rainy season in the Amazon and the river is very full and fast flowing. Half way there we lost a motor on the boat, we hit a floating trunk or something, and though it didn't affect our travels, the lodge staff were very upset over the loss (motors cost several tens of thousands).

We switched boats - to a small dugout canoe and entered a smaller river that weaved throught the jungle and within 25 minutes we were at a peaceful lagoon where our lodge was located. Sani Lodge has a very intersting history. It is a lodge owned entirely by the indigenous Indian (Sani Isla) population after they bartered with an oil company. The oil company wanted to just survey their land for oil and in exchange they had to build the lodge and other amenities for the community. Oil companies are the big bad wolf here as they cause much environmental harm but often many indigneous communities are lured by the money and allow the destruction of their environment. So it's really neat that something eco friendly and sustainable came about the deal, the lodge employs a great amount of the community members and all the profits go back to them.

Sani Lodge, and the pond/lagoon entering it.

To our surprise, we need a canoe to get to our campsite from the main lodge (where rich tourists stay in cabins). Since it's rainy season the dock to the campsite is completely submerged and the canoes have to just line up right with the submerged walkway. Sani Lodge took really good care of us and loaned us heavy duty ponchoes and galoshes, which are definetly in need as we're always sloshing through water, mud, and rain. Our campsite lodgings were really nice, we're in these huge palm covered tents with mini tents and matresses inside. The bathroom however is located about 30 seconds from the campsite and we often got lost going there with our weak flashlight.

The other tourists (there are about 6 of them) are really intersting and from diverse backgrounds. We met californians, canadians, british, and australians. Many were traveling alone and they ranged from mid 20's to a grandma! We talked a lot at every meal (they blow a horn to signal lunch and dinner). The meals at the lodge were fabulous and we were definitely spoiled. We had three courses at each meal and always got fresh juices and veggies. I got to try exotic things like a tomatoe fruit, yucca, and other meat-eaters tested staff-caught piranhas and a local pig-sized rodent, pacca. Meals are in this open air dining room thatched in traditoinal palms and at night we ate by candel light since electricyt is only used when necessary.

The weather was often super rainy, 5-6 downpours a day, but when it was cloudy or sunny we enjoyed the lush green scenery. Birds and wildlife were spotted by our guides at all times of the day and we'd be treated with glimpses of parrots and monkeys through their expert eyes and telescopes. Our first night there we met with the native Quichua guides (who speak great English) and organized our visits with the Sani Quichua community we wanted to work with for our wound care project.

Picture of the jungle.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hola Ecuador!

Arrived in Quito on Friday night via a long series of delays and flights!

Our hostal- Hostal Alcala is this beautiful yellow bed and breakfast in the heart of Quito. We really have enjoyed our stay there thus far. Jose the owner is very nice and puts up with all our questions. We get hot cocoa, tea, and coffee all the time and get served breakfast in the morning.
Breakfast is scrambled eggs, fruit, toast, and this gorgeous papaya juice (we've been too scared to try the juice so far). We get all this for $13 per person a night plus hot water, electricity, a private double with a private bath, and tv and wireless access :).

On Ecuadorian food- its mostly lots of juices, fresh fruits, and vegetables with meat main dishes and rice. Sadly, Christina and I are staying clear of any potential stomach troublers like fresh produce for this week.

Christina and I explored on Saturday 6/21 starting early in the morning. It was the day of the Solstice (longest day of the year!) and there were a few festivals and cultural events happening in Quito. We were directed to the "Mitad Del Mundo" or rather the "Middle of the World". Obviously, Ecuador is at the equator and after about a 1.5 hour tiring bus ride (christina and I had to stand the whole time) we made it to the equator line! It is centered in a park of artisans and restaurants so we spent a good few hours there. It also seems to rain every afternoon in Quito- not always very nice. It's supposedly winter here so water and cold = damp and shivering Jessica.
The scenery around Quito is gorgeous. It is a small/quaint city in the middle of a valley-surrounded by towering peaks and so highly elevated it almost touches the clouds. It really is beautiful as clouds blanket almost any peak in sight. Public transportation is great, we are able to purchase tokens for $0.25 and travel almost anywhere in the city -much more modernized than I expected! Also, we never even needed to exchange currency as they use the US dollar.
Safety has been a concern for us, because we here about a lot of theft and all the locals we meet tell us to guard our valuables, however we met this tall German guy, Nicco, our second night here and befriended him to join us on our adventure to the "Old City" today. This part of the city is very touristy and reminds me of Italy- its filled with many many old churches and museums. It also sits below a hill with a towering Virgin Mary made from stone on it (We took a taxi to the top and climbed the statue a few flights). So the three of us spent about 8 hours exploring that entire area. Each museum's fare is about $1 for students, makign it easy for us to hop from place to place. Streets are cobblestone, lots of squares for people to meander about, and there were some musical festivities while we were there. It is quite steep in some places of the road, so when it started pouring mid afternoon they turned into turbulent rivers (I can only imagine what a "rain" forest is like)! We hopped and jumped across the rushing water to find shelter in churches and museums. It was fun hanging out with Nicco and exploring a new section of the town were we saw many more tourists than our first day.

After the tiring day we returned to the hostel and went to a nearby pizza place :). christina and I spend our evenings safe in the hostel watching T.V. and chilling out. We have yet to have confirmation from the rain forest lodge about our stay there this coming week, so we're a bit on edge but doign our best to get the wound care project off the ground.

My spanish remains very bad, and Christina and Nicco are invaluable in their skills!
For now, buenos noches!