Choosing Work the World as the organisation for my elective placement was an easy decision. It offered everything I needed, and unlike other organisations who offered placements option in Peru. It was even approved and known by my university. I chose Peru because I’d grown up in Asia and Africa, and knew I wanted to travel to a destination I had never been to before. Having learnt Spanish at school it just made sense to travel to the Spanish-speaking destination World the World offered in Arequipa, Peru.
Landing in Arequipa after a long journey from London to Madrid to Lima to Arequipa was really exciting. I met a group of girls in Lima Airport wearing Work the World t-shirts, which immediately put me at ease. Compared to the cold rainy UK weather, Arequipa heat was heavenly. We walked through Arequipa Airport together and were collected by Sonja, one of the coordinators.
My first 24 hours was a combination of excitement, sleep deprivation, and nerves. We arrived at the house, and immediately showered, found our rooms, unpacked and had something to eat whilst receiving a debrief of what the following weeks would consist of. The food was absolutely incredibly. Mama Julia (the cook) made not only Peruvian delicacies for us but also food from home if we were missing it. ‘Tengo hambre’ was something we never had to say.
I was booked on the intensive Spanish course for my first week, followed by 3 weeks of operation theatres and 1 week of paediatric wards. I thoroughly enjoyed the one on one Spanish course, where I was able to practice my rusty Spanish in a safe environment and wasn’t afraid of making mistakes or being laughed at. The staff members in the hospital were equally lovely and were happy to teach the World the World students.
Each medical case that I saw was as interesting as the next. Many of the cases I observed would very rarely be seen in the UK, and the manner in which the procedures were conducted were incredibly different. On my first day in theatre, I only noticed 20 minutes into a prostate removal that the patient was only under local aesthetic! Patient interaction was incredibly different as well. I noticed that family members of patients did most of the basic care such as washing and feeding.
The environment was extremely different to hospitals in the UK, patients had to buy all of their own medical supplies and provide these to the health care professionals – which did surprise me. I was also informed that care couldn’t begin until the patients had all the required supplies.
Since we only worked from 8am to 1pm we had afternoons and weekends free, left for exploring the country. We typically went on weekend trips as groups or pairs and sometimes as a whole household. I knew I wanted to do the Inca trail and go to Machu Picchu, but apart from that I was open to ideas and wanted to experience as much of the Peruvian culture as possible. As a result on my first weekend a group of 5, including myself, hiked Colca Canyon, which was exhausting but rewarding. The following weekend I went with my roommate to Machu Picchu where we did the Inca trail. The sights were beautiful and we made it to Machu Picchu before all the masses of tourists arrived, which made it much more enjoyable. On my third weekend, we all travelled to Lake Titicaca and went to Bolivia for the day, singing Copacabana by Barry Manilow the whole way down. My last weekend we hiked Chachani – a mere 6075 meters above sea level… It was like voluntary torture but a fabulously rewarding accomplishment!
I think that the main thing that stuck with me after this experience was the people that I met. They truly made it an enjoyable experience, travelling and living with them. Working in the local hospital also gave me a greater appreciation of hospitals in the UK, the resources and the quality of care. I never valued a pair of disposable gloves as much as I did after my elective placement. All in all a fabulous experience with Work the World that I would definitely recommend to others and even do again.