Arriving around midnight in Lima, Peru, six University of Mississippi pharmacy students began an arduous drive up the Pan-American Highway. After traversing mountain roads for eight hours, they arrived at their home base in Pomabamba.
From there, they ventured out to the remote villages of Pallahuasi, Chogo, Piscos and Vinauya. Their mission: reach the unreachable.
“We had very strenuous riding conditions,” said Jennifer Reid, a third-year professional student from Madison. “We traveled throughout the Andes Mountains on gravel roads – they were terrible for our trucks. In fact, we had two different trucks break down. We traveled these hard, dangerous roads because we wanted to reach people where no other mission teams have ever been before.”
Randy Calvert, a 1980 UM graduate who works as a pharmacist at Walgreens in Madison, recently led third-year students Reid, Anna Blair Brown, Colleen Riley and Laken Burrell, as well as fourth-year students Rachel Swearingen and Elizabeth Roland on the medical mission trip. Sponsored by First Baptist Church of Jackson, the 13-day trip had multiple goals that included filling prescriptions, fitting reading glasses, administering face cream and providing spiritual healing.
“The eagerness of the students to serve is so refreshing,” Calvert said. “We have a share time each night of what they observed during the course of the day – it is my favorite time of all. Usually we have something bad come into the clinic, anything from a scalded child to a broken bone, but this year we had a man come in with a severe leg infection, which we treated. The gratitude of the people makes it all worthwhile.”
The students assisted in all areas of service, which began with a doctor’s diagnosis. The patients then visited the pharmacy to have their prescriptions filled. All visitors received Albendazole for parasitic infections caused by unsanitary water. They were also administered face cream as the dry weather in the area chaps their faces.
“We were able to give the Quechua people that came to our clinic things that most Americans think of as commonplace,” said Brown, who hails from Raymond. “A lot of medications we dispensed were to help things as simple as indigestion, and we gave out many pairs of reading glasses.”
In fact, glasses were a hot commodity for the Peruvian people. All of them were cherished, except for one pair.
“We found a pair of purple glasses that no one wanted,” said Swearingen, a Memphis, Tennessee, native. “It became everyone’s goal to find them a home. We passed them around, and all modeled them. Finally, on the very last day, an older man picked the purple glasses. We cheered and took his picture – it was phenomenal.”
Culture shock and language barriers provided some challenges for the students on the trip. It was difficult to communicate with the people in villages, who either spoke Quechua or Spanish.
“We were able to use Spanish translation cheat sheets to counsel patients,” Burrell said. “The Peruvians would laugh and giggle with us when we mispronounced virtually everything we attempted to say.”
Roland, who also hails from Madison, recounted an unusual but amusing experience while examining patients in one of the villages.
“I told Rachel that I thought I heard a bird in the room,” she said. “We couldn’t figure out where the noise was coming from. Then, the lady we were helping started laughing and lifted the bottom of her shirt. To our surprise, a baby chick walked out. That is definitely something you don’t see every day in an American pharmacy!”
Calvert, who is a preceptor for the school, is a veteran when it comes to missions and has enlisted the help of pharmacy students on various trips since 2005. By diagnosing, counseling, dispensing and immunizing, pharmacists are the most versatile health professionals in the mission field, he said.
“This type of service is so important to others, and being in the field teaches teamwork, self-discipline, gratitude, humility, flexibility and service to others,” he said. “It takes the focus off of ourselves and onto the work that we were created to do.”
Burrell, an Amory native, said the experience was significant.
“These people rarely see medical doctors and rarely experience relief from ailments that we are able to treat,” she said. “Not only were we able to make an impact in these people’s lives, but also we were able to learn more about pharmacy and apply our knowledge in a different way and in a foreign environment. Most importantly, we were able to cater to their souls and give them spiritual and physical healing.”
Courtesy of Erin Garrett and the Ole Miss News Desk