Traveling with Peers

Someone once told me that there are three ways to find out how a person truly is: you can either live with them, travel with them, or do business with them. These principles can be applied to our peers as well. I have learned a lot about some of my peers while on this trip that neither group work in class nor long conversations about the latest music, fashion, or movies can reveal. The opposite is also true: my peers were given a glimpse into my personality that they have otherwise missed. Some of these impressions have been pleasant, but a few have been not-so-great. You find out a great deal about the temperament of your peers, their work ethics, and a part of their character just by traveling with them to a different country. To be fair, three weeks is still not enough time to completely understand each other. However, I still want to give a word of caution for future cohorts of the Global Health program: you might not be friends after ICD! On the flip side, you might come out with new friendships that you might not have had a chance to develop otherwise.


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Young towns and old souls


Loma Linda students, ADRA staff, and communal bank participants in San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru.

An hour through traffic from the “Beverly Hills” of Peru where we had spent the weekend found us in one of the many districts in Lima covered on one side by pueblos jóvenes – “young towns” in the politically-correct local lingo – or hillside-hugging shanty settlements from the foreigner’s perspective that was the only one I had to view it from.

We had spent an earlier part of the day going through multiple security screenings and leaving our cellphones and cameras at the entrance of the US embassy compound, measures necessary in order to meet with USAID representatives on their own turf.

We heard candid accounts of past and current development initiatives conducted by the US government in Peru – providing agricultural alternatives to coca cultivation, sustainable natural resource management in the Andean highlands and Amazon basin, working with the Peruvian government to decentralize healthcare, and improving infrastructure for public service delivery –  as well as personal stories of some of the many paths global-minded folks take to find themselves working with such an agency and on such projects. Hard work  international experience, a willingness to travel anywhere and learn new languages as needed, humility to start from the bottom up and work on initiatives that might not be a first choice, networking like crazy, and personal life sacrifices were just some of the qualities noted necessary for such pursuits.

“It can be especially hard if you are single,” noted one of the representatives, “to try to meet new people while moving around so often.” She added, “But if you are married it is also hard. Your spouse has to be okay moving wherever you get assigned.”

I pushed these personal and professional insights to the back of my mind as we drove down the last dirt-packed road lined with perpetually-under-construction, several-story dwellings of cement blocks and exposed rebar. Some were painted in lively crayon box hues while others bore the grays and browns of their outer materials.

We stopped at a doorway surrounded by red bricks and seafoam green cement, with dark steel bars protecting the front window and corrugated tin overhanging from the roof. The nearby concrete power pole wore remnants of wheat-pasted black and white posters pitching the cheapest, most reliable cable installations around.

Inside, long colorful curtains separated the inner rooms from the sitting and dining area where a collage of exposed concrete, stainless steel fridge doors, bare wires, homey furniture and photo frames brought us to the inner home life of a female entrepreneur and member of an ADRA Peru bancos comunales program – a micro-finance initiative with over 150 participants in similar communities around Lima. Divided into groups of ten, the women meet monthly and hold each other accountable with duties, finances, and personal health efforts.

We were there with ADRA outreach workers and program coordinators to join in on one such meeting. Most of the women, we learned, were not Lima natives. Different quests had brought them to the capital: love, money, change. In all cases, hope. Several had young children present and others had children at home. One woman, unable to attend, sent a sister to the meeting in her stead.

The women worked as independent florists, lingerie sellers, ice cream and chocolate vendors, fabric retailers, and clothing distributors. The micro-finance program promoted education, health, and faith, and provided motivation, encouragement, and financial incentives to allow each woman to make continual investments in their businesses and personal lives. They each shared stories of trials, triumphs, and dreams.

Luz Mary, a self-described once-shy woman, had participated in the program before moving out of the slums, becoming a community leader, and finding work encouraging and organizing women in new groups. She was the one facilitating the women’s group that evening, now an ADRA employee.

Trials and triumphs, indeed. Energy from hugs, photos, and best wishes lingered in the air as we parted ways and crossed under a pair of sneakers dangling from power lines. We walked to the sounds of Top 40 American pop songs escaping from doorways and windows as nonchalant dogs wearing people clothes watched us from unfinished rooftops.

An hour back through traffic and we were back in another world, yet again.

– Lizzy


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Last Day in the Community

Today was our final day of data collection in the community.  We completed 6 key informant interviews and 35 surveys.  The key informant interviews were conducted with two couples from the reproductive health clinic, the family planning coordinator, two service providers and a priest.

The language barrier was especially challenging today because we didn’t have enough translators to assist with the survey, but we were able to get creative and still accomplish our goal.

Today we have exactly a week left in the Philippines. The time seems to pass so quickly. It is hard to believe that we will be on a plane to back to LA in exactly one week from today.


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Today was our second day out in the community. We did our courtesy call to the Mayor’s house and went on to collect our data. The language barrier is becoming somewhat frustrating. Our global health program should include a language component according to the chosen ICD location. It would have been really helpful and would have made the assessment process so much easier if we spoke Tagalog. We surveyed participants in an informal settlement called Dreamland. A pretty ironic name-almost insulting in my opinion-taking into account the living situations of these individuals. During one of the surveys, I even saw a child play with a dead mouse, my fear of rodents almost made me want to dash out of there, but I stood there because I didn’t want to offend them. When recounting the incidence to one of my classmates, she jokingly asked me if I bought them a toy. Sadly the carcass of this mouse was all the entertainment that the children in this community had at the moment. While I found it repulsive, they got some joy out of it.
Communities such as this one remind me of all the suffering that sin has brought on this earth. I cannot wait for the day when “there shall be no more death neither sorrow, not crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (Rev 21:4). But until then, as public health and global health professional, we must continue to strive for social justice and better quality of life for all.



“Dreamland” | Photo credit: Kerk Allen









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Day 1 in the Field

Hello everyone,

We are in the midst of our data collection and will be finished by Wednesday night. Currently we’re conducting focus groups, key informant interviews and also surveys to collect information from mothers and health workers. On certain days, we start at 7 a.m. which is kind of hectic but I feel we get a lot of work accomplished on those days.

We’ve been in the Philippines for more than a week and time has gone by so fast. Next Thursday we’ll fly out and some of us will head home to the US while others will do some more traveling.

I’ve never been in the Philippines and am humbled by how friendly, welcoming and helpful the Filipinos are.  It’s been such a learning experience so far and I’m grateful to have this opportunity.


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Freedom isn’t free

Freedom is defined as the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. When we, the “free” Americans think about our freedom, our minds easily drift to the wars and battles we’ve read of, heard of and even experienced. We think of the fearless individuals that have died so we can exercise basic rights. We think of civil rights leaders, activists and community organizers that have paved the way. Each of these thoughts are legitimate, but a trip to the Philippines, as our ICD group is experiencing, will broaden the definition of freedom and those who fight for it.

This past week we had the opportunity to visit World Vision, Plan International, the Philippines Department of Health, ADRA and Save the Children. We’ve also had a chance to formally meet our partners at the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IIRR). Even though each site visit was different, there was an underlying theme. Each of these public health specialists and health practitioners were working towards one goal- liberating their people from poverty and disease.

Freedom isn’t free. These individuals sit in hours of traffic, battle with budget cuts, negotiate with donors and struggle with politics. They are in the field responding to emergencies and in the office handling logistics and management. They do not talk about themselves or their families or their credentials. They elaborate on their work, their target communities, their goals. They are selfless, they are compassionate and they are relentless in the face of adversity. They are fighting for for the rights of women, children, adolescents and families. They are advocating for the poor, the forgotten and the sick. Freedom isn’t free.

These are the people we have had the opportunity to listen to and work with and these are the people we hope we can emulate someday. They are constantly fighting a war for their people. Wherever we go from here- medical school, field work, doctorate program- we must remember that we also have been trained to be heroes to a certain community whether it be local or global. And we must continue to fight for their freedoms everyday in the same way many have fought for ours.

Happy 4th


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Visits to Different Organizations

The past three days have been filled with visits to different non-governmental and governmental organizations. We visited the Department of Health, World Vision, Save the Children, PLAN International and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Since our projects with the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) this year focus on reproductive health and child health; it was interesting to see what each organization is doing to address the issues. Once thing that I like about the system in the Philippines, is that although it is “devolved” or decentralized as we would say it, different organization are part of different coalitions. In doing so, they can avoid overlapping programs. They can combine their resources to combat certain issues in the most efficient way.

Our visit to IRRI opened my eyes to the different types of rice that currently exist. I knew that there were many, but I had no idea that it was close to 100,000. For some reason I was expecting them to have us taste the different types of rice, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. IRRI has a rice vault where they store rice from all over the world. This can be used as a way to conserve other countries’ supply of traditional/local rice in case of a natural disaster. They also produce fortified rice called golden rice that can be used to combat micronutrient deficiencies such as Vitamin A deficiency.

Our days have been pretty busy, and long. Especially yesterday after our meeting with IIRR. We had to develop an assessment plan and draft of all the assessment tools that we will be using next week. We have a couple of longer days ahead of us, but they should be a fulfilling and rewarding.

Our view from the International Rice Research Institute

Our view from the International Rice Research Institute

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Hola, Peru!

3.30 am.
My eyes struggled to adjust to the green led light on the car clock. I had spent the night at Anna’s house and was now on my way to LAX to meet up with the rest of the Peru group. Soon my eyes had to adjust to an even brighter light, the lights of the Copa airlines terminal.  After checking for my passport (one last time), Anna and I said goodbye to our ride (her husband Matt) and joined the LLU group.

After standing in line for what seemed like forever, we finally got all checked in and through security with no problem. We found our gate with ease, and there our group began to fragment: some chatted away, others fell asleep, while some of us looked for the drink that gave us life: coffee. Eating what would be my last meal on American soil for three weeks, I chose the ever-so-healthy iced vanilla coffee with a chocolate croissant from Coffe Bean, as a treat to myself. Shortly after, I headed back and saw that we were boarding. Checking to see if I still had my passport once again (I am always misplacing things), I handed the man my boarding pass and joined the long line of anxious travelers ready to hit the skys. I hadn’t been out of the country in a few years, so I was anxious to see more of the world. And this was the first time I was going to see my some of my classmates in a more “natural” element…and I was nervous. Personally, my move to LLU was a big step and some how I still felt like I was recovering from that. Now I was headed to Peru with people I sorta knew. Not exactly the most ideal situation. But I knew that this would be a good experience, not only for me to use my newly acquired public health skills but to also grow as a person. “Here goes nothing” I thought as finally entered the plane. And away we go we did.

My seat mate for both flights was the ever hilarious Evan. I knew it was going to be a great flight when within moments of sitting down, both of us had full on belly laughs about something. It remained that way for both flights. (Both of us could not seem to sleep for more than 30 minutes at a time. Talk about frustrating) The first leg of the trip was to Panama and from there we had a quick layover and then it was off to Lima. For such a big group, we had no problems. Everyone found their bags quickly and immigration gave us no trouble at all. I am pretty sure the last thing they wanted to do was converse with eager eyed Americans with broken Spanish. We soon were met with Mirna, our contact in Peru and we all boarded a bus to our final destination, Mira Flores. Outside, we were met with a chilly humidity, which was welcomed by me. (I missed the moisture!) The bus was full of chatter and excitement as we took in the new sights in Lima. We all shared some snacks that we stashed away and the feeling of family quickly came over the group. For the time of night we arrived, traffic was pretty bad and we all got to see how Peruvians drive. I am almost certain that the concept of lanes is a suggestion because several cars just jumped from one side of the road to the other, whenever they felt like it. Luckily  I felt confident that our driver knew what he was doing and plus, a bus should be safe enough…right? Well the group is still alive so I guess so! Checking in was fairly easy and soon enough we were off to sleep.


It started off with the majority of us sleeping in. Frances was kind enough to wake us up at 12pm just so we wouldn’t miss lunch. Dr. Belliard had taken some of the group to church and the rest of us met up with them at around 1pm for an lunch. It was an AMAZING Asian restaurant…yes in Peru. It was pretty legit and for a vegetarian in a country where the chicken is their prized food, I had a great tofu dish. After this, we went on a walk to local ruins. Now, as we were walking to these ruins, the surrounding area was quite suburban like. There were many houses and people out walking their dogs…it didn’t seem like ancient ruins were anywhere in site. But after entering the gates of Huaca Pullana, the beauty of the ruins were revealed. These were pre-Inca ruins, dating as far back as the 13th century! Our hilarious tour guide carefully explained many rituals that the Lima culture performed on these grounds, including numerous human sacrifices. It was a great history lesson and made me think about the hidden treasures that are in my town that I don’t know about. I made a mental note to do some exploring when I returned home. After that, we broke off into various groups: some explored Lima, others went and got some rest, while most of us looked for some food. All in all, it was great day. I had such a great taste of Peru, I can’t wait to experience more!



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Day 4

July 1, 2013

The day began with a simple breakfast of eggs, bread and jam. After breakfast, we went to USAID Peru. The building is in the US Embassy compound so we had to go through security and turn in our passports in exchange for a visitor’s pass. Once inside, we met with four USAID  workers who were really honest with us about what was happening in Peru and what to expect as a potential AID worker. In 2014, USAID will no longer do health work in the country of Peru. So the workers had to make a tough decision on where to focus their last efforts. Because the country has made major improvements towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Maternal Child Health, the focus is on starting small efforts that can be continued after 2014 without USAID.

Lunch was at the mall. When we were leaving, I had an encounter with two salesmen. Not wanting to be bothered, I immediately said, “No hablo espanol.” One of the guys started to walk away, but the other immediately responded with, “No habla espanol? Well I speak English…” Oops! In my embarrassment, I started to laugh. He took it in stride, chuckled and said, “Have a nice day miss!”

ADRA was our next stop. We went up into the shantytowns of Lima where ADRA has micro loan projects with women who want to have a source of income. Walking in to a big open space, women were on either side of the room singing their welcome song. There were kids running around and gas tanks piled in a corner. A man was there in place of his wife so she would not be penalized for missing a meeting. After this, we listened in as they learned how to properly budget their money. After the meeting, we asked them questions about living in Lima. One lady told her story of how she did not want to leave her home, but she left so her husband could have a chance to fulfill his educational dreams. She told us that her family moved from their two story home and her comfortable and lucrative vendor job, to a shack. She looks at her friends who stayed behind and how far they have come. When she says this, the tears begin to fall. She is embarrassed of the way her life has turned out. She did see positives in the move –  her children receive a better education in Lima than they would have had they not moved. It really made me think of how much sacrifice so many of these women made for the sake of their children. I appreciated my parents for transitioning to the United States and the chance it gave me at a better future. My heart really went out to this woman… these women. Lima was to be the Promise Land for them, but for some it was a major personal setback. A second woman invited us to her home. We accepted, thinking it was just around the corner… we HIKED uphill on a steep incline of makeshift steps. Jeff, Jason and Dr. Belliard had to help Karla and I up because we are terrified of heights. Once we arrived, her home was a makeshift building with an outdoor toilet and sink. The view from her place was incredible. It overlooked the shantytown and the mountain range. When we returned to the women’s group, there was Inca Kola for us and more singing. The women said goodbye to us and gave us hugs and kisses. On our way back to our lodging, I thought about the day and our experiences with USAID and ADRA.

Tomorrow we have a 6 A.M. flight to Cusco. Time for bed.


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Day 3

June 30, 2013

Today was our second full day in Peru. We have made it through two days of butchering the language, having our American money rejected, almost getting hit by cars in the round about and having moment of pure bliss a we pass familiar sights (Starbucks) and try new things (the Peruvian chicken place).

We had the awesome privilege of sitting in on two lectures done by prominent Peruvians in the area of Public Health. Dr. Ariel Frisancho, from Care Peru, spoke on “Promoting People Centeredness in Peruvian Health Systems.” A reoccurring theme in his talk was how diversity is Peru’s pride and downfall. Though Peru is a middle high income country, there is stark and cruel inequality that stems from lack of respect among different cultures. The gaps are closing between those who are fortunate and the less fortunate, but it will be a LONG time before much advancement is made.

Dr. Luis Sarez Ogino, former Medical Epidemiologist of Peru, talked on the epidemiology of Peru – highlighting the country’s demographics, the top causes of morbidity and mortality in Peru, and the social response to these causes. Finally, he covered the fragmented health system and what we need to do. Today was an eye opening experience. As an outsider, the problems seem obvious, but little change is made here that will benefit everyone. Dr. Suarez left the public sector after 24 years because of this. He now teaches at the medical school because he believes his teaching efforts will be more effective and will benefit Peru.

Even with the lectures, we found time to explore the city of Lima. A few of us went to the beach, while some others stayed in close to the hotel and tried different foods. Dr. Belliard has introduced us to a couple places that have excellent food (one even has a vegetarian sandwich, YAY!!!). My simple “getting around” Spanish now includes the phrase “tienes vegetariano” (you have vegetarian), “sin queso” (without cheese) and “sin leche” (without milk).Peru is a hard place to be meat-free, but I’m making it work.  Wong (the grocery store), has become a place we frequent often for inexpensive food options. Tomorrow, we meet with USAID and ADRA. Hopefully the information we receive will continue to motivate us on our public health journey!


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