I will never forget riding in a canoes through the Belen district in Iquitos, Peru - extreme poverty, most people without electricity and clear water, and poor sanitation.
The Belen district has many of the problems associated with poverty and overcrowding: alcoholism, crime, child abuse, infectious diseases including malaria, and respiratory illnesses. Experiencing poverty first hand is much different than reading about it or seeing a picture.
When I first heard about the Surgical Outreach trip I knew it would be an adventure, and that was a reason enough for me to go. What I did not known is how meaningful the interactions with people would be.
One of my favorite memories of the trip happened late on the last evening. It was very hot and humid and we were all tired after a long day of performing surgeries. It was quiet because people were cleaning and packing up. I had just assisted Dr. Cundiff with a hernia surgery and was assigned to sit with the patient while he recovered. I decided to talk to him while he waited for his wife and kids to pick him up. I don't speak Spanish, but by using a Spanish - English dictionary, we were able to connect and talk about his job, his family, his favorite food, etc. We came from different background, yet we were able to connect and talk like friends for a moment.
One of the other aspects that I enjoyed about the trip was working as a team with my new colleagues. Things did not just work like they should. There were flies in the surgery suite and we had to use duck tape and zip tides to rig drapes and equipment. The work just had to be done and you had to figure out what to do to help. It is kind of amazing that you can take fifteen people, some of them you have never met, and have them accomplish so much in just one week.
I enjoyed coming home and sharing my experiences and photographs with my children. When I showed them a photograph of a family who lived just six feet above the canal, my youngest son was concerned that the only thing standing between the infant and the water was a thin scrap of wood.
I wanted to raise my children to understand the value and importance of serving others, and the joy it can bring to other people and to their own lives. I also feel that the best way to teach a child is not by telling him what he should do, but rather being a good example by doing.
Perhaps, next time they will be asking, "Can I come too?"