I was on call the other night with Senora Nelly a tecnica (like a medical assistant) that has been working at Santa for 22 years. She is by far the best tecnica in the center. She knows how to do everything, knows where everything is, and the doctors often ask for her opinion during procedures. While we were sitting I asked her how she came to work at Santa and she told me a great story.
Sra. Nelly is from a comunidad (small town) about 3 hours from Santa by canoe. She only completed grade school because her parents did not have enough money to send her to high school. So at about age 12 she started working with her parents on the chacra (farm). When she was young she got pregnant and had her first son. She said that at first he was fine, but when he was about 7 years old she noticed that he ate all the time and didn't gain any weight. She had taken him to health posts before but he was always just treated for parasites. He then started to wake up frequently at night to pee. She had heard that there were some gringo doctors in Santa Clotilde so she decided to bring her son.
She said at the time it was just Padre Jack and Padre Mauricio. They saw Padre Jack and he asked them to stay the night so he could do some tests and observe the boy. He asked her to collect the urine overnight and in the morning the Father Jack said he had a pretty good guess why the ants were so attracted to her sons urine. They went on to diagnose him with Type I Diabetes and started him on insulin. They asked her to stay at the hospital while they started treatment, made sure he started to get better, and taught her how to give the insulin. The initial visit stretched into three months. She said that at first she would help clean around the center, but after a while she got bored and since the Fathers had no one else to help them she asked if she could help them give medications. She said, if they would label them, she would give them. They said yes. And then slowly she asked for more and more responsibilites. She asked them to teach her how to take blood pressures and she said it took her a while, but that padres were very patient and she learned. Finally, she decided she must go back to her village and help her mom back at the chacra...so she went with a cooler to keep the insulin cool and went back to working at the farm and selling their vegetables.
A few months later she got a letter from Father Jack asking her to come back to Santa and work for them. They would give her a position as a tecnica and train her. She said it was tough to leave her family, but knew there would be more opportunity for her and her son if she had a job that had a steady income. So she came to Santa and has been here since. She said that she learned everything from the Padres and reading the book "Where there are no Doctors". She now has 4 other children, 1 of which is now in college studying computer science.
She hopes the others will go to college as well, but it is expensive and she wonders what they will do with so much education. There are no jobs in Santa. She says that it is sad to see the kids finish high school and then have to return to the Chacra anyway. The main source of income for people here is agriculture. It's very small scale...pretty much enough to sustain yourself. The distance and cost to get to Iquitos are prohibitive for most people. The only other industry which is growing in this area is Petroleum companies and most are skeptical about their social and environmental impact. Even with these obstacles she still hopes for her kids to go to college in Iquitos, porque solo con hacerse uno profesional puede tener esperanza de dejar la chacra.
January 17, 2009 by Blanca Baldoceda