Nurse Carolyn Williams and Dr. Doug Wilsey with a class of children and their teacher who walked to the clinic for well-checks. Photos provided
By Linda Allen Special to The Journal
What a difference a year makes! In 2012, our Volunteers in Mission team ventured to the remote village of Capayque, Bolivia, high in the Andes Mountains. There, we helped the community begin construction of a hospital that will serve seven additional villages in the area. We also provided a basic medical clinic during our stay.
This year, we scheduled our trip later in the dry season during the first two weeks of June, which much improved our travel. Clouds of dust (reminiscent of Oklahoma) replaced the slippery and muddy roads of last year and reduced our 110-mile journey from 11 to six hours.
Framed by the Andes Mountains at 11,500 feet, Capayque enjoys a panoramic view of snowcapped mountains and deep valleys. Sunrises in the mountains are too beautiful to capture in photos!
About 300 people live in simple adobe houses with thatch or corrugated tin roofs. The people are resilient and resourceful, living on the land much like their ancestors have for centuries. Subsistence farming is their livelihood. "Todo produce poco - no mucho," meaning everyone produces a little - not much - just enough to survive, according to Basilio, the resident nurse,
Terraces of well-tended plots grow potatoes, corn, peas, onions and other cool weather vegetables. Women and children tend cattle, sheep and goats, while men work the fields. Donkeys serve as pack animals to carry the harvest and supplies.
VIM veterans - team leader, Doug Valley; nurse, Carolyn Williams; construction, Darrell Domnick; children's activities, Kelsey Davis and pharmacy and interpreter, Linda Allen, helped organize the daily work schedule for the week. New members, Kyle Anderson, Jerry Davis, Ray Kinnunen, mother-daughter team - Gerri and Catherine Petty, Teresa Robertson and Dr. Doug Wilsey quickly added their enthusiasm and talents to the construction project and the medical clinic and pharmacy.
Children from the community were eager lookouts, smiling and waving at us as they ran to announce our arrival to the adults. We received a traditional Bolivian welcome of prayers, speeches and floral wreaths created from roses, calla lilies, honeysuckle and greenery. Community members sprinkled confetti in our hair for good luck. After the welcome, we unpacked and rounded up straw mats, air mattresses and sleeping bags for our dorm-style sleeping arrangements.
On our first full day of work, we were awakened at 5:30 by a cacophony of sounds: firecrackers, a bugle, roosters crowing, dogs barking and donkeys braying. Brass band music started at 6:30 for a parade up to a lookout to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Day. Music drifted down the mountainside during the day to serenade our work.
The medical team used the same facilities as last year - a small examining room in the community center for Dr. Wilsey and his interpreter. Carolyn directed patient check-in in the courtyard, assisted by several team members. Gerri and Teresa helped me in the pharmacy, a rustic room with a warped wood floor, a window with missing panes, no electricity and a precarious ceiling.
Dr. Wilsey saw 221 patients during our sixday stay, about the same number as last year with similar complaints - sore muscles and headaches from hard, physical labor and respiratory and digestive problems.
Each patient received vitamins. Students from the local school and a class of six-year olds walked 40 minutes from a neighboring community for well-checks.
Dr. Wilsey removed a growth from a young woman's neck below her jaw. Carolyn and Basilio assisted in the surgery while Teresa helped keep the patient calm. He also drained an infected area on the neck of another patient. A young boy was treated for bee stings he received while gathering a honeycomb. Afterwards, he shared his treasure of dark, sweet honey with the team.
Progress on the hospital has been slow but steady. During the rainy seasons, roads are impassable, making it impossible to deliver materials for weeks at a time. This year, harvest season kept men in the fields instead of at the work site. But the construction experience and talents of Doug, Darrell, Ray and Kyle left the community with visible progress as they poured columns, laid bricks for an exterior wall and leveled dirt to redirect water flow away from the clinic.
At the construction site, Darrell, Ray and Kyle captured the energy and enthusiasm of several boys to help carry and stack bricks. The process became a game with the gringos loading bricks into wheelbarrows and the boys carting them to the area where they would be used. Gerri, Catherine, Teresa and Kelsey joined the routine, making fast and fun work of moving bricks.
The community is planning a "topping off" celebration when the roof is complete on the building. Doug has been invited back for the ceremony, tentatively scheduled for December of this year. The arrival of a team of gringos in a community always sparks curiosity, especially with children. Kelsey and Catherine provided activities for the children with coloring books, games and beads while Jerry entertained them with balloon animals. Doug and his camera and photo printer were a popular attraction for photos as reminders of our visit. They also delivered school supplies donated by churches and individuals for the local school.
Sunday was a day of rest for the team. Kyle, associate minister at First United Methodist Church, Stillwater, preached a sermon on service, which was translated into Spanish and Aymara for a small gathering of the community. Traditional Aymara hymns made up much of the service. Although the clinic was open in the afternoon, we had few patients. Several members used the free time for a team hike to explore the mountains and enjoy the majestic views.
Our stay in Capayque concluded with a farewell celebration of speeches, gift exchanges and the traditional dance involving all ages in the community.
We enjoyed a free day in La Paz before we returned to the US. Several of us toured the San Francisco Cathedral, gazing over the city from the bell tower and visiting the depths of the crypts where religious leaders are buried. The museum of the cathedral displays religious art and paintings of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and many native images of the Virgin Mary.
A maze of steep streets ascends above the cathedral and leads to shops and markets where we purchased artisan crafts to remind us of our visit. We dined at several good eateries along the Prado, the main traffic artery of the city, and treated our taste buds to rich ice cream creations, Bolivian specialties and a 24-inch pizza.
By working side by side with our hermanos, we got a glimpse into their daily lives. Seeing how the people of Capayque live is an antidote to selfishness and greed. While distance, life experiences and resources separate us, basic human needs, desires and a common cause united us for a week.
Our purpose extended beyond running a medical clinic and constructing a hospital to building lasting friendships with our hermanos in Bolivia. As Bishop Robert Hayes of the Oklahoma Area of The Methodist Church says, "We have much to learn from those who have so little."
Chapter 3 of the story of Capayque will continue when we return in 2014 to dedicate the hospital and to celebrate the dream-come-true of accessible medical care for people in this remote area.