The Collegian
Sunday, January 23, 2022

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Students visit Peru to benefit public health

For the second consecutive year, Rick Mayes, associate professor of public policy, is taking students to Peru during Spring Break.

This year, about 18 people are planning to go on the trip to Lima and Pampas Grande, including two University of Richmond students from Peru. All students participating in this year's trip are currently enrolled in Mayes' International Public Health Independent Study.

The idea for the trip came from Mayes' students in 2006 after they read the book "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder, Mayes said. This book tells the story of a specialist of infectious diseases who founded a hospital and health center in Cange, Haiti.

Although the students' original idea was to travel to Haiti, the Office of International Education would not permit it because of unstable conditions in the country. The second choice was Peru, which was approved and fully funded by Richmond Quest scholarships.

The students wanted to set up an independent study about infectious diseases, so they discussed a syllabus and created a class that meets every Friday night from 6 to 9 p.m. The students meet in the glass room in the Heilman Dining Center to eat dinner while holding class.

"We had read several books on public health and the issues of public health," said Shelby Faircloth, a student who partook in last year's trip. "To see it come to life was really amazing, and it actually prompted a lot of us to say, 'What can we do to really help the situation?' The trip allowed students to see the stark contrast in the health care here and the health care in developing countries."

One of the students in Faircloth's group started an organization to raise money for an ambulance to travel to Huaraz, the city between Lima and Pampas Grande, Faircloth said. It would be about an eight-hour bus ride because of the dirt roads.

Mayes added: "I don't like to use the words 'flippantly life transforming,' but I think the trip had a huge impact. For me, it's been the most fun class I've ever done but also the one I've learned the most in because when you integrate experience in the field, that's when you really have fun and it helps encourage you in your other classes."

Faircloth said that Mayes' passion and enthusiasm was contagious for his students throughout the trip.

"When we were in Lima, he was on fire the entire time," she said. "You could tell how excited he was to be there and be learning about the medical system."

This year, Mayes is co-leading the group with Richmond graduate Jon Alpern, a first-year student at the Medical College of Virginia. Sean McKenna, a pediatrician from MCV, is also accompanying the group to provide care to the villagers in Pampas Grande.

For the first three days, the group will be in Pampas Grande at the Pan Peru Children's Center, where they will research public health services and needs, work with the children and take a trip to the Cabayllo shantytowns.

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The next three days will be spent in Lima, touring public health hospitals and clinics, interviewing public health officials and clinicians. They will also visit Peace Corps, the USAID office, Partners in Health and its partner organization, Socios en Salud.

"There are so many inequalities in our world, and I have been fortunate to have seen very little of them," said Lee Jablow, a student who is going on the trip. "On the other hand, I think there is a lot to be gained from seeing the other side of things. I hope to experience a great deal of personal growth and perspective, and I'm sure that this trip will be a big step in that direction."

The only thing that makes Mayes really nervous about the trip is bus travel in the mountains. Although the group hires professional bus drivers and only travels during the day, there are a couple stretches of road that nobody likes, Mayes said.

Jablow said he has similar apprehensions. "Because Peru's infrastructure is much different from what I am used to, I will have to adjust to riding on a bus with quite a few more bumps, to say the least," he said.

Contact reporter Taylor Engelson at taylor.engelson@richmond.edu

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