Tag Archives: Peru

325 Bags of Cement Later, Antonio Fernandez, Builds a Basketball Court in Peru

Antonio Fernandez is a national proposal consultant with Kaiser Permanente. Last month, Antonio and 12 of his Kaiser Permanente colleagues traveled to Cerro Blanco, Peru to build basketball courts for Courts for Kids, a non-profit organization that partners with local communities to provide athletic opportunities for children.
We arrived in the village of Cerro Blanco, Peru on Saturday, August 16th, after more than eight hours in flights and a two-hour bus ride. Our group was met by Chris Cobb, the director from Courts for Kids, and a few Peace Corps volunteers, led by Kristen Jackson. We stepped off the bus and were greeted by the Group with workerspeople of the town, who were lined up waiting for us, with big hugs and even kisses on the cheek. No one in the town spoke English. The Courts for Kids group would be relying heavily on about four people to translate any communication that took place all week long.

We were well fed all week long. I heard that the village didn’t have a lot of funds to put towards the court, so much of their contribution came in the form of feeding our group and providing a lot of manual labor. Most of the food I believe, especially the meat, was raised right on the farm where we stayed. We ate meat almost every meal, which we heard was not common in developing countries like Peru. On one of the days, our volunteers Kathy Pantele and Angelica Velasco pitched in and made ceviche, a seafood dish wStove (Medium)ith its origins in Peru.

The morning following our arrival, the volunteers were up and ready to work at 9 a.m. After a minor setback—not having gasoline for the cement-mixer—the group finally started moving cement at about 10:30 and by noon we had finished the first square. The 25×30 meter court consisted of approximately 65 squares.   At the pace we started out at, it looked like we might get ten squares done by the end of the week.

Halfway through the week we found out that the contractor, the people of the village and almost anyone who lived in the immediate area and knew about the court didn’t believe that a group of volunteers would ever finish a court in a week. I never had a doubt. I have done many volunteer projects with Kaiser Permanente employees and I know that they always show up and give everything they have and then a little bit more. This group was no different.

By the end of Monday we had completed 17 more squares. After two half days of IMG_5473 (Medium)work, the group was nearly halfway done with the whole court. The energy at the end of the day was high and the group bragged about its work. We talked about the idea of being able to maybe finish by mid-week.

On Wednesday, I was totally bummed because I contracted some sort of a stomach bug. However, thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, by late Thursday morning I was back up on my feet again. I even jumped in and helped the group as we began to fill the last few squares. I found out quickly though that whatever bacteria I contracted, I was pretty well wiped out still. After about an hour of tough manual labor I stepped aside and let the healthier volunteers do the work.

Completed court with mayorsThe court was completed by Friday. Not only did we finish a court that was about one-quarter bigger than it was supposed to be, but we did it in only two and a half days’ time. Well, really five half-days. For most of the volunteers on the trip, I joked, “It was the toughest half a week most of us ever worked in our lives.”

Our statistics for the week included the following:

  • We emptied nearly 325 bags of cement, which weighed about 100 pounds each.
  • Each batch of cement filled about eight wheelbarrows. Each square needed about five batches.
  • I estimated that we also dumped approximately 1950 buckets of the sand and rocks, each bucket weighing probably close to 50 pounds, and almost 650 buckets of water.
  • In the end, we emptied about 2600 wheelbarrow loads of mixed cement.

For most of the volunteers, it was the hardest week of manual labor they have ever worked.IMG_5834 (Medium)

The first week back from the Peru I was stuck in existential crises mode like I usually am after going on a volunteer trip. I often pondered the previous week’s events and wondered what impact I made and if it was enough. It finally came to me after a few days of running it over and over in my head. The court was only one of the things that could have a big impact on the village. The new court might help generate some money to bring much needed improvements to the village. It could also attract others to come and live there, building a bigger community. It will definitely be a great place for the kids to play safely and for the community to hold events.

What came to me as I thought about what else might change the village was the story about a group of volunteers who showed up from thousands of miles away and gave themselves selflessly to a cause, asking for nothing in return.

After the trip, I asked some of our volunteers to reflect on how it affected them. Here is what they had to say:

Denise Dorado, is a Mammography Technologist at our Santa Clarita Medical Offices.“This was my very first volunteer trip of any kind and I must say I’ve learned I truly do feel a balance in my life when I help others. My job consist of helping others but there is nothing in this world like actually paying out of your own pocket to help others and in return receive smiles, hugs, laughter, joy.”

Ly P. Rivera, is a Change Management and Communications Analyst with our Pleasanton Medical Offices. “This trip incited my passion for altruism and, thus, I have decided with my family, that every vacation will be merged with a service project, as social needs exist almost anywhere at different scales.”

Donating supplies to the school

To Recognize National Doctors’ Day, An Interview with Hernando Garzon, MD

Saturday, March 30, is National Doctors’ Day. Since this blog was created to share our caregivers’ thoughts about their relief missions worldwide, it’s appropriate for National Doctors’ Day to recall the work many of them do abroad on their own time, serving populations after natural and manmade disasters.

One of the physicians who knows this work best is Hernando Garzon, MD. Dr.

Arif Seyal, MD, provides assistance to a mother and child.

Arif Seyal, MD, provides assistance to a mother and child.

Garzon is the director of Kaiser Permanente Global Health Programs, an emergency room physician at Kaiser Permanente Sacramento (Calif.) Medical Center, and the medical director of Sacramento County Emergency Medical Services.

Dr. Garzon was among the first physicians on the ground in Haiti following the 7.0 earthquake in January 2010 that left more than 220,000 dead. His initial dispatches from Port-au-Prince formed the basis of the “Dispatches From Haiti” blog, from which this blog is derived.

Dr. Garzon joined The Permanente Medical Group in 1992 and, three years later, was dispatched with a search and rescue team to the bombing of the Alfred R. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, in which 168 people were killed. Dr. Garzon’s relief missions have taken him from New Orleans (Hurricane Katrina) to Myanmar (Cyclone Nargis), and many places in between.

He sat down for this interview in late March, just weeks prior to departing for a mission to Central America. He talked about what Kaiser Permanente caregivers’ relief efforts abroad mean to both the populations served and the people of Kaiser Permanente who volunteer.

In your experience, what roles do doctors play in disaster relief efforts beyond providing medical care?

During relief efforts, people may come for medical attention and also ask, “Can you help me find my cousin?” or, “Can you help me find my sister?” In

Hernando Garzon, MD, helps out with relief efforts in Peru.

Hernando Garzon, MD, helps out with relief efforts in Peru.

the spirit of humanitarian relief, we do whatever we can. Frequently, we build contacts with not just the health care, but everything else. Depending on the organization we work with we get involved with other programs—water sanitation, distribution of non-food items, those sorts of things. We try to meet the other needs as well. Every disaster has been different.

During the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, I felt very much like an ambassador for the United States. Pakistanis were shocked that we would come to help them. So we also serve a peace-building, ambassador-type of role.

What and when was your first disaster relief mission?

I joined Urban Search and Rescue when I started working for Kaiser Permanente. The first major deployment was the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995. The search and rescue system had been designed to respond to earthquakes—we weren’t thinking at the time about terrorism, but it turned out that was the first response we did. I was very much a novice to the whole idea of disaster response to begin with. The thing that made Oklahoma hard for all of our rescuers was that it wasn’t a natural disaster, it was a man-made disaster. We tried to come to grips with what it would be like to go though the devastation. We were one of the first teams in before the sunset on that day. We spent essentially three weeks there going through the rubble.

What made you volunteer again?

I’ve certainly been to bigger events [than the Oklahoma City bombing], including 9/11 and evacuating New Orleans. But Oklahoma City has had the most impact on me. I realized then that we were serving a very vital function to help a community in crisis deal with the aftermath of the terrorist event and what an important role the Urban Search and Rescue system played.

 In your relief missions you often work side-by-side with physicians in host countries, and doctors from around the world. What have you learned from those experiences, both in the practice of medicine and as it regards our cultural differences?

It’s really fascinating. You can’t separate the cultural differences and the cultures they’re from and the practice of medicine. There’s definitely a kinship and a camaraderie when you’re there working alongside local health care providers.

Usually the American healthcare providers that come along for these events have so much more training than our international counterparts. They frequently look to us as the experts. We may have more years of residency training, but most of our people aren’t familiar with the environment they’re going into. We have less experience dealing with tropical disease. It’s usually a wonderful working relationship – they want to learn from us and work alongside us, and we learn from them.

What value do you think our caregivers bring back from relief missions abroad? Do you see your colleagues working differently or viewing the world differently after they return, and if so, how does that benefit their practice and Kaiser Permanente?

What each person takes away is really quite personal. I did exit interviews for all who went to Haiti. I was very surprised when I asked them how the experience was and the first 10 of 12 said it was life-changing. That was a universal experience for them.

For myself, it has changed not only the person I am but the way I do my work. I have a very different and deeper kind of compassion for my patients. I think it’s very much reaffirming for why we went into health care—to take care of people.

Editor’s note: While difficult to spotlight any single caregiver’s dispatches, we’ve gathered a few here that we think represent the spirit with which Dr. Garzon saluted his fellow Kaiser Permanente caregivers and their contributions:

Vivian Reyes, MD

Suzy Fitzgerald, MD

Mary Sue Carlson, MD

Jay Bachicha, MD

What is it like leaving a disaster relief site?

The thing that always defines the end of those missions is that it’s always very bittersweet and very surreal. I think on one level many of us—myself I know for certain—are ready to go home after we’ve worked two, three, four weeks 24/7 in the intensity of a disaster situation. We’re spent. We’re ready to rest and relax and see family again and have some elements of normalcy. But frequently it’s very hard to let go when you know the need is so great. As hard as we work as individuals, we’re still a drop in a much larger ocean.

Many of our volunteers have returned to Haiti. They’ve gone back to help in other ways after the earthquake. They’ve built upon the work they did there the first time.

Do you have any plans to volunteer abroad this year?

I’ve planned a trip to Honduras in April and May. I’m hoping to end up back in Burma at the end of the year. That will be my second trip in two years there.