Christine Balistreri '11

Christine Balistreri is an economics and environmental studies major from Mequon, Wis. She applied for a Johnson Opportunity Grant to spend her summer as a medical intern at the Wichanzao Clinic in Peru, where she assists local doctors while gaining an understanding of healthcare systems in developing nations. A leader of Washington and Lee's Reformed University Fellowship (RUF), Balisteri has already spent time learning about health care in developing nations during W&L's Spring Term abroad in Ghana in 2009. There, she learned about the health crises affecting the nation and visited various Ghanaian health centers.


Every morning at 6:30 a.m. I awake to an orchestra of car horns produced by the never-ending fleet of taxis, micros, combies, and collectivos buzzing down the main street, España, right outside my apartment. By 7:00 a.m., the booming sermon from the Evangelical church two buildings down vibrates through the thin walls and serves as a gentle reminder that I must head out to the medical clinic soon. I find a collectivo marked B and quickly hop inside. After fifteen-minutes of anxiety as the driver zig-zags the packed car through traffic, I hand him a sol (the equivalent of 30 cents) and then walk the rest of the way through the Wichenzao neighborhood.

On a normal day, I head directly to the clinic where my duties fluctuate from being a nurse, a dental assistant, a pharmacy assistant or an aid in the office. I typically spend half my time in triage, where I take the patients' personal information including family history, medical history, immunizations, address, age, pulse, blood pressure, temperature, height and weight--all in Spanish. The other half of my time I spend assisting Angel, the dentist, upstairs. This happens to be one of my favorite parts of the morning. Working side by side with him has been the best way for me to feel at ease while practicing my Spanish and to impart upon him basic medical vocabulary in English that he needs to learn for his upcoming conference in the US.

Although this reflects a typical day, the most memorable days of my job occurred while assisting a weeklong medical campaign in Parque Industrial. Driving into the neighborhood, I immediately noticed the overwhelming poverty that the inhabitants live in for their entire lives. Roofless adobe brick houses that are cluttered with piles of garbage line the streets. Packs of stray dogs roam through the neighborhoods, the stench from a sewage leak permeates the air, and the sand kicked up from the wind whipping through this desert town coats everything in a layer of dust. Without any real buildings in the area, we pull over to the side on one of the roads to set up five tents for the campaign.

Almost immediately, we have a long line of patients anxiously awaiting a visit with one of the three American doctors. After the first wave of patients finishes with the doctors, my job begins. I carefully help the nurse at the pharmacy table fill the prescriptions and then translate the dosage and instructions into Spanish for the patient. In my opinion, the gratitude seen in the patient's eyes make this step the best part of the process. Upon leaving the doctor, their faces light up with a huge and uncontrollable smile. At the pharmacy station, their gratitude continues to grow. As I handed one man a celebrex prescription, he firmly shook my hand, asked for a picture with me, and then proceeded to shake the fifteen other volunteers' hands as if he had won the lottery. By two o'clock, we saw sixty-five more patients who all told us little tales from their lives.

Heading back into Trujillo, I must mentally readjust to all that has occurred this morning. The biggest and most difficult disease to cure, which nearly every patient suffers from, is poverty. Although we may have made a difference in the patients' lives in the short term, the fact of the matter is that we do not have the power to repair the problems in their community that make them susceptible to worms, stomach parasites, foot fungus, asthma or arthritis from intensive manual labor. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that in the following years, the medical clinic's influence on the surrounding communities will be able to spread awareness of precautionary measures to take in order to minimize these common illnesses.

When I return to downtown Trujillo, I join the other interns who work at Synergia (the micro-finance program) and at the Wichenzao School for a late lunch and a Spanish lesson. Afterwards, the other half of my job begins as I instruct a group of thirteen Peruvians in two conversation-based English classes for students ages sixteen to sixty-five. The relaxed nature of the classes lets me ask basically any question, allowing me to learn about Peruvian culture while they practice their English. We discuss topics such as the politics of Peru, controversial issues, their opinions on marriage, and gender roles in society. I really appreciate their openness as they speak what they truly believe.

By seven, my workday finally comes to an end, which means the chifa (Chinese) or chicken sandwiches await us on our walk back to the apartment. Dinner is followed by a soccer game with my new Peruvian friends. Although the workday is  long, I love every minute of it and eagerly anticipate the unexpected experiences that await me each day. As a college student, I feel extremely blessed to be able to spend a summer exploring the field I hope to pursue after graduation.