Bienvenidos a Barrio Feliu - A guest blog entry!
It is amazing that just a few moments drive from our residence in Consuelo is the "Barrio Feliu" or neighborhood Feliu. We were there on a mission to give out anti-parasite medication to the children that live there and the person who prepares the food in their households. Parasitic infections are very common in this population and contribute to malnutrition, anemia and many other problems.
We got off the bus and started down the rutted muddy track. We had had a torrential downpour the night before and the mud was thick and deep, forming a coating on our shoes as we started off, picking our way in between the puddles.
We went from house to house, led by Lara, our Global Health fellow and Ramona, a nurse at the Ninos Primeros program. Both are very familiar with the families who live there through their involvement in the Ninos Primeros Program. This program is focused on providing primary care to the children of Feliu and another Barrio.
The people were incredibly welcoming, many inviting us into their homes, which are mainly cinder block structures or slabs of corrugated metal held together with nails, wire or other odds and ends. We explained what we were doing and doled out two pills of albendazole for everyone who needed the medication. Many children popped both pills in their mouth as soon as we told them to take them and swallowed them down without water.
After we handed out the medicine we asked if they would like to hear a little "charla" or talk about parasitic infections and how to prevent them. All were interested in learning. Once we got the go ahead we pulled out the notebook full of educational materials detailing the most common symptoms of parasitic infections and how to prevent them, and ended with some photos of various worms.
It was amazing the attention that was focused on the pages - a number of people read along, children gathered around, some pulling the notebook lower in order to see the pictures. After we presented the information we sometimes asked if we could take a picture of the family. One woman paused and then spoke with hesitation: she did not want her photo taken because her hair was not done yet, could we wait a minute. She ran inside and came out coiffed and posed for a beautiful photo of her holding her infant.
As we passed from one home to another, we had a following of children asking for us to "sacar fotos" or take pictures. They would pose happily and then run over to see the digital image on the camera. Many of the children were shoeless, some wore shabby clothes and others merely underwear.
At one point we passed an older man on his motorcycle. He tapped my shoulder and asked if I would take a picture of him. I was happy to oblige. As I put the camera up to my face to take the picture he sat tall on the seat of his "motococho" and flashed a handsome smile, despite the many gaps from missing teeth. He of course, asked to see the photo also. After admiring the image, he began to tell me about the aches and pains in his arms and legs and asked if I had medicine that I could give to him also. It broke my heart to say no, but all we had today was albendazole.
As we wound our way through the barrio, we were welcomed by all. Not one family turned down medication or education. Many blessed us, offered us seats and one family even tried to use some of their precious water to clean our feet, very biblical. We visited over sixty families, carefully documenting all who received medication. We encouraged all to wash hands with soap and water many times a day and boil their water, as the water supply to the barrio is not purified.
The last people we met at Feliu were an elderly couple we saw trekking down the path with large bundles on their heads. They were holding hands, and when the woman let go of her husband's hand he drifted off the path. This old man was blind and they both looked to be at least in their seventies. They were on the way to work in the fields, but were happy to stop and chat with us. A testament to the incredible fortitude of some people.
Our journey left us all hot, sweaty and hungry. We boarded the air conditioned bus that was waiting for us with eagerness. It was easy for us to be transported out, in stark contrast to many that have no way out of the barrio.