Canadian Peruvian Encounter

Carmen Alomía Guía, Coordinator of Providence Associations in Peru with Canadian Providence Associate Wen Bogues.


What a privilege it was to be the Associate who would accompany Sister Gayle Desarmia to Peru. I came to believe it was my most spiritually satisfying journey to date. When I arrived in the wee hours of the morning, the taxi ride from the airport to the Sisters’ home in El Progreso went through a very rundown section of the city. My first impression of Lima was one of “desolation”. I wondered silently, what had I gotten myself into and was I up for this? 

Well, let me tell you. Sisters Sara and Rose-Marie arranged several outings where Gayle and I were to see a selection of our Peruvian Associates in their workplaces or homes. From clinics to schools and in between – daycare, artisan workshops and mental health support groups – we visited the people of Peru. 

As a health care provider myself, our visit to a Centro de Salud – a public Health Centre amazed me. Our host Associate was the physician for the clinic, Dr. Jaime Sosa Aquino. The security guard at the front gate was expecting us and took us to a small clinic office where Jaime met us and gave us a quick tour of the health centre, including the medical records area. Everyone welcomed us. 

In the paediatric unit we were privileged to observe nurses doing “well child” visits back to back with their mother in the room. The “well child” program helps promote the health and well-being of children and youth. The assessment and documentation procedures were very similar to those I have done as a Nurse Practitioner in many settings from southeastern Ontario to Nunavut. Then Jaime collected us and we were allowed to observe him seeing some of his clients. Generally clients are asked to call and are given approximate appointment times for when they will be seen. Sound familiar? But many arrive early and all are prepared to wait for as long as it takes, without complaint. Not familiar, right? 

This was a public clinic in a country without paid health care. Its clientele recognize how lucky they are to receive free care. A large part of Jaime’s clinic time is spent completing paperwork to justify that his clients are deserving of and qualify for free care. What this means is his clients can have tests, prescriptions and referrals to specialists. These are things we take for granted in Canada. Jaime’s clients are more often than not suffering from poverty-driven health care issues. 

Some clients have gone to a non-licensed medical or health practitioner who is easier to see without the required personal documentation. Many are given incorrect diagnosis and/or incorrect treatments. We saw a young teen with a severe ingrown toenail that was treated inadequately with salves and poultices and needed a referral to a day surgery. As well, a baby diagnosed incorrectly with anemia was taken off breast milk and treated with expensive formula. Vital bloodwork finally done proved there was no anemia. Jaime also saw a child with a typical case of what was “most likely strep throat” that he treated with a prescription of antibiotics. The mother was able to fill the prescription for free because Jaime completed forms to qualify the family for antibiotics. Untreated or undertreated this infection can result in rheumatic heart disease.

Sister Gayle and Wen with a Seniors Group at the health centre.

Lastly we spent some time with a Seniors Group who were at the health centre for a special program geared to provide education and social time to reduce isolation. They were using adult colouring books with healthy lifestyle messages, pictures, puzzles and games to test for dementia or to simply stimulate these seniors. A snack of sweet camomile tea and a corn-based sweet treat was provided at the end of the gathering. Their gathering and our visit concluded at the same time so we had a group photo taken at the front of the Centro de Salud. Interestingly, in Canada almost all Community Health Centres have supportive senior programs too. We are a global community in our priority groups.

Somewhere between my concerns of “desolation” and “what had I gotten myself into” came the realization that our Peruvian Associates, their families, friends and clients are among the most resilient people I have met. And we Canadian Associates have some amazing Peruvian Companions on the Journey as we travel “together-apart”. May we find a way to remain connected!