Volunteer Opportunities Esperanza Village Health Place Visit

Toni Thompson

No vacation is complete without a visit to local therapy facilities. And a vacation to the Peruvian jungle is no exception. On our recent 11 day trip to Peru, my 17 year old daughter, 22 year old son and I spent a day providing occupational therapy services in the Amazon village of "Esperanza," which means "Hope." We enjoyed five adventurous days at Amazonia Expenditions Lodge on the Tahuayo River, a tributary of the Amazon River. The owners of the Lodge, Paul and Dolly Beaver, offer all interested travelers the opportunity to bring needed basic school supplies, provide medical equipment, offer volunteer services, and participate in social interactive activities in local villages. The lodge manager, Rolex, has developed excellent relationships with all the villages and coordinates volunteer activities, parties, distribution of health care supplies, school supplies, clothing and toys.

We journeyed to Esperanza about 3 hours by speedboat into the jungle from the last city, Iquitos. We arrived in our motorboat and headed to the "Puesto de Salud" or "Health Place." Local transportation is usually the family dugout canoe.

In two rooms, Jorge serves as the Sanitario or Tecnico de Enfermeria, Health Technician. He provides total health care services for 560 people in Esperanza and a few other neighboring villages, doing everything from pulling teeth, delivering babies, tending wounds to his current task of tending to a teenager who was bitten by a poisonous snake last week. No electricity. No refrigeration. After the tour Jorge offers us, we wait for children with handicaps to show up. And we wait. Often the children are hidden away.


Finally one woman with a 12 day old baby comes forward. Her little girl shows tight bilateral club feet. The woman quickly learns the exercises for her daughter's feet and Jorge reinforces the importance of these exercises. I also show him how to check all the newborns for correct hip position. My son suggests some type of orthosis for the girl's feet, especially the left one, which would be a great candidate for a Ponsetti procedure, a nick on the Achilles tendon, and casting. There is no cast material. So my son and I design makeshift orthoses out of tongue depressors. My daughter pads the distal and proximal ends with a little gauze. We use the little baby's socks to hold her orthoses in place and tie her ankles with a gauze piece. We wait a little longer. Rolex assures us that there are some more children who could benefit form occupational therapy.


Other travelers join the villagers in the main plaza where the children dance, sing, and per form and then enjoy receiving holiday gifts, toys, and clothing. And we wait a little more. In a bit, more mothers bring their children, all delivered at home by Jorge, and all with cerebral palsy from prematurity or meningitis. We spend the day showing dressing techniques, practicing hand-over-hand methods for feeding, and using the corners of rooms for positioning devices in the absence of tables and chairs.

After a great day of work, we head back to the lodge for a nocturnal jungle walk, survival camping, and early morning bird and otter watching. Good news travels fast and soon people stop by the lodge for therapy advice. One man lost his leg three years in a work-related accident chopping trees. He cannot do his job as well as before and needs to take care of his mother. Despite some good suggestions for modifications in his work routine, he really prefers to have a new leg. We research to find that a prosthetic limb must be made in Lima. That is a three hour speedboat ride, a two hour plane ride, and a few thousand dollars-it may as well be a million dollars-away. So now our prosthetic intern at Shriners Hospitals for Children is gathering the parts from his personal prostheses to help the man get a leg.

To donate medical and therapy equipment or to volunteer during a jungle visit, contact Dolly Beaver at www.perujungle.com or amazonia.expeditions@verizon.net. Or 10305 Riverburn Drive, Tampa, FL 33647 1-800-262-9669

Hogar Clinica San Juan de Dios Iquitos

We started our jungle adventure from the town of Iquitos, Peru, riding three hours down the Amazon River and then on to the Tahuayo River. Five days of observing animals in the wild, one night of survival camping (ok-we cheated, we made chicken soup and scrambled eggs), and learning not to fear larva, tarantulas, and HUGE poison frogs.

And we ended our adventure back in Iquitos. Again, the lodge owners arranged for us to visit the local therapy center. The Hogar Clinica San Juan de Dios Iquitos boasts a comprehensive center with several physical therapists, one speech therapist, a psychologist, a neurologist, a physiatrist, and an educator. The center qualifies for one speech therapist but not for an occupational therapist, even though they are hopeful to have a fulltime one soon. The facilities include extensive modalities, outdoor parallel bars a pool, and several treatment rooms. The philosophy is simple: charge the adults who can pay to cover the services for children who cannot afford to pay. The center is one of more than 220 San Juan de Dios Centers in the world.

Every Thursday, the entire medical team packs up all their supplies and a generator and then boards their clinic boat to head out to villages. In 2005, they provided services to 45 villages that had never received health care services. The director/physical therapist Miguel Angel Hernandez Caceres happily received our contribution of several pediatric walkers, forearm crutches, ankle foot orthoses, and reverse last shoes. He stresses the need for forearm crutches, which are quite scarce in this area. To volunteer on a longer term basis or to find out more about the San Juan de Dios organization, contact Miguel at adelfosmahc@hotmail.com or www.sanjuandedios.org.

Hogar San Francisco de Asisi, Apartado 80052, Chaclacayo-Lima, Peru

Dr. Anthony Lazarra, MD, SFO, a pediatrician from St. Petersburg, FL, relocated to Peru in 1983, to head up this Home for 40-plus infants and children. Most of the children have families who are unable to finance their medical needs and nutritional needs after surgery or during on-going medical procedures. Several of the 12 infants currently at the Hogar have received complex cleft palate surgery and are receiving speech therapy services. Older children, with diagnoses of cerebral palsy, neurofibromatosis, and developmental delay, share large rooms lined with bunk beds.


Most of the children attend public schools, but for the few who cannot attain the levels required in the local schools, the Hogar offers a school program.

The physical therapy area includes a jacuzzi pool . A pleasant garden area hosts a play area for toddlers and school-age children and a sitting area for adolescents. The Hogar is financed by private donations. Health care professionals, including occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech pathologists, nurses, teachers, and aides are welcome as volunteers for any period of time. Many international volunteers come for as little as a week. Housing and food are provided in the facility. For more information, please contact Dr. Lazzara at anth_lazz@yahoo.com, or www.villalapazfoundation.org, 2600 Dr. M.L. King Jr. St. North, Suite 300, St. Petersburg, FL 33704-2744.

About the Author:

Toni Thompson, Senior II Occupational Therapist, has been employed by Shriners Hospitals for Children, Tampa FL for 21 years. She is also an instructor for International Educational Resources, Evanston IL and presents Pediatric Splinting Seminars. Her son Alexander Rangel, a senior at the University of Florida, and her daughter Vanessa Rangel, a sophomore and soccer team member at the University of Florida, actively participated in the Peru volunteer activities.

Toni Thompson, MA, OTR/L, BCP
5003 West Spring Lake Drive
Tampa, FL 33629
Photos: Vanessa Rangel & Toni Thompson