SPA 204, Spanish for Caravan in Ecuador, students worked hard to provide healthcare to children who would not otherwise receive it. On Saturday March 11th they traveled to Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city. The very next day they began their journey to the Riobamba area in the Andes stopping only once during the 4.5 hour trip to visit a cacao farm.
Once in Riobamba, the heart of the country, they immediately began with preparations to visit 5 different schools in communities located in the Chimborazo province. Each caravan day started with the organization of the childrens' screening stations. Everybody worked hard to be ready before 7:00 am in order to begin screening the kids as they arrived at the schools. After having to rise extremely early on the first days of travel, the students felt like they were now on vacation, but much work lay ahead.
Never having seen a doctor much less having an eye screening, the children were understandably very curious and full of questions. The group visited with children from 3 to 18 years of age. It was endearing to work with the young ones, but it was also very rewarding to be able to have conversations with the older children and to have the opportunity to play soccer or ecuavóley (a form of volleyball invented by Ecuadorians) during the course of the very long and intense days of screening.
All of the students were able to work in each station throughout the week. Some of the children with particular
issues, would need to see the doctors who would decide if they needed glasses or other interventions. The group was lucky to have 3 pediatric ophthalmologists and an optician who let the kids choose frames after getting their prescriptions. About 20% of the children screened needed glasses. The hospital that the group works with in Riobamba, Fibsupam, currently has the ability to make the lenses and, in a month or less, over 300 children will get their glasses for free!
Princeton students, together with the Conestoga Eye Group and Fibuspam, are giving the gift of sight! Unable to read or see the board, without glasses or surgery, many of those children will have to leave school and perpetuate the cycle of poverty. The team also identified some conditions that can be treated at the clinic, with planned surgeries, like many cases of strabismus.
Not only did the students work tirelessly and efficiently, but they were also extremely respectful and caring when dealing with the children. At the Princeton farewell dinner, Dr. Siegel, one of the doctors who worked with the team, says goodbye to the students with these powerful words: "a pediatric eye doctor sees an average of 4000 kids annually. We saw 1924 in 5 days thanks to you. You should all be very proud”.
The course provides students with opportunities to reflect during their trip through a group blog to which they posted while on site. Even as the semester continues, they will miss Ecuador, but their work will continue as they reflect on their experiences and delve deeper into this fascinating country.