03/2022 by Charlotte Vogtmann
Before I started my volunteer work in Riobamba, I was travelling through Ecuador for two weeks. I spent a couple of days in the capital Quito, trying to get used to the altitude, visited Otavalo, a city north of Quito where you can visit one of the biggest indigenous markets in south Amerika (highly recommended ;)) and Quilotoa, a beautiful crater- lagoon.
After that I went to the coast of Ecuador, because I knew that I will be in the Sierra for one month. The coast ist really beautiful and when you want to catch a lot of sun, go surfing, snorkelling, diving, partying or simply to drink some cocktails at the beach, that’s the place to go. I went to the little town of Puerto Lopez, where I met Amelie (a former volunteer from UFH) by coincidences. We made a trip to the Isla de la Plata (the small Galápagos), where we saw dolphins, turtles and many birds. After that I went to Olón, a quiet beach town with a long beautiful beach and good waves for surfing. Olón is a good place to relax when you need a rest from the busy and famous party town Montañita, which is right next to it. During the Carneval I was in Montañita, which turned out to be very busy and loud and there was a lot of partying on the street. After this weekend, on the first of March I went to Riobamba by bus.
Two weeks I worked with the Fundación Omar Mosquera (FOM) and two weeks with the Fundación Forjando Esperanza (SOFE).
At the FOM we were a team of nine volunteers, eight of them from Spain. All the girls from Spain had done there MIR recently, so they were already doctors, but without any experience. Also two of them were nurses. Sometimes we got supported from an ecuadorian doctor, who normaly works in the private clinic of Omar.
The days a the FOM where always the same. We worked Mondays to Fridays, so the weekends we always free.
Every day we got picked up by people from the Municipio Riobamba with a big truck. In this truck we went to comunidades in the rural area around Riobamba. Sometimes we also did brigadas in the city of Riobamba. The drive to the comunidades was from time to time very adventurousness and took for ages (up to 2h). Most of the time we were situated in school rooms to consult the patients. Because o the fact that there weren’t many people at the comunidades we mostly worked in teams of two people. That was really useful for me, because I struggled sometimes to understand the people. Most of the people had joint pain, back pain, headaches, vaginal and urine infections, as well as a cold and the majority of the children had worms. So most of the time we’ve given the people Ibuprofen, Paracetamol, some Antibiotics and Albendazol for the children. There was not possibility for more diagnostics, such as blood analytics, ultrasound or ECG. That was sometimes a bit discouraging, also the fact that none of the patient had a document of clinical history and we just saw the patient one time, so we couldn’t help them long term. When a patient needed more diagnostic or a different treatment, we sent them to the clinic of Omar which is located in Riobamba, but most of the people couldn’t afford that. During the consultation we also explained the people that they need to drink more water, eat healthy and basic hygienic things. In my opinion the brigadas would have a bigger impact, if the FOM would offer work shops of prevention and courses of health education. We suggested this to Omar, but nothing changed. In general Omar wasn’t there many times, I think I have seen him 3 times at the brigadas and it felt like we are doing volunteer work at the Municipio of Riobamba and not the FOM. The brigadas last more or less two till four hours, after that we got lunch, mostly rice with chicken. While working we all felt all a bit lost, because there was no possibility to talk to an experienced doctor, but with AMBOSS and the spanish people had a similar application we survived.
I really like the idea of the work which is realised by the FOM, but unfortunately it wasn’t organised well and often we were waiting without knowing what was going on. On top of that we had some problems with Omar because of the living situation. But because of the fact that we were a big group and got along very well, I really did enjoy this two weeks.
The time with SOFE was different. I was the only not ecuadorian volunteer. The first days we went to schools outside the city of Riobamba to check on the kids. We measured the heights and weight, entered this in percentile curves and did a quick clinical check up of the kids. All of them received Albendazol and those who were very low with the height and weight some vitamins. This was very well structured (what I really enjoyed after the chaotic time at the FOM) and I worked side by side with Abdon, so I could always ask an experienced doctor when I was insure.
The following week I had my main project. We offered a course of first aid at a school for children and teenager with visual impairment. First I was a bit taken by surprise and had a lot of respect, how am I going to realise that. We also didn’t have any material. But then I had many ideas and at the end I really enjoyed the course and the I was sad to leave the school on the last day.
During the time with SOFE Sandra and me we always cooked lunch together. She taught me many recipes from Ecuador, also all vegetarian!
The afternoons we SOFE were different everyday. I never really new what was going on. One day we visited some women in prison and on others we visited families and children, who live in precarious conditions. We did little health check ups or brought them food or other things they needed. I think to support, accompany and encourage people in difficult life situation’s is very important. Also to show people, who are alone or in pain, that somebody cares makes a lot of sense.
The days with SOFE were always very long (from 8/9 till 18) and sometimes I sat in the house of SOFE with nothing to do, just waiting till something happens. I used this time to prepare my courses, but sometimes I felt a bit useless.
The Saturdays were always free, because that’s the days when Sandra and Abdon are going to church. On Sundays we went to Comunidades as well to provide gynaecological screening. One doctor took the swab test of Papanicolou and in the meantime while the women were waiting I hold a presentation of Cervix- and Breast Cancer. Among others I explained, how to perform a palpation examination of the breast on your own. That was exhausting, because the woman didn’t come all the same time, so I hold the same presentation over and over again for maybe 20 times. But it was nice and also really useful. A couple of woman told us, that they never had heard this before. So I really got the feeling that what I am doing has a big impact.
All the people who work with SOFE are very kind, always offer to help and enjoyed sharing their culture. I am grateful for all the people I’ve met and all the things I have learned, although I didn’t learn much medical stuff.
During the whole month I lived in an flat with five of the spanish girls from the FOM. Our landlady Teresa was the best, she loved having us and sharing her culture and food. She supported us in all things like buying at the market, withdrawing money, organising our weekend trips ect.
But in general all the people from both projects were very kind, open and helpfull. Because of that I was easy to get to know the ecuadorian culture.
On the first two weekend I went with the other volunteers from the FOM to Puyo (what’s close to the rainforest) and to Cuenca, where we met Veronika. On my free Saturdays I went to Baños and I did a tour to Chimborazo with Angel.
Thanks to everybody for this awesome experience and the people who made this possible for me.