Twenty years ago Santos crushed the bone in his thumb when he fell onto a rock. The injury became a festering wound, the bone was infected, yet he never received medical treatment.

Though Santos suffered constant pain in the hand, he continued to cultivate potatoes to keep his family fed. He still manages to transport heavy loads of potatoes from the steep fields on mountain slopes back to his home by modifying the use of the compromised hand.

Lack of Resources and Cultural Norms

It may seem strange that Santos never sought medical assistance to clean the chronically festering wound in his thumb, a wound that eventually resulted in deformity and a bone infection.

We must consider the lack of resources in Q’ero villages and the attitudes of the villagers toward medical treatment from outsiders.

Social, Economic and Geographical Isolation

The Q’ero people, though revered by the western world for their spiritual practices, are disdained by the general Peruvian population for their “backward” ways and “primitive” way of life. Lacking education and fluency in Spanish, the Q’ero have had no voice to urge the Peruvian government to provide them basic human services of health care, clean water, sanitation, or education. It is easy to ignore the silent ones.

Had Santos traveled down the mountain to a public clinic, he’d have to hike over fifty miles, arrange a place to sleep and purchase food for the journey. Without the means to handle these expenses, few people from the villages can access the public clinic.

Had the infection become septic, Santos most likely would not have traveled for urgent medical care. The Q’ero people carry fear of hospitals and modern medicine, because they have observed that some of their neighbors who have gone for urgent care — usually at the last hour — have died in treatment.

It is an unfortunate correlation, but one must consider the context of oppression and mistreatment that native Q’ero people have endured when considering their mistrust of outside interventions.

Change Can Be a Slow Process

Taking the first step can be frightening for Q’ero people who have never seen a doctor. It is hard for the mountain people to trust Peruvians who come from the social class that has oppressed and enslaved the Q’ero people for five hundred years. As recently as 1970, the hacienda system controlled all the land, animals, and people living within each 600 square miles of the hacienda. Institutional classism and racism against native Andean people continues to be a strong oppressive force keenly felt by Q’ero people.

Bridging Change, Building Trust

Our Peruvian representative, Bertha Ramirez Rozas, has been a constant ally for the Q’ero communities.Her regular presence in the villages has forged a trusting relationship with the people.

Bertha frequently checks in on families and guides them with resources and health advice.

She also actively lobbies the Peruvian Ministry of Health to get involved and contract with Heart Walk Foundation to provide services for the native Q’ero people.

Santos finally received treatment in July, 2018, after twenty years of suffering. HWF expedition volunteer Brian Lehr, RN, (Hendersonville, NC) treated the wound, removing the filthy rag serving as a bandage that Santos admitted had not been changed in two months.

Santos was grateful that Brain cleaned and bandaged his wound in spite of the pain during the procedure. Brian taught him how to keep it clean and change the bandages at home. He blushed at the attention and concern the volunteers showed him. We hope he gathered his courage to visit the doctor and nurse funded by Heart Walk Foundation for follow-up treatment until the wound closes permanently. Our team will be eager to see him during the May 2019 expedition.

Alchemy in the Andes: A Trek of Transformation

Meet Santos and other Q’ero people in this tender and inspiring story of the hardships and the joys during the July 2018 volunteer expedition.

Six bold volunteers tell their story of their high altitude expedition to give service to the native Q’ero people living above 12,000 feet.

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“A burden shared is only half a trouble. Joy shared is joy made double.”
— Michelle Shocked

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