In early March, as one of Grounds for Health’s new Program Managers, I made my way to Peru for my first Grounds for Health trip to the field. After many travel delays due to snow in Vermont followed by rain in Peru, I was beyond happy to be greeted in Jaen four days later by Martha Pineda Guerrero and Cristely Mejia Cordova, Grounds for Health’s Peru staff. Over the next three weeks, we would visit numerous communities throughout La Coipa district to support recently trained community health promoters, helping them give community talks on cervical cancer prevention and recruit women for a screen-and-treat campaign in April.
Community engagement is a pillar in the Grounds for Health model and is critical to the success of reducing barriers to access for women in rural, hard-to-reach places.
On one of these trips, in the community of Flor de Selva—six hours by truck off the main road and deep into the mountains of the Sierra Selva—the community health promoters held a talk one evening for women and men that had been working in the fields during the day.
In addition to a group of mothers, there were various other community members in attendance. One man came while his wife stayed home to put their children to bed, and after listening to the promoters—his neighbors—talk about the importance of screening and treatment, he signed up his wife on the spot for the April campaign.
Another attendant, a 16-year old boy, listened intently while the promoter explained the female reproductive system, cervical cancer, and VIA and cryotherapy. He was the first person to stand up after the talk and enroll his mother for the campaign. To think – a 16 year old boy living 6 hours from the nearest paved road in Peru learning about cervices! I was amazed and inspired.
At the end of those three weeks, I was joined by another new Program Manager Ariel Irene Delaney, the previous Senior Program Officer Rebecca Singer (who is now Executive Director at Coffee Kids), and Suzanne Germain, a devoted and long-time clinical volunteer. (It was Suzanne’s 9th campaign!)
Along with the cancer control coordinator from the local Ministry of Health and two local providers trained in 2012-2013, we executed a one-day refresher training in VIA and cryotherapy for 10 local providers. The lead cervical cancer trainer for Peru’s National Cancer Institute also attended, enabling a powerful and productive exchange of information between the national trainer setting policy and the local providers putting it into practice.
The training was followed by a four-day campaign, during which our deeply committed cooperative partners—CENFROCAFE, Sol y Café, and CAC La Prosperidad de Chirinos—provided transportation for women from the rural communities and partner support to Grounds for Health. In all, the providers screened 255 women, and all but one of the 23 VIA-positive and cryotherapy-eligible women were treated on the same day. I remain humbled and proud of what we were able to accomplish in such a short time – and in a relatively calm manner! – due to the impressive teamwork, skill, and devotion of the local providers, coffee cooperatives, volunteers, and Grounds for Health staff.
Since the campaign ended, Peru staff have been following up with any referrals and delivering Pap results to women who were ineligible for VIA. All women have received appropriate care to prevent cervical cancer and have been able to resume their normal, healthy lives – just in time for the coffee harvest!