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I got back to Lima with just enough time to catch a cab to my hotel, grab some coffee and a shower and put on my professional clothes. We grabbed yet another taxi and headed to CARE’s offices in Lima. Located in a beautiful colonial mansion, CARE-Peru employs approximately 80 people in a variety of capacities, all focused on alleviating poverty in all its many facets. I met Doris, introduced as the glue and grease of the office; the woman who gets stuff done. I also met Maria Luz Perez, communications director and, of course, my friend Elena Esquiche, National Maternal Health Adviser for CARE, Peru (who traveled with me to Ayacucho).
We were joined by several staff members for a round-table discussion about my experience in Ayacucho and Vilcashuaman; how CARE works and why these people are so passionate about what they do. Maybe that seems like a big "duh"—the cause of improving women’s health and poor people’s lives is a big enough magnet. The discussion, however, took on the theme of how people keep going—working hard, giving their all to what they believe in despite the work causing great personal hardship, exhaustion and expense to their own lives. We talked about the problem of staff retention at the clinics and hospitals outside Lima. When you have to work six days a week but only get paid for two, you’re likely to burn out. When you work so hard in a poor community to the point where you have to sacrifice your own family-life, wellbeing and personal goals, eventually, something’s gotta give.
One of the doctors I talked with out in the mountains (I’m not going to identify him because I don’t want to make things harder for his family-life) lived in a rented apartment with his wife (one of the midwives). They both worked the intense hours their job demanded but have decided not to have their own children. Why? Because they knew they wouldn’t be able to spend any time with their children who’d have to live in this impoverished community. So why have them? Their jobs took it all. He said he’d probably take a job back in Lima soon so that he could improve his own quality of life. I’d asked Dr. Ricardo how they addressed the problems of recruiting and retaining staff. He said, “That’s a problem. I don’t know how that will be solved.”
For all that we Americans work hard, few of us work that hard. Most of us have the ability to pour it on at the office and then come home to raise our own babies. That’s not the way it is in many developing countries. As Sofia, one of the midwives said, “we sacrifice our own lives for the benefit of other mothers.” Work/Life Balance? Get real. My hope is that huge quantities of money will be provided to improve the lives of healthcare workers, their working conditions and desire to keep on keeping on. CARE’s working on that.
Elena talked about why her job is so important to her. Early in her career as a nurse, she worked with women from the villages who ended up dying in childbirth. Their babies were orphaned. Their husbands were lost without them. This happened so often; entire communities were raising generations of motherless children. It’s this kind of passion and dedication that drives CARE’s work. It’s women like Elena, Sofia, Maria Luz and Sarah who can’t imagine leaving their own children motherless. At this point in the trip I was missing my family something fierce (a continent away) and my mascara started pooling on my cheeks as I imagined too clearly what they’d do without me. Scary stuff. Scary, scary stuff.
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