Good Shepherd associates give their all on the job but they also volunteer their time and talents to serve others in far-flung places. Here’s a look at one associate who traveled to Bolivia recently to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those struggling with poverty and disease.
Eating wild tapir sausage, slogging up a 75-foot cliff of mud, going a week without a shower and purifying muddy water to drink — sounds like the television show “Survivor”. These were just some of the challenges Eugene Anderson, R.N., network clinical educator, faced during a recent trip to Bolivia with the Cedar Crest Bible Fellowship Church of Allentown. Eugene traveled to three different villages to help the native people with construction projects and to provide medical care, such as treating intestinal parasites, acute eye infections and other acute problems.
Eugene shares some of his adventures.
What was it like traveling throughout Bolivia?
After 28 hours of flying, we arrived in the village of Oromomo. The next two villages we visited did not have landing strips and our only option was to travel by boat — actually canoes carved out of trees. Because it was the rainy season, there was a lot of flooding, and large amounts of debris made navigating the river very difficult. One of our canoe trips took an extra two hours because we got stuck and almost tipped. We had to continually bail water out of the boat. Our final ride back from the last village was the worst due to heavy rains one night. The river rose 9 feet in 3 hours. Since we were traveling with the current, the boat was going extremely fast. We didn’t have enough lifejackets and we felt somewhat nervous. But our river guide was amazing and luckily no one was hurt.
What were your living conditions like?
We slept in tents, and it was very hot — a constant 80 degrees and humid. Everything in the village was muddy. When we arrived at the second village it was already dark, and all we had were flashlights to navigate. We had to climb up a 75-foot cliff of mud, each carrying over 50 pounds of materials. One of the group members got stuck up to her hips in mud. We ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and beans. Sometimes the native people hunted and cooked for us, and we ate catfish and fried plantains. I even tried tapir sausage, a relative of the rhinoceros. We had to drink river water, which was extra dirty due to the flooding. It was a full-time job to purify the water. We were always thirsty and truly dehydrated. It rained a little bit every day and there were no showers. I wore the same pants and shirt for most of the trip in the jungle.
What have you learned from this experience?
I learned about different lifestyles and culture. For example, I met a 17 year-old girl who already had four children and a man with two wives. The people marry young and children start working at an early age. The life expectancy is much lower due to the harsh conditions. The experience made me appreciate life here and the things we take for granted, such as health care, fresh water and sanitation. I learned that I can stretch myself more than I thought. I was pleased with my ability to adapt to the challenges.