Henderson volunteers at medical clinic in Peru

Release Date: 10/12/2012

Ariel Henderson, a senior biology major from Hot Springs, Ark., spent two weeks this past summer volunteering at a medical clinic in Urubama, Peru. "This is something I've wanted to do since my freshman year, so I was happy for any chance to make it happen," Henderson said.

Henderson's trip was funded by the Academic Enrichment Fund; a fund set aside by the university specifically to help students further their educational experiences. For Henderson, who plans to attend medical school, this meant volunteering for doctors in Peru.

Henderson traveled with ProWorld Volunteers, an organization dedicated to offering hands-on development projects for volunteers in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

"I've always known I wanted to go to medical school, and I've been researching volunteer programs since my freshman year," she said. "When I found Hands on Healthcare through ProWorld Volunteers, Dr. Brian McFarland and Dr. Frank Knight both helped me with my application for the Academic Enrichment Fund."

Henderson spent most of her two weeks shadowing doctors in the village clinic.

"Basically, I was in the clinic all day. I would sometimes help patients fill out insurance forms, make bandages, and sanitize instruments, but mostly I was observing the doctors and learning how they handled various situations," Henderson said.

While she valued the opportunity to participate in an actual healthcare setting, Henderson was struck by how different the healthcare system is in Peru.

"It was humbling to witness how much less healthcare the people of Peru can access," she said. "For example, many of the patients that came to the clinic couldn't be helped there. There were simply not enough resources. They were forced to make the hour dive to Kuzco if they wanted care."

"Also, some of my duties included building water filters for the village. The main source of drinking water is the river that runs around the village. It's badly contaminated, so village residents have to run it through a filter before it's safe to drink. It was a humbling to think that some families can't afford water filters," Henderson explained.

In addition to gaining valuable medical knowledge and experience of Peruvian culture, Henderson also feels as if she made a difference while she was there.

"My most memorable moment came while I was working with a group of eye doctors, actually. There was an elderly woman who was upset because she could no longer see well enough to thread a needle. That was how she made her living, and she was devastated," Henderson explained.

"We had tried every pair of glasses we could find, and nothing seemed to help. Finally, we found a pair with the strongest prescription we could offer. It worked. She was so happy she started crying right in front of us. That was an incredibly touching moment."

Henderson's educational experience at Ozarks set her apart from the other medical volunteers in Peru.

"The doctors I worked with were impressed with how well I was prepared," she said. "At one point, I was working with an ear, nose, and throat specialist. He asked me to identify what was wrong with a patient and I told him right away that she had a hole in her eardrum. He was surprised that I already knew how to diagnose such things. I owe that preparedness to my education at Ozarks."

Ariel Henderson

Ariel Henderson, a senior biology major from Hot Springs, stands in front of the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru. Henderson spent two weeks volunteering at a medical clinic in Peru this past summer.