LEWISTON Christine Schmidt recently spent 14 life changing days in Peru.
The former Harpster resident and attendee of Clearwater Valley High School in Kooskia has forged ahead in her education and career choices, which led her to the pivotal trip.
The daughter of Dan Schmidt and Nannette Brandon, Schmidt was born in Las Vegas but raised most of her life in Harpster. She attended school with hopes of graduating in 2008, but after moving back to Nevada her sophomore year of high school she fell behind.
“It was a hard transition from such a small school,” she said. Following that she returned to CVHS and attended with her classmates through 2008. When she still needed extra credits, she then obtained her GED. She then worked as an in-home health care provider until the age of 23 when she was legally able to become financially independent for financial aid purposes.
Schmidt applied to Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston where she is now one and one-half years from attaining her bachelors of science in nursing degree.
“A fellow classmate introduced me to the organization called International Service Learning, and prompted me to join a medical mission group to Peru,” she explained. “I have always wanted to volunteer abroad, and Peru has always been at the top of my list.”
The 14-day trip included a total of nine volunteer students – three nursing students from a community college in Oregon, a medical student from Missouri, as well as one social health science major from Canada, and three LCSC nursing students.
“We had an amazing team leader by the name of Grecia Geri who guided us through the communities,” Schmidt added.
The first two days in the country, Dr. Kelly Liz Cantero Silva of Peru instructed classes on basic medical assessment, common local diseases, suturing and basic pharmacology.
“We started work in the large city of Lima. We then went out into the poorest communities and knocked on doors to make appointments for the clinic days,” Schmidt explained. “We climbed many stairs to reach houses in the communities that sat upon the foothills of the large city. After knocking on doors and setting up appointments, we would set up our clinic for two to three days in an available building in the community.”
The following week, the group flew to Cusco, (which is at 11,100 feet above sea level) and had to fight off altitude sickness the first day before setting up clinic appointments.
“We walked the hot dusty streets and fended off wild dogs to find patients for our clinic in the ancient city of Cusco,” she recalled. “Each clinic day, we grouped into three separate areas and each took one patient. Each of us would take a turn at being in the pharmacy for a day to hand out prescribed medications.”
In their groups, they asked family and personal health history as well as performed physical assessments on each patient so the doctor could diagnose and prescribe accordingly.
“Peruvian Dr. Kelly was amazingly patient and talented and was with us each clinic day, diagnosing and prescribing after we assessed patients,” Schmidt explained. “She also took time to explain to us as well as to the patient why she prescribed certain things, and information on the diagnosis. We had Spanish translators with us, as none of the local people spoke English. In Cusco, we needed two translators as some of the local people spoke the old language of Quechua.”
Schmidt said one of her trip highlights was playing with the children in the community of Cusco.
“We played local games, as well as duck-duck-goose. It was so fun, but it was bittersweet, as I knew the snacks we gave them that day were a very rare treat. In fact, many of our patients were children themselves, ranging from infant to teenage who has pneumonia, flu or parasites,” she said. “Of course I must say that being able to visit Machu Picchu and learning about the ancient Inca culture was indeed a highlight of the trip as well. The food was also amazing.”
This was the first time Schmidt traveled out of the United States, but the trip sparked a passion in her to not only travel, but also to help people. She hopes to make another trip in 2017, either to Africa or back to South America.
“It was an immense culture shock for me, to see such poverty is eye opening,” she said. “It’s one thing to be aware of such communities, but another to see it with your own eyes and walk among the people who have only known extreme poverty their whole lives. Everywhere I turned my head I saw polluted rivers, packs of stray dogs, and houses that looked abandoned but were indeed inhabited by entire families.”
“I was in a state of constant empathy and awe. It opened my eyes so much to the privilege we have in the U.S. This trip also opened my eyes to more possibilities in my career as a nurse, as I now know that volunteer work will forever be in my schedule, whether it be here in the U.S., or across the globe,” she added.
Schmidt plans to be a lifelong student of sorts, continuing on for her masters degree and earning the title of nurse practitioner, going on to study Spanish, midwifery and emergency medicine.
“As a healthcare provider, you never stop learning,” she said.