In January 2010, Keri Baker, then a Registered Nurse, arrived in Ollantaytambo as a long-term medical volunteer. Her focus at the time was to create a health program for another local non-profit, Awamaki, to help meet the health needs of local communities. The initial program included clinical placements for medical volunteers, serving nutritious drinks to patients waiting to be seen in the government clinic, and conducting public health classes. Over the course of two years, the program expanded to encompass a disabilities campaign and fluoride campaigns.
In June 2011, while volunteering in a local mountain community, Keri was approached by a community member to see a young woman too sick to leave her home. The woman had visited a local clinic one month prior for an infection and had received treatment. However, she stopped her treatment when side effects appeared because she had not received proper education about her medications. The infection worsened until she was unable to walk without pain. Although her community is accessible by road, she was unable to afford transportation and a second clinic visit. After assisting her to the clinic and assuring she received the care she needed, Keri turned her attention to the root of this problem. This experience illuminated the need for increased access to effective and affordable health care in the region. Further discussions with community members confirmed the need for onsite care, and Keri was inspired to create a mobile health clinic.
Keri recruited Mark Willcox, an internal medicine physician who was also a long-term volunteer in the Ollantaytambo district, and together they began a monthly mobile clinic in 2011. The clinic was so popular that the local government started its own mobile clinic, modeled after the one started by Mark and Keri, which began visiting communities in 2012. At this time, joined by fellow co-founders Sarah FitzGerald and Emily Groves, Mark and Keri shifted their focus to a more integrated, sustainable approach – a community health worker program. Together they founded Sacred Valley Health, working to complement rather than compete with the local government’s efforts. In consultation with organizations running similar, successful programs in other parts of Peru, we began to design a community health worker program specific for this region of Peru. This has proven to be a more sustainable, successful model, and we are constantly assessing and improving our approach. By educating, empowering, and employing local women and collaborating with our communities, we are able to integrate western health education with traditional knowledge in a culturally competent way.