Investing in Women

In her talk for TEDxWomen (below), author and journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon creates a profound argument for investing in women entrepreneurs: It's not about doing good, but about global growth. Lemmon asserts that women are overlooked as key economic players, too often pegged with the narrative of the victim, rather than the survivor...the exception, rather than the example. 


The benefits of providing economic opportunity for women are hardly new concepts. From the work of Mohammed Yunus, to Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, to USAID (see the infographic below), there is plenty of evidence to suggest that investing in women benefits individuals, families, communities, and countries, particularly in post-conflict and developing areas. Investing in women is a no-brainer.

Why, then, does it remain difficult to invest in women? Are there factors outside the simple pathway of supply and demand which affect the growth of a woman's business? Sexism? Racism? Paternalism? Lack of legal framework? Lack of health resources?

What do you think?

Getting to the Town above the Clouds

The locals call Pampas Grande "El Balcón Suspendido entre el Mar y el Cielo," translated as "The Balcony Suspended between the Sea and the Sky." Once you're there, you understand why. On a clear morning, you can see all the way to the Pacific Ocean. But later in the afternoon, when the clouds roll into the valley below, you realize that you're quite literally standing in the sky.

Getting to the balcony is no piece of pastel. This year, Sean Byrne collected GPS data on the last leg of our drive up the mountains, which is summarized in the image below. As you can see, while this portion of the drive was just over 57 miles, it took us about 4 hours to reach Pampas Grande-- meaning that our average speed was 14.5 mph. This tortoise's pace is more understandable when you see that we actually went 2 and a half miles upward. (See all the zig-zags?) It's no wonder that we're gasping for oxygen by the time we arrive.

Sean's GPS data shows us just how geographically isolated our site is from...well...everything. For people that live here, this makes finding and getting to health care a challenge. Even people that live just a 15 minute's drive from Pampas Grande often travel over 2 hours by foot or donkey to see the physician in the health post in Pampas Grande.

We've been trying to come up with ways to combat this geographical barrier to health care. For instance, this year during our visit, Dr. Paula Tamashiro, a physcian from Peru with whom we work closely, arranged for our van to go to each of the nearby villages to transport people to the health post. Additionally, University of Richmond students have donated a truck to be used as an abulance, should anyone from the community need to be transported to the hospital in Huaraz.

Check out this article about the efforts of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers to set up an infrastructure for telemedicine in remote areas of the Peruvian jungle: Providing Telemedicine to Peru's Medical Outposts. Perhaps this model could be used in Pampas Grande to increase access to medical specialists in Lima or other areas of the world. It is certainly an idea to explore further!

RGHA Retreat and BBQ

RGHA members gathered last Sunday for a group organizational meeting that involved discussion about future projects, partnerships, and goals. Here are some of the highlights:

- For next year's trip, RGHA is considering going to Peru during the summer, rather than during spring break. This will allow our group to stay in the country longer and explore other communities.

- The RGHA website is underway!

- RGHA will host a number of different community outreach and fundraising efforts, including a museum event, a trivia night, guest lectures, and restaurant profit shares.

- RGHA is looking to partner with people from diverse professional backgrounds, including law, dentistry, education, accounting, nutrition, computer science, business administration, and marketing.

- RGHA will continue to work with and improve upon established projects (derm, women's health, greenhouse, joint pain, crafts, clinic) with the help of returning undergraduate student leaders.

After business was complete, RGHA members enjoyed great food, company, and spring weather at the annual post-trip BBQ.

Sid on grill duty

Our young supporters ready for cake

Beautiful and delicious RGHA cake (made by Kakealicious)

Lively dinner discussion

Stay tuned for more RGHA updates!

Our Experience in Photos

On this year's trip, so many people in our group went above and beyond to capture our experience in Peru. In fact, two students, Jigna Solanki and Stephanie Stahl, have entered some of their breathtaking photos into the University of Richmond's Spiders Abroad Photo Contest (found here.)

Enjoy these photos, and visit our Facebook page for more!

Lessons from Pampas Grande, Again

Blogging now from La Paz airport (13,000 ft above sea level), where--like Pampas Grande-- we're once again having to work a little harder for our oxygen. We're waiting here for another 4 hours or so, when our plane will embark on a 9 hour flight to DC.

This year's quest to Pampas Grande and back was another empowering, insightful, uncomfortable, frustrating, sometimes disturbing, wonderful experience for me. This trip marks my third visit to Pampas Grande, and for the above-mentioned reasons, it has been the most fulfilling yet.

I know I'm sounding counter-intuitive here. Uncomfortable? Frustrating? Disturbing? Immediately, It doesn't make sense that these feelings can untimely culminate in fulfillment and accomplishment. That's the funny thing about Pampas Grande-- each time I go, I learn a new public health (and life) lesson that I never saw coming.

My time in Pampas Grande was uncomfortable because I had to adjust nearly every nuance of my voluntary and involuntary behavior. Seriously, you name it-- speaking, eating, sleeping, getting from place-to-place, being on time, showering, and especially breathing--it's all done differently than back at home. It seems simple, but it genuinely takes up so much energy.

My time in Pampas was frustrating because I couldn't communicate as proficiently as I would have liked. Although I can hold a simple conversation in Spanish, there is definitely room for improvement with my language skills. Still, language isn't the only barrier here; there's a cultural one, too. If you can take a moment to picture a modernly-dressed, blonde-headed, Spanglish-speaking girl in an isolated, rural, Andean community in Peru (where many people have never traveled outside their district) you can see where I'm going with this. Plus, with no cell phone reception and RGHA team members constantly working at different places in the community (school, library, clinic), it was extremely difficult to communicate with one another. Maybe next year we should figure out a smoke-signal system or something. Someone proposed guinea pig couriers. Just a thought.

My time in Pampas Grande was disturbing because I saw serious health outcomes that are completely preventable. For instance, a two-year-old boy came into the clinic with six teeth rotten below the gum. The dentists extracted each of them over the course of two days. The damage was so bad that the dentists predicted that his developing adult teeth were already harmed. I wish I could say this is uncommon, but the dentists most frequently performed cavity fillings and extractions, from people aged 2 to 90 years old. Seeing the two year-old with a mouth-full of dead teeth just irked my core because it didn't have to happen. We know easy, relatively inexpensive behaviors that can prevent this. So why is dental health so poor in Pampas Grande?

For me, each element of my discomfort, frustration, and disturbance yielded an over-arching reaction: Do I understand how people live here, and how can I work to help people here lead healthier lives? To get to this point, I've had to experience a small slice of the lifestyle in Pampas (I say "small slice" because our living quarters are quite comfortable and clean and we get to eat three square, delicious meals a day). I've had to work alongside the communication challenges that often hinder health intervention programs from working. And finally, I've had to see with my own eyes the preventable health disparities. With this experience, I am more equipped to analyze what I can do to help the people in Pampas Grande achieve better health and wellness.

I believe that our group is on the right track with making better possible in Pampas Grande. We saw more patients in clinic (in Pampas and nearby Shancac) than ever before. We have implemented long-term, evidence-based health prevention efforts for skin damage and joint pain. We interact with the community through projects, meals, art, and festivities in order to build trust and cooperation. We are collecting survey data in order to form hypotheses about future health interventions. And finally, we are preparing for a longer-term visit to the community.

Personally, I know that what I have learned on this trip is an invaluable tool that I will use in all of my endeavors in public health. I don't have the answers yet, but this summer, I hope to put this tool to good use for Pampas Grande as I take the position of the first employee of the Richmond Global Health Alliance.

Salud para todos.

Blair Armistead, B.S.
Candidate, Master of Public Health
Virginia Commonwealth University
RGHA Intern, Summer 2012

P.S. - Pictures to come, I promise.

Morning in Huaras

This morning hopefully finds our whole group well rested after a long day of travel. The sun has not yet had a chance to burn away the clouds but it looks like it will be a beautiful day. Pleasantly, it began several hours ago with being awakened to a serenade of sorts. My own cloudy sleep-brain did not record what the women down on the street were singing, or even whether they were singing in Spanish or Quechua, but somehow I was sure that they were singing some sort of off-to-work hymn... Or maybe a dirge. I say "pleasantly" because it was early enough that I was able to get back to sleep- and waking in this clean mountain air is always great. Interestingly, Huaras may be a very musical town- because we discovered last night that the garbage truck makes it's rounds with a pre-recorded happy song that sounded almost like a Disney ride soundtrack. It was the only time I ever stopped to watch a garbage truck inch it's way along the street. Sean Byrne even took video! We will be sure to post when we return home.

In a few hours we will make the trek to REAL altitude... from about 8000 ft to 12,000 ft. We have a terrific group of volunteers and are more organized than ever. I think that building the greenhouse is going to be a terrific way to get a real sense of accomplishment. The medical and dental campaigns are always amazing but the work is never done and we leave wishing we could have done more. The greenhouse SHOULD bring a sense of completion. We'll keep fingers crossed that we are able to finish the work in the 3 short work days that we have.

We'll keep writing along the way though there may or may not be new posts before Wednesday when we get back to Huaras. Depending on Internet service in Pampas.

Hope all is well back in the states! Thanks again for following and supporting our work.


Sean McKenna, MD