2010-10-05

Volunteering in a Health Center

Written by Olivia Puddicombe
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The English could learn a lot from the people here. They will happily wait hours for their turn and then there is no fuss - top off, injection in, sign here and done.

This week marks my one month anniversary working at a Centro de Salud in Jose Leon Suarez and I can genuinely say that I have never learnt or experienced so much in a month before.  Working at the salita has not been easy or at times even enjoyable, but it has been incredible. There are lots of salitas in Suarez, each is for a specific barrio and they offer all sorts of help. 

There are doctors, a dentist, a midwife, a psychiatrist and more!  Centro 15 is painted bright yellow and it looks like a ray of sunshine in the town. Fernando, the director, has put a lot of time and effort into making it look inviting and professional.  Yet one of the main problems the salita faces is getting people to come.  At first I did not understand how this could be an issue.  Everything to do with health care is free in Argentina.  All people have to do is turn up and they can have whatever they need.  Yet when people have so little, health is not a concern.  It is shocking to see the poverty here.  It is a totally different kind of poverty to England.  There are no awful council houses instead the people live in shanty town-esque houses, if you can even call them that.  Many of the people who live here are immigrants who I assume came here in search of a better life.  Sometimes I wonder if they have found one. There is a trend in Suarez for young girls to get pregnant as early as possible, at 13 or 14, because of the improved benefits available. 

It has been a shock to see girls who are no more than children themselves come in either pregnant or already mothers.  However what is almost more shocking is to see how much they adore their children and how well they look after them.  There have been cases concerning abuse of children and women which have really upset me.  I know that it happens in England but to see it first hand is entirely different and I have never felt more helpless in my life as doing anything about abuse here is hard because it involves money. As I have no medical training or knowledge I have spent my time mainly with the nurse, the paediatrician or in reception.  Administering the injections with the nurse has been very interesting.  The English could learn a lot from the people here.  They will happily wait hours for their turn and then there is no fuss - top off, injection in, sign here and done. 

The children behave amazingly well and their patience is admirable.  I love working with the paediatrician, he does the control of the children - height, weight and head circumference.  There seems to be a lot more that can go wrong with children here so the control is very important to spot any problems early.  Working in the reception has been fascinating.  I think that is where they need the help.  They only have one computer in the whole centre unlike in England where you have a computer in every room!  All the paperwork is done by hand not online – that was my job to get people’s names, addresses, national security numbers etc – easier said than done as a lot of people here cannot read so do not know where they live.  The people I work with are all fantastic and everyday feels like you're helping - even if it’s only finding someone’s medical history file (easier said than done!) or helping with the injections, it’s all important.

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