Due to a weak national health system, the citizens of Peru often suffer from preventable chronic and infectious diseases. In a nation that has yet to put the theory of public health education and prevention into practice, the non-profit organization Hands on Peru or HOP, aims to shift Peru’s healthcare from a paradigm of curation to one of prevention. Co-founded in 2013 by global health advocates Katie Baric, MPH, and Rosa Sanchez de Brem, RN, HOP is headquartered in Peru and the US, and works to engage and empower marginalized communities to make healthy decisions. To accomplish this goal, HOP created CESAPU, Peru’s first public health community center.
Built in 2016, CESAPU, short for Centro de Salud Public (Center for Public Health), focuses on prevention, promotion, and health education. CESAPU serves a small community called Villa Los Angeles which is located in the district of Huanchaco, in the province Trujillo, in the department of La Libertad. The isolated, urban area is right next to the ancient Chimu ruins of Chan Chan, the oldest, largest mud-brick city in the world.
As a preventative public health center, the clinic provides disease screenings, prenatal services for women, child growth, and dental care. The workers quickly realized that these services needed to be supplemented with interactive and educational health programs as well. Thus, CESAPU functions as a clinic in the mornings, and as a community center in the afternoons.
Latina Republic had the pleasure of meeting with HOP’s co-founder, Katie Baric, to learn more about the organization’s beginnings and programs. Born in Cary, North Carolina, Katie holds a Masters in Public Health with a specialization in global health and community health from the University of Pittsburgh. Fluent in English and Spanish, she first traveled to Peru in June of 2013 as a medical volunteer.
“Our philosophy is to reduce multidimensional poverty through public health interventions.” – Katie Baric.
LR: In 2016, at age 24, you moved to Peru to dedicate your career to HOP. What influenced you to change your career setting? What’s your connection to Peru?
KB: I was first inspired when I was 12 on my first trip to Honduras through an ongoing Catholic sister parish mission. My eyes were opened to the realities of the world, and through that mission, I gained a lot of experience in Latin America and public-health centered community development.That’s when I saw what public and community health really looks like. Later on, I realized:
“Oh my gosh, this is public health. I can get a Master’s in public health, and study what I’m passionate about.”
We began the NGO in 2013. I was a senior in college and had just gone to Peru to volunteer with another organization. The coordinator of that program, Rosa Sanchez, said to m:e
“Katie, I don’t like who I’m doing this with, but I love what I’m doing. I want to start a new organization and I need a partner in the US. I see that this is more than a trip for you; this is your heart. Do you want to start an NGO with me?”
At 21 years old, I said “yes,” but for the both of us, it was a part-time job. After I graduated in 2014 with my Master’s in Public Health, it was time to get a career, and so I had this choice.
Do I build upon what I’ve already created or do I leave it and go do something else in Latin America?
In Peru, I saw the strong base that our NGO had built. So, Rosa and I had a conversation about how to make our program more sustainable.
Then, in 2014, we decided to build the center for public health and later, I moved there full time. Trained in my Master’s, I felt prepared to take this next step. I’m not Latina, but I have a Latina corazón and that place of the world really calls to me.
LR: HOP referenced the concept of “multidimensional poverty” early on in its volunteer programs. This was also the central idea of your Master’s thesis. Can you further explain this idea and why it was so important to focus your programs around this concept?
KB: Multidimensional poverty is the idea that poverty should not be defined from a purely economic standpoint. It really takes into account the quality of life, lets us find patterns of poverty, and helps us measure the incidence and intensity of poverty.
Basically, it’s three categories: standard of living, health, and education. Health factors include things like child mortality and nutrition. Educational factors include years of schooling, and in standard of living, there are six components: water, bathroom, cooking fuel, electricity, a floor, and assets.
So, if I can give somebody clean water, not only am I improving their health and reducing their diarrheal disease, but I’m also reducing their level of poverty. I’ve always been interested in how to eradicate poverty and attack it at the roots. When I found this concept, it gave everything we do a purpose. We do a lot.
Bathrooms, water, health, but when we try to meet the community’s needs, we do so through the lens of multidimensional poverty. I love the idea that poverty is more than economics and that really shaped our programs and work approach.
Today, I’m trying to work with my community to figure out our MPI for this huge research project, but I need an intern to do it. Specifically, I’m looking for a practicum student to do the MPI calculations and who is also interested in poverty reduction.
Creating CESAPU: attacking the core determinants of disease and inspiring long term behavior change
LR: In 2016, HOP fully fundraised and built its own public health clinic CESAPU, in Villa Los Angeles. Why did you choose this location? Who lives here, what are their struggles, and how does HOP fill the gap?
KB: We looked at a variety of places and considered our finances and who we would be serving. When we went into this community, we saw that they had nothing.
Then, we had meetings with the community and its leaders, asking them if they needed a public health clinic, and the response was a resounding “yes.”
There is a preschool there, called Casita de Madera. Between us and the pre-school, we fill a health need. Considering that they’re very isolated and live in extreme poverty by economic standards, a lot of times they wouldn’t go to the doctor or dentist.
Instead of going to a government health clinic, waiting in line, and not understanding the doctor or how to take their medicine, they can come to us. We’ll walk with them on their health journey and empower them to make healthy decisions.
A lot of the people are also transplanted from the highlands, and have habits that don’t necessarily correlate with better health. For example, many still cook with firewood and live with sheep in their homes. Today, we work with them to provide access to preventative healthcare and health education.
This was the initial gap we filled, but after living there for four years, we found a lot of other gaps, and that’s how our programs happened.
LR: The center holds numerous programs for the community it serves. What were some of the first programs you all started, and how did the other programs come about?
KB: When we first built the center in December, we inaugurated with six volunteers. We had diabetes and anemia campaigns during the first two weeks. Then, the volunteers left and my business partner, Rosa, moved full-time to Switzerland.
After everyone left, I was sitting in the clinic with two English-teaching volunteers and thought, “now what?” If I learned anything in community development, it’s that I need to get the women involved.
So, I started the program Madre Cesapu.
We began by doing all sorts of health activities. Then, my friend Belinda started doing exercise classes every Thursday and the women loved it, so that broke off into its own group called “Reto de Zumba” (Zumba challenge). The women paid 10 soles a month, got 3 dance classes a week, and we measured their waist and weight.
Then, the little girls asked for a program, so I created, “Chicas Bonitas” to talk about sexual and reproductive health, and periods.
Soon after, the little boys asked for a program too. So, I created “Niños Felices” and we talked about mindfulness, environmental health, and personal health. All of this happened within the first 2 -3 months.
But the women weren’t coming as often. They said they wanted to knit. So, I came back to the US, hosted a fundraiser, got money, and started buying wool. That’s how the knitting program went from 3 to 20 strong women who come twice a week.
It has its own brand now called Chimuk Chic. As the years went by, the mother’s started asking if we’re doing “control” for the kids, and that’s when the kids get vaccines, and their height, and weight checked when they’re under five.
Thus, we created Crezsco which included cooking classes for the mothers.
Once we realized the community’s water was contaminated, we got water filters, and built bathrooms as well. To begin, we chose the six worst bathrooms in the community and built totally new ones.
Later, Chicos Creativos was created. Little boys were taught about photography, art, and cleaning in the community. Thanks to a visit and some money from Dental Brigades in Switzerland, we also put in our own dental consultant who visits twice a week. In short, we do a lot.
In the morning, the center functions like a health clinic. In the afternoons, there is a different program every day. People just want to be heard and have a space to grow. Looking back, all of our programs developed because the community asked for them.
We did our best to combine science with our hearts to be able to meet their needs.
Looking ahead, I’d really like to stabilize my volunteer program and connections with other NGOs to improve my programs. Right now, we’re designing to build a second floor because our programs have become so popular.
We also want to have a computer lab and hire tutors to help the kids with their homework. What I would love to do is collaborate with government health clinics, take these programs, and put them in other communities to help more people in need.
Ongoing work during the pandemic
LR: Your organization has been greatly impacted by the pandemic. You suspended programs at CESAPU, canceled your volunteer summer sessions, and postponed a Fall fundraiser until Spring 2021. However, you’ve been able to continue the production of products for Chimuk Chic. Can you share more about this program, the impact it continues to have on the women, and how we can support you all?
KB: Chimuk Chic is a really interesting and impactful program we’ve developed. Our goal is to make it its own fair-trade organization. At least 75% of the women in the community are housewives and most who knit make 400 soles or $120-$130 a month.
However, it’s not just about economic empowerment, but also personal empowerment, building community, teaching them about mental health, and relaxation exercises. What we do is produce high-quality, beautiful items.
At first, we didn’t have instructors. Then, we got Laura, a coordinator, who helped us advance the technical side of knitting, working on techniques and better finishes for the items. In the first year of Chimuk Chic, we supplemented one month’s income for the mothers.
In the second year, we supplemented two month’s income. 100% of what we sell, we give to the moms and we sell mostly to our volunteers and also people who visit the clinic or who are with other organizations.
This year, we obviously didn’t have volunteers, so we lost that market. Additionally, since we are in a period of financial recession, we haven’t been able to buy high-quality wool the way we have before.
We don’t take away the cost of materials when we pay the mothers, but we plan to do this going forward to make it sustainable. For now, though, I want to get them as much money as possible.
During the pandemic, we taught the mothers how to make masks to include in our hygiene packs. Every mother made $1 per mask, and each made an average of 40 to 50 masks. I’m in the US right now and my goal is to get stores interested in purchasing wholesale from us and selling Chimuk Chic in their stores.
I have two interns to help me with this, but we really need someone with the vision of brand development, marketing, and sales on our team. Building a brand is hard, so we’re looking for someone who could really be invested in this program to take Chimuk Chic to the next level.
We also need to get enough money to purchase our wool from small, women farmers in the highlands. It will be more expensive, but we need to find funding for this program to ensure our wool is sustainable, organic, and helps the women farmer’s as well. For the first time in their lives, they are earning money in a meaningful way and are now providing for their family. Their lives are forever changed.
LR: As a part of your COVID-19 response, HOP has been distributing hygiene packs to the community in Villa Los Angeles, and to communal kitchens. What’s happened in the past month? Have you all reached out to more areas or communities?
KB: [Around July 24th], we gave a round of hygiene packs to Venezuelans living in Peru. The president of the Association of Venezuelans in Trujillo contacted us, telling us that they have 130 poor families that need help, so we gave them hygiene and food packs.
Once a week, we also visit the clinic and do refills on hand soap. We’ve also identified a few high-need, isolated families in Huanchaco and delivered them food.
Good hygiene is so important to combating many diseases, and while people are always told to wash their hands, they’re never asked if they have soap or not. When we do interviews in our community, 80% of the people don’t even have hand soap.
A year ago, we started the hand soap distribution and encouraged everyone in the community to wash their hands. Then, when the coronavirus hit, we were able to relax a little knowing we drilled this idea of public health into the people who visit the clinic.
Access to hand soap is so important, and we’re trying to give it out for free as much as possible.
LR: To those discovering HOP, what message would you send as encouragement to volunteer and support the work your organization is accomplishing?
KB: In regards to our HOP volunteer programs, we’ve designed these to “maximize” the volunteer, so they can contribute to a sustainable project bigger than themselves. In this way, the volunteer can have an incredible time and the organization can grow and have an impact on the community as well.
We train the next generation of healthcare professionals and work with both local and international students in the good practice of public and community health.
If somebody is interested in volunteering abroad, Hands on Peru is a really good option. I personally would love to plan trips to visit clubs in different universities and give speeches on HOP, share our story, and see who’s interested in volunteering. We really want to partner with universities, both Peruvian and international, and establish strong contacts to receive volunteers every year and continue growing.
In general, I think people can get so involved and anxious with their own lives that they waste a lot of potentially productive time. Volunteering with an organization doesn’t mean you have to give up things you want to do.
The question is, how will you use your extra time in the day? I’m not asking that you dedicate your life to Hands on Peru. I’m asking if you can dedicate a few hours a week to the greater good.
No matter what you do, you can always find a way to give back, support a cause you’re passionate about, or donate your time, talent, and treasure. People can get anxious and stress about what they have to do instead of actually doing it. If we can manage our time, there is a lot of good to be done, and there’s a lot of need to be addressed.
I’m satisfied and happy with the decisions I’ve made in life. If you have an interest, and are afraid to pursue it because there isn’t time, don’t be afraid to follow your passion!
To continue learning more about Hands on Peru and/or donate, check out the links below!
Main web page: https://handsonperu.org/
Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/handsonperu/
Chimuk Chic online catalog: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?id=683564318339483&story_fbid=3070629746299583
HOP photos provided by David zigsho photography
Dana Carreno | Johns Hopkins University
My name is Dana Carreno and I’m a rising junior studying Molecular and Cellular Biology at Johns Hopkins University. Born in New Jersey and now living in North Carolina, I’m the daughter of two Peruvian immigrant parents. As an undergrad, I enjoy applying my skills to new public health and healthcare opportunities, particularly those focused on promoting diversity in the workplace, and improving minority access to health and educational resources. For this reason, I’m interested in working with Latina Republic to research non-profit organizations working to eliminate health and education inequalities in Peru and neighboring countries. I’m excited to learn more about Latina Republic’s work and to contribute to the formation of new partnerships with individuals and groups in Latin America.