Mind and Body

The students of HOOP in Flora Tristán come to class every day waging an invisible war against illnesses. It is nearly impossible for us to imagine, but many of them come from homes where clean water and toothbrushes do not exist. As a result, they often come to school baring battle wounds from their constant war: stomach aches and toothaches are rampant.
After oxygen, water is the second most important need for human life. For our students, this necessity is contaminated. As I recently found out first hand, unsterilized water can lead to brutal consequences. After being bedridden for four days, I took a trip to the hospital for a moderate case of dehydration and both bacterial and amoebal infections. I am lucky enough to be able to afford a trip to the hospital and the medications prescribed, as well as bottled water to avoid further infection. Most of the residents of Flora Tristán are not so lucky.

Providing safe drinking water for our students is a big priority

Mirian, one of my students, has been complaining of a toothache for my entire time as her teacher. One of her teeth is nearly gone – decaying away in her mouth for at least a month. She often stops mid-laughter to wince in pain and hold her jaw. It is difficult to watch, knowing there is nothing I can do about her pain. What we can do, however, is prevent it from happening again. We do our best to help the children of Flora Tristán by broadening their capabilities, and thus their opportunities, through education. As we so often hear, education is the best way to overcome the hurdles of poverty. But when the children are faced with a hurdle that education cannot overcome, what can we do?


Solely as volunteers teaching English, the answer is not much. However, if we step outside our job descriptions, we can improve their lives drastically. We have begun a series of health initiatives to try to alleviate some of the biggest problems facing our students: dental hygiene, clean water and nutrition.To start our campaign, Calvin, a doctor from Taiwan, came to Flora Tristán to give a full physical to each of our students and some mothers. He checked critical health measures and gave some of the students their first comprehensive check up.

Conducting a sight test with our students

Dental groups have come to the school to teach our children how to brush their teeth and the dangers of a high-sugar diet, which is unfortunately all too common. Soda (pop) is usually the beverage of choice, and when shown how much sugar is in a single bottle of Inca Kola, the students were audibly surprised. There was a clear lack of knowledge about the sugar content of food and the effects of sugar on teeth.

To help prevent tooth decay we have now started a daily tooth brushing regime at our school

The popularity of sugary drinks may be related to the lack (and cost) of potable drinking water. Thanks to generous donations and the organization Waves for Water, we now have a water filter in every classroom and can provide clean water before and after class to every student. Water, however, is but a single part of healthy diet. Jodi, one of our teachers, and Nerissa, a volunteer with a health-related NGO, organized a “health day” where they taught the students about nutrition and a balanced diet. The students were introduced to peanut butter, which they hated! It was apparent that fruits and vegetables are also not a large part of their diets.

Demonstrating to the community how to use water filters

Our hope is to not only be a place for learning English, but also to be a focal point for the community. Our goal is to tangibly improve the lives of those around us, both physically and mentally.

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