Mercedes Pratt, a full-time student at UNM, works every day to help people in third-world countries gain access to better health care and other essential needs.
Pratt is a co-director for the UNM chapter of Nourish International, an organization that raises money year-round to send members around the world to help communities in crisis. Over the summer, the organization hosted a trip to Peru to help a rural village, Santo Tomás, build a new health clinic.
Pratt said villagers often have access to health care just once a year from mobile boat clinics.
“A lot of people have parasites from bad drinking water because there isn’t a lot of preventive health care,” she said. “They can only get treated when a mobile boat clinic comes around.”
Nourish International works with organizations specific to the area it wants to help. The UNM chapter worked with Project Amazons, a humanitarian nongovernment organization, to build a health clinic for the Santo Tomás community service project.
Pratt said that Nourish International also worked directly with the Peruvian community to better assess the residents’ needs and foster ideas.
“We didn’t want it to be like ‘Here we are from America and our way of life is better and we’re going to tell you what to do,’” she said.
Daniel Ebbs, a member of Nourish International, said working with the village was critical for the project’s success.
“When we get there, it’s actually the communities deciding whether or not they want it (the health clinic) and where they want it,” he said. “That way they’re invested in the project.”
Both Pratt and Ebbs said the work in Peru was grueling; they had to clear dense jungle from the location for the clinic and build the structure from the ground up with very limited resources.
“We had machetes, wheelbarrows, pickaxes and a chainsaw,” Pratt said. “We were literally cutting down trees.”
The new health clinic is set to open in February 2013, less than a year after construction began.
Aside from being able to help the local community, Pratt said that the experience of the trip itself was unparalleled and taught her to appreciate things that Americans take for granted, such as indoor plumbing and cars.
“A lot of my friends are like ‘I need a new purse,’” she said. “And the people there don’t have purses or even a refrigerator.”
Pratt said organization members are already planning next summer’s community service project so the organization can start raising funds for the trip. She said she hopes more people will get involved and go on the service trips.
“There are plenty of ways to get involved, but how are you helping others?” she said. “But with Nourish, that’s absolutely the case.”