The streets of Puno, Peru are filled with exuberant dancers and celebratory music every month during the city’s renowned cultural festivals. And like many other underdeveloped areas in South America, this boisterous city is also wrought with poverty and deficient medical facilities.

Morgan Morel
LSA seniors Yasmin El-Sayed and Patricia Ortiz-Tello hold a photo taken in Puno, Peru. They are both members of Project Suyana, a student group that is planning a trip to Peru this summer to build a shelter. (EMMA NOLAN-ABRAHAMIAN/Daily)

Thousands of miles to the north, University students Patricia Ortiz-Tello and Yasmin El-Sayed have launched a student group to help.

Ortiz-Tello and El-Sayed, co-founders of the project Suyana, find the city’s inadequate supply of obstetricians and facilities for childbirth particularly alarming.

They decided to try to correct this problem by developing a long-term health care program in Puno, including a shelter for indigenous women and a clinic on the outskirts of the city.

This summer, Ortiz-Tello and El-Sayed plan to lead a group of seven undergraduate and six graduate students to the city to start construction on the shelter and work with local doctors.

El-Sayed said the lack of convenient transportation in Puno makes it hard for women who live on the edge of town to deliver their children in the hospital in the center of the city. Group members are applying for grants from the U.S. government to fund the project. Their first priority is to work with the Ministry of Health to construct a place for women and their families to stay while they receive medical treatment in town.

Key to the success of the shelter is educating Peruvians on the advantages of seeking professional health care. One of the group’s worries is that people will not use the new facilities, El-Sayed said. Puno residents are generally distrustful of health care because of its poor quality.

Another long-term goal is to maintain involvement with the Ministry of Health.

“We want to affiliate U-M long-term with the community of Puno,” El-Sayed said. “Affiliation with the hospital will grant the clinic with medical resources and physicians year-round, as well as provide it with general maintenance.”

What differentiates this organization from other relief-based groups is the diversity of its members, El-Sayed said. The students involved with the project come from LSA, the School of Medicine, the school of Public Health and the College of Engineering. El-Sayed developed her interest in South American medical practices by volunteering at Centro Antivenero de Lima, a clinic based in central Lima.

Ortiz-Tello is a native-born Peruvian.

“We come from different backgrounds, have different goals in life and are coming together to work toward a similar cause,” El-Sayed said.

The organization is still growing, and El-Sayed said it will extend the opportunity for new members to join during the summer of 2008.

“We are looking for motivated individuals who share a common goal of serving others,” El-Sayed said. “We are interested in those who will be responsive to new surroundings and are willing to share and partake with the community of the Andean plains.”

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