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Patty Webster Talks Charity Work in Peru

<esident of Amazon Promise Patty Webster opened her convocation speech on Friday with a video that presented some of her nonprofit organization’s work. Sweeping visuals detailed the dense Peruvian forests and tributaries that form the homes of several indigenous communities, many of whom have little access to basic necessities such as clean water and nutritious food.
Webster remarked that these communities “are the caretakers of the forests – if we take care of them, we also care for the environment.” In highlighting Amazon Promise’s mission, which is ‘to provide health education and give essential medical care that alleviates suffering, saves lives, and inspires hope,’ Webster illustrated just how essential healthcare is to the lives of these rural Peruvians.

Founded in 1992 by Webster and two other Minnesota medical practitioners, Amazon Promise was initially the Rainforest Health project before evolving into the group that operates today. Webster detailed her own personal journey of starting out as a jungle guide in 1990, where she was tasked with bringing tourist groups through the Peruvian sections of the Amazon rainforest.
She recalled her congenial relationships with many of the locals, who were “always smiling” and cheerful, but admitted she had never deeply considered their way of life. After helping out an injured boy and realizing these communities depended on her for medical supplies, Webster knew her work as a guide was insufficient. “I’m not a doctor,” she recalled thinking, “yet I can’t stay here and do nothing.”

Amazon Promise is primarily located in the Peruvian city of Iquitos, where seventy-five percent of the population lives in poverty. Throughout the year Webster and her team of medical practitioners, interpreters, cooks and volunteers visit up to six areas in Iquitos to provide basic healthcare services and education campaigns to rural and suburban communities that request assistance.
“We only go places with a written request,” Webster stressed, “as we’ve learned our lesson from going places without an invitation.” Amazon Promise offers treatments that include both Western and alternative practices and medicines, and regards this approach with utmost importance.

Many of the indigenous tribes they visit, such as the Achuar, suffer from dehydration and parasites. Diarrhea, malnutrition, and anemia are also extremely prevalent, and Webster illustrated how Amazon Promise “sets up community clinics anywhere” to deliver what aid they can.

Challenges are numerous and even life-threatening, such as the harrowing situation in 2008 when over a thousand villagers viewed one of the Amazon Promise volunteers as the devil. “Crazy things can happen where we work,” Webster highlighted. “Nonetheless, these don’t stop us from doing the work we know needs to be done.”

Webster emphasized the cohesiveness of the Amazon Promise team, which mainly consists of medical and non-medical volunteers. “They are everything,” she said of the volunteers, “and make our work possible. They bring their expertise and experiences, and we are always on the look out for new ideas.”

Possible directions for expansion include providing alcoholism counseling, environmental programs, and increased cooperation with oil companies.

Webster highlighted the primary lessons of her work. “Showing up and showing care is immensely powerful,” she stressed. “It’s just as important as the medical supplies and equipment we provide to these communities.”

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