Dr. Charles Mosher and his wife traveled to Bolivia in November of 2011 and spent time volunteering with Mano a Mano Bolivia. He wanted to share his experience:

Charles at a Mano a Mano clinic

Every one of us wants to know that help – especially medical help – will be there when we need it. So imagine, for instance, that your wife (or daughter), who is pregnant, awakens in the night with labor pains. You bundle her up against the cold night air and walk with her (you don’t have a car) to the hospital. You awaken the nurse who sleeps there and she ushers you to the delivery room.

The hospital is built of adobe and plaster, and it has no heat. So the nurse gives your wife a blanket. Chunks of plaster have fallen from the walls, revealing coarse adobe beneath, where mice and spiders live. There is a hole in the ceiling over your wife’s bed. The hospital has no incubator for babies; bare light bulbs illuminate the delivery room.

The only doctor is out of town.

That’s the scenario which ran thru my mind as we inspected a 40-year-old “Puesto Sanitario” (Health Post) in a farming village in the Bolivian mountains. The villagers had asked Mano a Mano to build a new Health Center for them.

In the mountains of Bolivia, the chances that a woman will not survive childbirth are one in every 200 births. In the U.S., most people have never heard of a maternal death. But, in Bolivia, the chances of this catastrophe are thirty times what it is in the U.S. The main differences explaining this are the availability of heath care, and of a clean, equipped health facility.

When I was a medical student, I spent 3 months working in a small, rural hospital in Bolivia. I subsequently went on to a career in Preventive Medicine and private practice, including two years in South America and many years in the U.S. Then in November we returned to Bolivia and spent a week in Cochabamba with the people of Mano a Mano to watch their approach to improving people’s health, and to see if we could help.

I’ve seen a lot of construction projects in South America over the years. Often, soon after a new school or Health Center is built and dedicated, it begins to fall into disrepair because no one maintains it. But Mano a Mano does more than just build a Health Center: they involve the community and local government in the process so that the  Center becomes a valued community asset.

Mano a Mano insists that the requesting community donate volunteer labor and a percentage of the cost of the project, and that the Municipality commit to maintenance of the Center and to recruiting a physician. Thus, our Mano a Mano contributions go further, and the locals are invested in their Health Center. That’s why so many Mano a Mano projects continue to serve the community long after the dedication ceremony.

The hard-working men, women, and children of rural Bolivian communities lucky enough to have a Mano-a-Mano Health Center enjoy healthier lives. And Bolivian women who bring new life into those communities have cleaner, safer places to give birth. This gives them a much better chance to survive the experience and become mothers, rather than tragic statistics.