My story Volunteering at a psychiatric hospital in Cusco Peru
I worked as a volunteer in a psychiatric hospital in Cusco (Peru) that offers health care for outpatients, temporary inpatients and residents. Most of the time, I worked with a group of temporary inpatients, with schizophrenia, personality disorders and depressive disorders. I had the opportunity to work together with a psychologist; my working hours were Monday to Friday, from 9 am until 1 pm and I spent one month volunteering here.
In my home country (the Netherlands) I just finished my master in medical psychology, so I had experience with patient contact. However, I never worked with psychiatric patients, which made volunteering in this hospital in Peru there a totally new experience and a great opportunity.
In my first week I really had to get used to a lot of things that came together with my work: to the circumstances where the people live in (way more basic than what I’m used to in the Netherlands), to speaking Spanish 24/7 (and to, because of that, not being able to express everything I want to say) and to the ‘abnormal’ behavior’ of the patients. But I got used to all of this so quickly, especially because the patients themselves are very happy and grateful to have the opportunity to be treated there. Also my ability to communicate in Spanish improved quickly, because I talked a lot to the patients and the employees.
Sometimes it was really annoying to notice that the work speed and work efficiency was remarkably lower compared to what I’m used to. Also, I had to wait for the psychologist very often, because the staff was preparing activities or working on the medical histories of the patients, in which I couldn’t participate most of the time. So I actually spent a lot of time waiting. After a few days with a lot of waiting, I started to think of activities I could do with the patients myself. I started to give English lessons to a patient that always wanted to learn English.
A few days later, I organized a tournament with games and I created a group dynamic-session. The psychologist didn’t give me assignments, but, he certainly welcomed all ideas! I think they don’t want to give the volunteers a lot of orders, because they think it’s very special that you are working there voluntarily. So to get the most out of this volunteer experience in Peru, it’s very important and I recommend you come up with your own ideas and let the employees know that you do want to participate in a very active way. Because of my pro-active attitude, I even had the opportunity to participate in test-diagnostics and individual interviews with the patients. For me, organizing some activities on my own prevented me for feeling dispensable and made my time at the clinic in Cusco very challenging.
It was very interesting to work with psychiatric patients and to talk with them about their lives. All the patients were very nice to me and accepted me and the fact that my Spanish wasn’t perfect did not seem to bother them at all. I learned so much about different psychiatric disorders and how those affect the life of the patient. Furthermore, I learned a lot about the organization of health care in Peru and how happy we have to be with our facilities in more ‘developed’ countries. I really liked that the psychologists gave me the trust to organize activities on my own.
Although this volunteer work Cusco sometimes made me feel a little insecure, it was a very valuable, interesting, fun , positive, and challenging life experience. I’m very glad I had the opportunity to do this. Thanks Volunteer Latin America!
Natasha Mathias, 23