Mission to Peru offers lessons, opportunities for two healers-in-training from Solano County

For pre-med student Joseph Lapid, doctoring involves more than learning.
It means teaching.

Children in Cuncani, Peru show off their newly-learned flossing skills. Pre-med student Joseph Lapid, 19 of Vallejo, and friend Susan Kang, of Fairfield, volunteered their time to teach dental hygiene and basic first aid in rural Peru towns over the summer. (Courtesy photo)

Taking his own philosophy to heart, Lapid planned and took a three-week trip to Peru last month that drew him into impoverished rural areas to share basic dental hygiene and first aid skills with about 400 adults and children alike.

Lessons, translated from English to Spanish to Quechaua, the language spoken in the Andes, spanned from demonstrating brushing techniques with outsized model teeth and toothbrushes to suggesting remedies for rashes caused by traditional head wraps, said Lapid, 19, fresh back from his trip.

He and friend, Susan Kang of Fairfield, connected with United Kingdom-based Kiya Survivors, a program educating
special needs Peruvian children in rural areas. The program provided the two a translator and lodging in exchange for the basic skills they offered to teach.
“It was very rough and rocky when we started the project,” said Lapid, a University of California, Davis student. “We had a lot of people who didn’t believe in us and criticized our age and experience.”

The rural Peruvians themselves, however, appeared to welcome attention that they told Lapid and Kang they did not often receive.

“We taught it in a way that was fun,” Lapid said of their lessons.

Lapid and Kang, who met in their two previous years at Solano County College together, had as many as four other students interested in their joining the adventure. By the time their plane took off at the end of July, however, it was just the duo, they said.
Kang, 19, is a nursing student, now transferred to Sacramento State College. She said she jumped at the opportunity to travel and teach.

“I just wanted to get out there and know what is out there,” said the South Korean native. “I personally wanted it for personal growth and I wanted to challenge myself.”

Pre-med student Joseph Lapid, 19 of Vallejo, demonstrates tooth brushing to Peruvian children in the city of Hulluc. Lapid and friend Susan Kang, of Fairfield, volunteered to teach dental hygiene and basic first aid in rural Peru towns over the summer. (Courtesy photo)

Before they left California, the two were able to solicit some 500 toothbrushes and floss supplies from Vallejo dentists like Marina Vista Dental, stuffed toys from the Christian Help Center and the Global Center for Success, and basic medical supplies from Touro University’s Dr. Jen Ezbon. Solano Community College’s Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement program, which provides assistance for educationally disadvantaged students, also provided the duo support, Lapid said.
“Teaching in Peru did pose a lot of dangers: area, food, and physical risk — but we knew we had to take a risk,” Lapid said of the project. “And it was bold. But it was all worth it in the end.”

The experience was enough of a draw for the friends that they plan to send more supplies abroad in November and return to Peru next summer.

Kang said she earned a new respect for the comforts Americans have and take for granted. On the other hand, the Peruvian children and families she saw with tires for shoes and hours of walking to get to school above fifth grade appeared full of happiness and love. Particularly rewarding for Kang, she said, was working with Kiya Survivor’s special needs students when she was not off doing outreach work.

“I want to say it was the time of my life,” Kang said. “(I learned) teamwork, absolutely. And caring for other people’s needs. I learned a lot about patience.”

Contact Kang by email at skang2@students.solano.edu, or Lapid at jsplapid@ gmail.com for more information about their trip to Peru.

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