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How I Bolivia (and how you can help!)

Centro Medico Humberto Parra is a sliding scale clinic in Palacios, a tiny town outside of Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Patients commute to the clinic from far and wide because of the scarcity of free healthcare. The clinic hosts many volunteers, in addition to their staff of one doctor and several nurses. These clinicians see patients and treat all sorts of ailments.

Right now the volunteers are three medical students, a nurse practitioner, a nurse, and me. As a biology and public health teacher, I am hardly a traditional volunteer, and I am obviously useless when it comes to treating patients. But I loved the sounds of the clinic, and I hoped to find some way to make myself useful.

Well, I think I've found it. Many of the patients that come to the clinic have Type 2 Diabetes. Their diet tends to consist primarily of starchy foods, and the vegetables they do eat tend to be super bland. No wonder they don't eat more of them! I started doing nutrition consults, and I came to realize that many of the patients really want to eat better, but don't know how. "We're not accustomed to cooking vegetables in our cuisine." "My daughter doesn't like vegetables." "I get hungry at night and don't know what snacks I can eat." "We don't know how to cook vegetables." These may sound like excuses, but looking into the eyes of a diabetic woman who was terrified that her 11-year-old was heading toward diabetes too, of a woman who cooks for her husband who is already going blind from diabetes, of a man who had just survived a heart attack... I knew the need was real.

Luckily, yummy vegetables are well within my wheelhouse! I found an existing handout at the clinic with 6 or 8 recipes, and I typed up about 20 more. I wished I had a kitchen to actually teach the patients how to cook the recipes, but we just don't have the resources for that. But the clinic was generous enough to pay for extra vegetables, so I've been bringing samples in to the consultations. A boring old cookbook is one thing, but tasting delicious vegetables that are good for your diabetes, and then realizing this book will be the key to replicating them at home? That seals the deal!

Much to my delight, it seems to be helping! The first patient didn't want to taste it. But once the next patient tried it, the floodgates opened. It was good! Word spread, and more patients that hadn't been referred for consults wandered into the room just to try the food. When I pointed out the recipes in the cookbook, they marked it up, they asked clarifying questions, we talked about replacements for certain ingredients... I can't prove anything yet, and I'm sure some of them are probably just humoring me, but I'm very optimistic!

Now here comes the problem. The photocopies of the cookbook are so darn expensive. We're squeezing as many recipes as we can on a page, but each cookbook still costs almost $2USD. I sucked it up and paid for the first round of copies, but it won't be sustainable on my sabbatical salary. But oh, the looks on their faces when I said they could have the book for free!

So here comes the solicitation. Could you buy some cookbooks so we can keep them free for patients? I'd estimate I need about $100 to continue to give them out for free for the duration of my stay here. But if I raise more than that, I'd love to leave the clinic with a stock of cookbooks they can continue to distribute after I leave. If you donate, I'd be happy to send you an electronic copy of the cookbook as a thank you! Or to have you proofread my Spanish.... Heheh, double solicitation!

(Click here to donate!)

And if you have other ideas or resources for me, please share in the comments section below! Diabetes, behavior change, Spanish, whatever! I'm super appreciative of any and all types of support!


  1. Great article Lindsay! We are so proud of you and the work you are doing in Bolivia! Sent donation!


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