Doctors are tackling herniated disks and scoliosis in the poorest parts of Peru this week, while their spouses and older children are providing humanitarian service in the villages, all under the auspices of a Utah-based hands-on-aid organization.
In addition, Eagle Condor Humanitarian provides microenterprise loans and builds and teaches in impoverished parts of Peru. According to Jan Felix, chairman of the executive committee, the organization has provided greenhouses, homes, water systems, libraries and more, as well as the expertise to make the most of them and keep them going when the volunteers leave.
The crew that headed south Saturday included three orthopedic surgeons, two neurosurgeons and an anesthesiologist. Add in support people and it's a 17-member goodwill band. They'll be there for just under a week, doing surgeries and projects, then the two groups will hook up and tour Machu Picchu before returning to the Untied States.
The organization takes its name from an ancient Indian story that the earth's people were divided into two groups and followed separate paths to prosperity. The people of the Eagle were extremely bright and gifted in science, while the Condor folk were highly attuned to nature and very intuitive. It was when they combined, though, that they lifted each other to new heights.
Eagle Condor started providing surgeries in Lima and Cusco in January 2006 at the suggestion of Dr. Brent Felix, a surgeon at St. Mark's Hospital and Salt Lake Orthopedic Clinic who happens to be Jan Felix's nephew. The American surgeons, many of them from Utah, work directly with Peruvian doctors so that the patients have continued care when the expedition leaves. It also teaches Peruvian doctors new ways to treat patients in need. Brent Felix said the surgeons this week planned to do about a dozen operations.
"It helps people who don't have anyone to help," he said. "It's an eye-opening experience. ... I realize how lucky and blessed I am to be able to do this."
The volunteers pay their own way. In addition, the group raises money to support a permanent staff that coordinates efforts. It's governed by a volunteer board of directors.
Mark Maxfield, current board president, and his brother Bradley both served LDS missions in South America 30 years ago. Afterward, they traveled together to Machu Picchu. In Peru, they were struck by crowded shanty towns and cardboard shacks and the lack of sanitation. They wanted to do something to help make life better for those people.
A few years ago, Bradley Maxfield, by then a sales representative for Campbell Electronics, co-founded Eagle Condor. His brother Mark had become a real estate broker with his own company who, through his involvement with the group, "fell in love with helping people down there help themselves."
It's all about sustainability, Mark Maxfield said. "We want them to be able to carry on so if we cannot come back anymore, they will be able to go forward themselves on their own." They've taught the people to run fish farms and how to build wells and purify water. They've created greenhouses and taught gardening. Even the surgeons are training local surgeons.
Their microenterprise loans have a phenomenal record, Mark Maxfield said. "About 86 percent of the businesses we helped start are still in business. And 90-plus percent of the loans have been paid back or are current, which is unheard of." A small interest rate is charged on each loan and plowed back into hiring locals down there to help run the program. Donations and grants go directly to the organization's projects.Information about the group is online at www.eagle-condor.org.