Aisha Simjee, MD, is beloved and highly respected in the Southern California medical community as a board-certified, fellowship-trained and compassionate ophthalmologist. She has received considerable recognition for her charitable work locally and globally.
Here is a snippet of her book "Hope in Sight" regarding her volunteer experience in Huancavelica, Peru:
"Mission work takes more than a desire to travel to distant and exotic lands. It requires a strong commitment and sacrifice by anyone volunteering aid. In the weeks following my return from Huancavelica, Peru, I reflected on my time there and the logistical and physical challenges I faced to provide much-needed medical care. I have no regrets about going, in spite of some extremely harsh working conditions."
For more information about her book:
I was very fortunate to join Dr Kuon and many other wonderful people from Peru, and other parts of the world, who came to Huancavelica last year. I spent about two weeks there and it was the BEST time I have ever had. I met so many wonderful people and brought back with me so many memories. The people I have met on this trip and Huancavelica always have a place in my heart. I wish to return in the near future. Here is a part of my experience that I would like to share. This is from a my writing column. And thank you all for the lasting memories.
Fui muy afortunada acompañar con Dr Kuon Dr Kuon y mucha otra gente maravillosa de Perú -- y otras partes del mundo -- que llegaron a Huancavelica el año pasado. Pasé dos semanas allí y fue el MEJOR momento que he tenido. Conocí a tantas personas maravillosas y trajo conmigo tantos recuerdos. Las personas que he conocido en este viaje yHuancavelica Medical Mission siempre tienen un lugar en mi corazón. Me gustaría volver en un futuro cercano. Aquí está una parte de mi experiencia que me gustaría compartir. Esto es de mi columna de escritura. Y gracias a todos para las memorias durables.
Paris, London, Papeete…such exotic places that were listed on the departing flight board in the LAX international terminal. As I waited for my flight to Lima, Peru, I thought about how I would love to be traveling elsewhere, since I was nervous, apprehensive and unsure about my upcoming trip. At the time, I was unaware that my experience with the mission would impact my future direction.
I had volunteered to participate in a medical mission in the poorest city in Peru, Huancavelica, at an altitude of 13,000 feet in the rugged Andes Mountains. This was my only vacation during my summer break, yet it proved to be a life-changing experience. After a non-stop flight of eight hours, we claimed our baggage and immediately were met by mission coordinators who gathered us onto a tour bus to travel 14 more hours to reach our final destination. It was difficult to sleep, even though I was weary and exhausted, as I was curious about the terrain we were crossing and ascending. At times it would have been better not to look out the window, for the road through the steep mountains held treacherous cliffs and a very windy passage, often with unexpected obstacles: fallen boulders, cows and donkeys crossing and the darkness of night. We arrived safely to the small town, checked into our room and were told by the experienced mission workers, to rest for the remainder of the day because altitude sickness or “soroche” is a common ailment to visitors and one must acclimate slowly.
For the next ten days, I attended to sick patients in the small local one-story hospital. I worked side by side with many different doctors and medical students, providing care to the indigent people of the area. I was the youngest in the group, as the rest were professionals or medical students. I organized supplies, gave vaccinations, scrubbed into surgeries as an observer, and shadowed the doctors treating patients in the emergency and pediatric areas, as well as in the pulmonary clinic. Rabies, tuberculosis, lung cancer, burns, heart defects, and cysts of the lung were some of the illnesses treated. Each patient’s personal story had an impact on me, but one is hard to forget. One nine year old boy had a blackened, oozing, infected wound on his elbow from a dog bite and he had symptoms that indicated the rabies had spread throughout his body and was most likely going to die.
I was so impressed and humbled by the strength of these people who face hardships every minute of every day of their lives. These Indians live in the high elevation of the Andes Mountains where each seasonal climate change proves to be a struggle. There is the rainy, muddy season of summer, or the dry, sunny season of winter, in which temperatures are frequently below freezing. Our mission took place during the winter, when it was extremely cold. The harsh conditions necessitated that we wear long underwear under our scrubs to keep warm in the hospital, as there was no heating in the cement building. I had empathy for these people whose homes consisted of adobe shacks with no running water or electricity. Yet we had a small portable heater, three blankets on the bed and wore two layers of clothing to sleep at night in our hostel bedroom and were still cold. Many of the Indians had burn injuries and chronic lung problems due to the constant exposure to the smoke from the fires that burn in their tiny homes, which they use for heating and for cooking.
Many traveled long distances by bus or came walking to the mission over nearly impassable mountain terrain to be seen by the group of American and Peruvian doctors and risked their own and their family’s lives to reach the hospital physicians. Their hope and graciousness was evident in their smiles, thankful that we were there to help them. This mission provided for me the opportunity to witness the strength and goodness of the human spirit: working with the mission volunteers who selflessly and non-judgmentally helped those who are less fortunate and by experiencing firsthand the difficult, sometimes, intolerable conditions (by our standards) that these people face and overcome to simply survive.