Carleton College will present Patty Webster, a longtime volunteer in rural Peru and the founder and president of Amazon Promise, as its weekly convocation speaker on Friday, September 21. Webster, who has devoted her life to bringing medical aid and educational opportunities to the people of the Peruvian Amazon, wiil speak about her path into volunteer work and the benefits of a life of service, as well as her expertise in cultural preservation and charitable program development. Convocation is held from 10:50-11:50 a.m. in the Skinner Memorial Chapel, and is free and open to the public.
Webster was named a CNN Hero in 2010 for her work in Peru; a fellow health worker described her as “sort of a cross between Indiana Jones and Mother Theresa and Susan Sarandon.” Based in Iquitos (which is considered the world’s largest city inaccessible by road), the capital of the vast northeastern region of Loreto, Webster organizes several expeditions per year designed to bring doctors into isolated jungle communities. The Peruvian government claims that nearly half of Loreto’s population lives in poverty and one-third lack access to basic medical care.
Amazon Promise’s volunteers generally consist of medical volunteers from developed countries (many of whom are American medical students) and Peruvian doctors, often accompanied by a traditional healer. These teams of volunteers travel throughout the region for up to a month at a time, holding free clinics in each village and educating people about hygiene, sanitation and HIV prevention. The difficulty often lies in reaching the people who need their services; many villages in Loreto take days to reach and often require extended travel by canoe or helicopter. Amazon Promise, founded in 1993 by Webster, has provided free health care and education to an estimated 55,000 people.
A Detroit native from a family that emphasized volunteerism, Webster held several jobs in New York after high school before travelling to Peru as a wildlife intern, eventually landing a job there as an adventure tour guide. She says she was driven to found Amazon Promise as she learned more about the dire medical situation in the Peruvian Amazon.
“I saw how poor they were and realized that people were dying because they didn't have medical care,” Webster told CNN.
Amazon Promise was designed to fill this void with a combination of Western and traditional medical practices, as well as to encourage global citizenship and service. After nearly 20 years, Webster has never collected a salary for her work and still lives out of the group’s office in Iquitos. (The group has recently opened a permanent clinic in the nearby city of Belén; its U.S. operations are run from Massachusetts.) To learn more about Amazon Promise and Webster’s efforts, visit online at www.amazonpromise.org.
For more information about this event, including disability accommodations, contact the Carleton College Office of College Relations at (507) 222-4308. Skinner Memorial Chapel is located on First Street between College and Winona Streets in Northfield. Convocations this year will also be streamed live via the Internet; streams can be found at http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/carletonadmin.portal#.