By Dona Fair
AYACUCHO, Peru – When a Rahway native arrived in this South American country known for its Amazon Jungle and the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, he was about to begin a humanitarian mission few would ever get the opportunity to experience.
But to reach his final destination meant traveling by bus for hours over the treacherous, narrow, winding roads of the snow-capped Andes Mountains, where dogs, goats, llamas, and people walk along carefree at altitudes of up to 14,000 feet.
Marine Corps Reserve Sgt. Israel Joseph, a 1998 graduate of Rahway High School, along with more than 900 other service members from the U.S. Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy, spent several weeks throughout the summer participating in New Horizons Peru 2008. The exercise is a U.S. Army Southern Command sponsored humanitarian assistance event involving construction projects consisting of two classrooms and one library with a capacity to seat 120 students. They also dug two wells that provided fresh water for approximately 700 people, and built three medical clinics that will serve a population of nearly 5,000.
Joseph is a combat engineer with the Marine Wing Support Squadron, Detachment B, Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass.
“My role is to supervise and participate in the construction of a medical clinic in the city of Ayacucho, Peru for the benefit of the local populace,” said Joseph.
Originally started in the mid-1980s and called Fuentes Caminos, New Horizons gives the host nations’ underprivileged citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean access to medical services that most of us take for granted.
Three separate medical teams supplemented the construction efforts by performing three medical events where dentistry, general medicine, internal medicine, optometry, and public health services were offered. The medical teams treated approximately 750 patients per day and more than 12,400 patients over the duration of the summer-long mission.
Although they are here to help the Peruvian people and help grow a partnership between the United States and Peru, Joseph and the men and women participating here received something in return.
“I am gaining extensive knowledge in leading Marines of all backgrounds. I continue to expand on my combat engineer knowledge and experience. Most importantly, I have an outstanding opportunity to experience a different culture,” said Joseph.
Although the work days were long and living in the dusty, tent city was far from ideal, being able to enjoy the sights of the Peruvian landscape brought smiles to the faces of 180 Peruvian orphans and school children and to experience the culture of the Peruvian people makes it all worthwhile.
“Peru has been a big eye-opener for me. I have been exposed to an impoverished country and just witnessing how people survive with just bare essentials has been inspiring,” said Joseph.
For Joseph and others who spent the summer lending a helping hand, the exercise motto said it best.
“Juntos, Construiremos Un Futuro Mejor,” – “Together, We Will Build a Better Future”