Vibhu Krishna's heart belongs to Peru.
The Solon High School senior has devoted the last few years of her life to volunteering with the Peru Health Outreach Project, a Cleveland-based effort to bring medical care to poverty-striken people in the remote and mountainous region of Peru known as the Sacred Valley.
Krishna spent part of her summers in 2010 and 2011 traveling to villages in the Urubamba Valley region on medical expeditions, helping with eye exams and acting as a translator.
She's going back in June 2012, and plans to continue in the program after she heads to college next year.
Krishna, who wants to be a doctor, said the people she met in Peru taught her about perseverance.
"These are people who walk miles to get clean water for their families, who forego meals for their chidren," Krishna said. "You learn what it means to be resilient and make sacrifices."
The health-outreach project was founded by doctors and medical students with Case Western Reserve University's School of Medicine and the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner School of Medicine. Krishna joined in 2010 after her mother Sangeeta Krishna, who is a pediatrician with the Cleveland Clinic, became involved with the program.
In 2010, Krishna held a donation drive for eyeglasses at Solon High and four other schools. She collected more than 400 pairs, which were later donated to Peruvians in need.
Krishna, who speaks fluent Spanish, acts as a translator to help the doctors and nurses communicate with their patients.
Many of the people she encounters speak only Quechua, an ancient South American dialect, so Krishna is often part of a big "translation train" to pass information from English to Spanish to Quechua and back again.
The project's volunteers visit villages secluded among the Andes Mountains, often making treacherous trips along narrow cliff-side roads with frequent stops to move and avoid fallen rocks. Krishna said the bus once ended up with both rear wheels hanging off the side of a mountain.
Krishna said her interactions with the villagers are often inspiring and emotional.
She remembers one of her first eye exams with an old man in a village. He came in carrying his Bible. The health workers were able to give the man glasses, and he cracked a wide grin, opened his Bible and began reading it for the first time in years.
"That was a very touching moment," Vibhu said. "And that was the first day of the trip."
But with people living in such poverty, the stories aren't always happy. She has seen people who have been abused and many who have never had any health care in their lives. When someone is diagnosed with a serious illness, they are often forced to seek treatment in far away Lima, a daunting and nearly impossible challenge, Krishna said.
Krishna said the health outreach program has no agenda other than providing good health care to people who need it. The project is made up of professionals who are deeply concerned with global health.
She is heading off to college this fall. She does not know what school she's attending yet, but plans to enter a direct medicine program that leads from an undergraduate degree straight into medical school.
She hopes to open a chapter of the Peru Health Outreach Project wherever she goes to school.
"It's been such a valuable experience," Krishna said. "I want to stay on board as long as I can."