South County Beat

Aboard floating hospital in Brazil, Grover Beach woman makes an impact

Special to The TribuneFebruary 12, 2013 

Karen Moro of Grover Beach traveled up the Amazon River in Brazil last August. She and about 40 others were on a riverboat and stopped at villages to bring medical services to indigenous people.

The group, from the United States and Brazil, included doctors, nurses and dentists. The main purpose was to provide corrective surgery to children and adults with cleft palates. There are a large number of people with cleft palates in Brazil due to a lack of folic acid in the diets of otherwise healthy people.

Moro, 63, was the only participant from San Luis Obispo County, and raved about her experience. They lived on the riverboat for seven days, meeting local people, viewing the incredible wildlife and beauty, and eating delicious food made by the chef.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole life,” she said. She wanted to join the Peace Corps when young, but got married and had children instead. “I’m an adventurer,” she continued. “I like meeting new people and seeing new places. I love the outdoors and nature.”

She wanted to “be able to share a small part of my life and their life.” She had “thought it would be out of my reach, being an older single woman,” and not of high income. “The whole idea of being on the water in such an incredible place like the Amazon, and such a link to life ... I’m a water person.”

The program Moro went with is named Impact, sponsored by the Santa Barbara Presbytery of Churches. It is similar to Doctors Without Borders in that the medical staff donates their skills and time.

The boat stopped at the first village, where there was a hospital, and dropped off the medical staff to perform surgeries. In two days, the staff completed 18 surgeries.

Meanwhile Moro and the others went upriver to stop in villages. They interacted with villagers, brought medical supplies, soccer balls and balloons, participated in sports clinics and presented Bible study.

Then they went back to the first village, picked up the doctors and nurses and proceeded again upriver to allow them to see patients in the on-boat clinic.

Moro raved about the food they ate. There were “wonderful meals” with fresh pineapple “to die for,” juicy and sweet. There was cashew juice, made from the cashew fruit. (Who knew cashews have delicious fruits growing under them. The local people don’t eat the nut itself, due to its poisonous covering.)

Other tasty dishes included fish from the river and plantain cooked in a myriad of ways. It was interesting to see the houses — very colorful. The kids were “wonderful.”

“It was incredible to see how joyful and open and generous the people were,” she recalled, living such simple lives.

The forest was beautiful and the birds were so varied. There were tiny little parrots that were bright yellow and orange. There were two kinds of river dolphins, one kind being pink.

Fortunately, the Brazilian government has now decided to support the program and finance a floating hospital boat that goes from village to village.

Moro works as an administrative assistant at Cal Poly.

Gayle Cuddy and Cynthia Lambert write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cuddy at 489-1026 or

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