SF doctor, designer team up to help Peruvians

January 19, 2012 7:29:13 PM PST
Often, when a doctor embarks on a medical mission that is where it ends. They return home to their regular practices. But sometimes, it can lead to something else entirely.

Up on the fifth floor of the UCSF Medical Center, Dr. Rosa Ten is one of those people who never stops moving. She specializes in allergies and immune deficiencies, and while her patients never hear about it, Dr. Ten has a nickname: Santa Rosa. In Spanish, that means "Saint Rosa." If you ask her if she feels like a saint, she will tell you no, but in mountain village of Chitapampa, Peru, residents would beg to differ because Ten takes regular vacations there, and not to relax. She leads medical missions.

"Well, they don't have medicines and they don't have doctors, enough doctors to see the poor people," she explained.

By now, Ten has taken six different trips to Peru, but it began to dawn on her after a while that merely taking care of their medical needs might not be enough. She wanted to do more.

"You may fix some, but the problem still stays there," she said.

So, Ten loaned the villagers $11,000 to restore a textile mill. She cleaned the building. They bought machines. All they needed was a buyer for when they began knitting. That is where Michelle Salas of San Francisco enters the story. She is a designer of fine hand-knitted baby clothes. That is all she sells out of her small store on Taravel Avenue. She appreciates knitting because her mother is Peruvian, where the art has woven itself into the culture.

"It's incredible. They spin their own yarns, clean their own yarns, dye their own yarns, and weave their own textiles," she said.

Now, the serendipity of good timing... Salas and Ten had never met each other until Ten learned of Salas' store and wandered in.

"And, she told me she had a lot of demand, but not enough people to make her products. And, I said, 'Well, I have a factory,'" Ten recalled.

Salas joined the doctor on a medical mission. She checked the facilities and helped train the knitters. The rest would take care of itself.

"This really gives them an opportunity to grow," Ten said.

So, maybe now you understand why in the Peruvian Andes, they call Dr. Ten "St. Rosa" and how good deeds sometimes do go rewarded. It has given Michelle a steady source of quality knittin. She is about to sign a deal with a national company. One good thing leads to another. Everybody wins.

"It feels wonderful," Salas said.