September 19, 2014 9:19 AM

Meet the Patient: Norma Evas

Written by Molly Trerotola

Norma Evas1Norma Evas lives in a small, remote village about two-and-a-half hours outside of Riobamba, Ecuador. Young Norma is only seven years old and is now in her third year of primary school. We first met her and her family at a MEDLIFE mobile clinic held in Pachamama, where she had her first check up with a MEDLIFE doctor. Norma was very shy, as many people are from her community; they are sometimes hesitant to receive medical care from people outside of their culture.

During Norma’s check-up at the MEDLIFE mobile clinic, one of the doctors discovered she had a potentially serious heart condition and would need to be seen by a cardiologist. However, Norma’s parents were reluctant to have her receive modern medical care because of their belief in alternative, spiritual kinds of medicine; they were concerned the doctors would do her harm. Norma seemed scared and did not understand what was going on.

Despite their initial objections, Norma’s parents were ultimately convinced to accept our help, and MEDLIFE brought her to the local hospital in Alausí. When her situation proved more intensive than what the local hospital had resources for, they transferred Norma to a larger one in Riobamba. There, Norma underwent several additional medical exams to assess her heart condition. However, her case proved so complex that she had to be transferred—yet again—to a hospital in Ecuador’s capital, Quito. It was there that she received her final diagnosis: Tricuspid regurgitation and patent ductus arteriosus.

Her disorders, congenital defects she had from birth, prevented her heart’s valves from closing properly, allowing blood to leak backwards against the direction it is supposed to flow. Left unattended, Norma’s conditions could have been severely damaging. A doctor told Martha, the MEDLIFE representative on Norma’s case that without the surgery Norma may one day go to bed and not wake up. She needed surgery to survive.

Norma’s family did not have any financial resources to fall back on when her condition was discovered. Coming from a large family, Norma is the seventh of eight children and money is very tight. An even greater obstacle was Norma’s parents’ lack of understanding the serious consequences of her disorder. It is important to note that Norma’s culture does not typically place importance on medical conditions that are not visibly pressing. Additionally, in their culture priority is given to tending to the agricultural work and to the sons of the family.

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As a result of this, her parents provided very little support during the process; her mother accompanied Norma only to the first medical appointment, and her father stayed home to work and make money. Though it was difficult to garner the support of her parents, Norma’s saving grace was her twenty-four year old brother, Luis, who stayed by her side the entire time and took two weeks off from work to support his sister.

During their interactions with Norma’s family, MEDLIFE’s staff also discovered a history of fatal cardiac conditions. A check-up with Norma’s older cousin at a MEDLIFE mobile clinic had revealed an irregularity similar to Norma’s. Additionally, another cousin had passed away at eighteen years old; she died in her sleep, similar to what the doctors said could happen to Norma without an operation. Her family explained that they attribute Norma’s cousin’s death to spiritual reasons—that the mountains took her life.

Despite these hardships, Norma had her surgery the first week in September. During the operation doctors discovered an additional defect—a severe one, which was damaging Norma’s lungs. Both issues were addressed, and it was a successful surgery; her heart is now healthy and strong!

MEDLIFE helped Norma receive the medical care she needed from start to finish: her initial check up, the surgery, and other critical support like medicine and transportation to the hospitals. Norma is currently safe at home in her rural community, and will be returning to Quito for a follow-up appointment in six months, to which MEDLIFE will accompany her. We will be following Norma’s case and look forward to watching her continue to live a happy and healthy life.

September 12, 2014 2:56 PM

Meet the Interns Year-long 2014 Part 2

Written by Rosali Vela

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Name: Molly Trerotola
Hometown: Andover, MA
School: University of Wisconsin - Madison
Major: Strategic Communication, Certificate in Global Cultures
 
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: I learned about MEDLIFE my senior year through a campus-wide email. Though I was never involved in the chapter at my university, I admired the organization for its work and impact in the global community. I jumped at the opportunity when I heard about the internship and was overjoyed to learn I was accepted!
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I'm an east-coaster turned midwesterner when I fell in love with Madison, Wisconsin. Though my love for UW-Madison runs deep, my love for travel and discovering other cultures is even deeper. I was heavily involved in an international not-for-profit at my university and hope to continue working in the international field in the future. I'm a lover of Sudoku puzzles, my dog Lola, and the occasional yoga class. I eat pretty much anything—though I give preference to chocolate.
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: I was looking for a professional experience that would challenge me, and one I would learn an immense amount from. I've always been interested in pursuing non-profit work, especially in a Spanish speaking country. I saw working for MEDLIFE as an opportunity to experience a new part of the world while making a difference and gaining more experience in communication for non-profits. This internship checked off all the boxes—it was a no-brainer.
 
What was your first impression of Lima?: LIMA!! The city pretty much shouts at you from the moment you arrive. It is vibrant, loud, vast, and always packed with a multitude of things to do. The city buzzes with energy, and I can't wait to soak it in!
 

2014-nikita-guptaName: Nikita Gupta
Hometown: West Windsor, NJ
School: Johns Hopkins University
Major: Neuroscience
 
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: When I was a freshman, I was looking to volunteer in South America on a mobile clinic for a couple weeks. At that time, the MEDLIFE chapter at Hopkins was just getting started. The officers were so enthusiastic, I knew right away I wanted to get more involved with the organization. I applied for a board position, and went on a 2-week clinic to Lima, Peru that summer. Over the years I became the Fundraising Chair, Community Service Coordinator, and finally President of the Hopkins’ Chapter of MEDLIFE.
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: After returning from my service trip in Lima, I could never forget the people I had met and those whose work our efforts supported. I wanted to come back to Lima and continue supporting MEDLIFE’s mission. I had already decided to take a bridge year between college and medical school, and I wanted to volunteer abroad with a global health non-profit organization. The MEDLIFE year-long internship was the perfect fit.
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I was born and raised in New Jersey to parents of Indian origin. Last year, I spent a transformative semester studying abroad in Brazil, Vietnam and South Africa with the International Honors Program. After returning to America, I craved more… more travel, more cultural immersion, more personal growth. I now take every opportunity I get to explore new cultures. In my free time, I love to dance, and I have gone on tour with singers like Jay Sean and Sukhwinder Singh (the singer of Jai Ho). I am also very interested in women’s health and empowerment and hope to become an OB/GYN one day.
 
What was your first impression of Lima?: I love South American culture in general, but I have a special connection to Lima. When I first came here three years ago, I was blown away by the vast amount of love and warmth that I received from every single person I met. Everyone was so willing to share their music, food and dance with me; it made my time here so enjoyable. I remember listening to Joey Montana and Chino y Nacho for weeks after I came back, and I can’t wait to see what this year has in store for me!
 

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Name: Julie MacKinnon
Hometown: Montreal, Canada
School: McGill University
Major: Geography
 
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: I became involved with McGill’s MEDLIFE Chapter this past year at school. After going on a mobile clinic trip with MEDLIFE to Riobamba, Ecuador this past December, I knew I wanted to learn more about MEDLIFE as an organization and what they are working towards.
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: Being given such a wonderful opportunity to learn a new language and travel, all while helping people, seemed like a pretty perfect combination to me. I’m looking forward to learning even more about MEDLIFE and how an organization like this works.
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I’m originally from Canada, but have also lived in England, France, Singapore and the U.S. I am currently a senior at McGill University, and I’m hoping to learn more about pursuing a path in public health after living in Lima. I’m very excited to be living here, and I’m sure it will be a great new experience!
 
What was your first impression of Lima?: I’m so excited to be in Lima and to really get to know the city and appreciate all it has to offer. So far I’ve been blown away by how friendly everyone is, and how good the food is, and I’m sure I will love even more parts of the city as I get to know it better. 
 

2014-bill-attwellName: Bill Attwell
Hometown: Portsmouth, England
School: Leeds College of Art
Major: Creative Advertising
 
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: After I finished university I decided that I wanted to travel, and see more of the world. It became clear to me that the best way to do this is to travel with a purpose. MEDLIFE has given me this ideal opportunity, as I can combine this internship and my passion for creative work and design with my passion for traveling, as well as being able to do good in South America.
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I am an aspiring Art Director, with the dream of working in an advertising agency. I'm very open minded, a deep thinker, and I love creative ideas that solve problems. No matter where I go on this planet I often find myself in woodland areas, with a fascination for the nature which surrounds me. I love to Skate, Surf, and Go fast!
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?:  I wanted to use my skills to make a change, and MEDLIFE gave me that opportunity.
 
What was your first impression of Lima: My first impression of Lima was 'It is HUGE'. Like any large city it is extremely diverse and varied. The city has different districts which all seem like different cities to me, especially when I compare it to my tiny home town. One thing it has which I cannot compare to any other city I have seen before, is an area surrounding the city, packed tightly with poverty stricken areas. It is hard to have fun in the city, then look up at the hills and wonder how these areas might be able to have the same sort of fun?
 

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Name: Charlie Hartley
Hometown: Bethesda, MD
School: University of Wisconsin - Madison
Major: History and Pre-medicine
 
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: I heard about MEDLIFE through the chapter at UW, which had just returned from a trip to Lima. I went to their spring semester meeting and was struck by the images they showed and decided to delve into the organization a bit deeper. As I was reading through the MEDLIFE website I noticed they had a year-long internship. I applied and lo and behold here I am!
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: I guess the cliché message from super hero shows never really wore off. We may not be able to be Superman but we can do our part. Working for MEDLIFE is a great opportunity to be a part of an organization that is actively seeking to better as many people’s lives as possible. I feel honored and fortunate to have been brought into this organization and I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead this coming year.
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I enjoy exploring cultures and places I’ve never experienced before. I believe the best way to experience the world is through its food. I am a younger brother and have always enjoyed giving my sister a hard time - only because I look up to her. My family means the world to me and the world is my family.
 
What was your first impression of Lima?: It is exhilarating and chaotic. I’ve never experienced a place with such contrasting frantic and leisurely tempos. You’re racing to catch a combi one second and spending a few hours talking over a plate of ceviche the next. I can tell every day is going to have a new experience.
September 11, 2014 2:43 PM

meet the patient: Diego Millones

Written by Suzanna Kane

diego millonesAfter riding three different buses, we finally arrived at one of Lima’s children’s hospitals to meet four-year-old Diego. On comparing journey experiences with his mom, suddenly ours didn’t seem so bad- she comes to the hospital three times a week, and for her and Diego the journey is two hours each way.   Despite the long journey, Diego had the largest smile on his face and was in high spirits.

We found a table to sit at outside the hospital, where Diego’s mom began telling us her son’s story.  When Diego was born, he showed no symptoms of the disease that would soon take over his life. Shortly thereafter, he started developing symptoms of Marfan’s Syndrome, a disease that affects connective tissue, resulting in weak joints, stooped posture, poor vision, and potentially even fatal heart complications. Concerned about his condition, the family visited a doctor who told them Diego desperately needed an operation on his heart, and that without it, he wouldn’t live past his second birthday.  

Devastated, Diego’s family was left in an impossible position- living in extreme poverty, the parents simply couldn’t afford the operation. Though the family moved to Lima seven years ago in search of better job opportunities, Diego’s condition means he requires full time care from his mom, so they rely solely on the father’s factory job salary. Diego’s mom explained how, although she contacted a number of organizations she hoped would help with the funding of the operation, her calls were never returned; it seemed there was nothing they could do to help their baby.   

However, despite expectations, Diego’s second birthday came and went. The family’s hope was starting to be restored. It was because Diego contracted a common cold that his mom brought him to a MEDLIFE mobile clinic set up in the area. Once there, a MEDLIFE doctor did a full check up and gave the family the news that meant they could truly start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  

The doctor told them that Diego’s condition was not fatal and that MEDLIFE was going to help him get better. Medlife started by giving him medicine to overcome his cold, and then began providing the long-term support he needed.

Diego’s mom then explained what having Marfan’s Syndrome means for Diego’s daily life, and she listed Diego’s symptoms: ‘Before, he couldn’t walk at all. He wasn’t able to use his hands or feet because they were curled up; he had no muscle tone in his legs, and his posture was curled over because his spine is bent. He has really bad eyesight, and he also has fragile skin so he bleeds easily. When he’s most in pain he can go for two to three nights with very little sleep.’

With MEDLIFE’s help, Diego now sees a physical therapist three times a week. The advancement he’s made due to the therapy means he is now able to walk alone for brief periods of time. MEDLIFE is also providing him with medications that will help improve his condition and pain, a full upper body corset he must wear all the time, and the milk and calcium he needs to strengthen his bones.

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While his mom told us all of this, Diego continued to have the biggest smile on his face, he was so well behaved. After taking in everything his mom had told us, we turned our questions to Diego. First, we asked what he wanted to be when he grew up: ‘a doctor’, he grinned! Just like the ones who are helping him get better. And when we asked him what he likes to eat to make him stronger he was quick to tell us ‘Chaufa (Peruvian Chinese food)!’

Although Diego is making huge improvements, there is still some way to go. His eyesight is drastically affected by his sickness, but he does not have glasses because the doctors who could prescribe him some are on strike. Also, he has outgrown his orthopedic shoes as his feet grew so fast. He also needs to continue with therapy, medications, and large quantities of calcium.

Soon, it was time for Diego to go for his physical therapy appointment. A young boy with so much love to give, he gave us all a kiss goodbye and one last grin! Diego’s condition has certainly improved, and we look forward to him having a happier and healthier life!

 

September 9, 2014 9:33 AM

CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT: UPR MAYAGUEZ

Written by Rosali Vela

At the beginning of this school year, The University of Puerto Rico organized a meeting for all those interested in volunteering with MEDLIFE at their university. They had an incredibly impressive turnout; over 300 students turned up to learn more about the work MEDLIFE does! The UPRM MEDLIFE chapter’s hard work and great organizational skills make them our New Chapter of the Year award winners! A big congratulations and thank you goes to them for their dedication to MEDLIFE. Here is an interview with the presidents of the chapter which includes advice on how to recruit lots of members and run a successful MEDLIFE chapter.

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When and how did your chapter begin?

 The MEDLIFE-UPRM Chapter was founded by Eduard H. Valdes and Paola C. Diaz last year, after attending a Mobile Clinic in Tena, Ecuador. Most of the 2014-2015 Executive Board members met in January 2014, at our first Mobile Clinic in Riobamba, Ecuador. Up to date, the UPR-MAYAGÜEZ MEDLIFE Chapter counts with 93 active members from all faculties and has officially participated in two Mobile Clinics: one in Riobamba, Ecuador and the other one in Lima, Perú.  Our main mission is to provide activities that enhance students' skills in leadership, teamwork and community service. For this year, our next destination is Tena, Ecuador.

What strategies did you use to promote MEDLIFE on campus? 

We love to incorporate technology in everything we do. So, we have mainly promoted our activities through social networks. We sent mass-email recruitment, and used our official Facebook and Instagram pages to our advantage. The Facebook Pages App is really useful; it allows us to share information and photos easily. Also, the page makes use of statistics algorithms that let us know how many people have seen the posts. In addition, our Social Media and Advertising Officer is also a member of Her Campus- UPR Mayaguez, so she has written various articles about MEDLIFE UPRM. We also participated in student fairs, posted flyers around the campus, and even made brochures.

What system do you use to recruit new members? What process does a new member go through once part of the chapter?

As part of our technological innovations we introduced online attendance lists.  Instead of going through the hassle of passing a list through a classroom that has more than 300 people, we made a live form on our Google drive. The form is similar to the ones used for surveys but more accessible.  The students are able to access the form from their smartphones by scanning a QR code displayed on our power point presentation.  As the students submit the form the results are posted on a spreadsheet on our drive.  This reduces the margin of error and allows us to save time as we can now skip the process of copying all the names and emails to a computer. Not to mention that we are also saving trees in the process by not having to print a bunch of papers to be used as lists for every meeting. 

On the topic of saving trees, once the students are done submitting their responses the list can be organized in alphabetical order, field of study or how they became aware of the chapter’s meeting.  By doing this we were reassured that we could concentrate more on online promotions since most of the students replied that they were informed of the meeting by a social network. Rather than going through campus posting flyers or any type of advertisement that requires the use of paper, we put our efforts into spreading the word in the social networks and email newsletters.   

Effortlessly sending emails is just another advantage of our attendance list form. Emails can be copied directly from the spreadsheet into the newsletter mailing list. This eliminates the process of adding email addresses one by one to the mailing list.

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What activities do you organize to keep your members interested throughout the year? 

FUNDRAISERS: Our team has ramped up fundraising efforts organizing activities, such as cake and pizza sales.

CHAPTER FUND: We decided to create the “Chapter Fund” to help relieve the cost for the students who have actively participated in 90% of our activities and cannot afford the trip. This fund has rewarded the dedicated students who have put in the hard work towards our MEDLIFE chapter.

COMMUNITY SERVICE: As community service, we created the “Patch Adams” activity. Members from our chapter volunteer and dress as clowns in an effort to bring humor to orphans, patients and other people. We also created an event called “Vísteme para mi fiesta”, where we collect donated prom dresses and deliver them to selected girls who cannot afford the expenses. 

EDUCATION: We also added “Triage Training” to our list of activities. The students learn basic medical techniques. They practice how to measure vital signs, such as blood pressure and temperature; the students also learn how to use the stethoscope and perform a heart auscultation. 

MEDLIFE WEEK: A whole week dedicated to MED’s activities: Medicine, Education and Development. We end the week with a White Coat Ceremony to formally initiate all our new members. 

What are your goals as a chapter for this academic year (2014-2015)?

We will continue with our previous activities, but we would also like to accomplish these new goals:

  • Organize a Health Fair and offer free basic healthcare services to all faculty members of our university. 
  • Expand our interdisciplinary membership base.
  • Offer more MED’s activities: Medicine, Education and Development.
  • Organize local Mobile Clinics and offer hands-on experience to train our students, and provide a space where they can learn prior to the Mobile Clinic.

 

September 2, 2014 2:08 PM

Dominic Grisafe's Intern Journal (2)

Written by Dominic Grisafe

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I’m a summer intern for MEDLIFE, a nonprofit organization that aims to support the poor in three ways: Medicine, Education, and Development (M.E.D.–life). They carry out their name by organizing medical clinics staffed by local health professionals and building stairs in impoverished communities. The outskirts of Lima climb into the rocky hillsides and provide homes for the many immigrants that move to the capital city in search of work. Last Thursday I was able to follow around Carlos, the Director of MEDLIFE Peru, who liaises with the communities we serve.

We started the day by delivering medical supplies to a geriatrics ward a doctor was running out of her house. She explained that 20 patients lived there because they had no one else to help them with their daily lives, which had become impossible for them to complete on their own in their old age. I couldn’t understand every word of her Spanish, but I could tell this physician was fulfilling her life’s work from the passion with which she spoke. She told us that the government only provides elderly citizens an equivalent of 100 US dollars a month to live on, which is far from sufficient living standards, even for Peru. The home offered a peaceful bubble for the elderly in an otherwise chaotic city.

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After a brief ride in a small cart of a bus, we visited Nueva Esperanza. We arrived on a dusty road and walked through side streets until they turned into dirt paths. We climbed until we came to a group of local people who greeted us, and then turned to Carlos.

This was his second time visiting Nueva Esperanza, and he seemed excited that the people had cleared many large rocks from 100-meter stretch of hill that led up to an enormous white cross. Carlos was here to assess the people’s willingness to work with MEDLIFE to build a staircase. The people explained that they had worked in the evenings and on the weekends to clear the path for the stairs, but that they could not continue to work and do manual labor in their spare time. Carlos never hesitated. He explained that volunteer students in America and England would come to help build the stairs with them, and that it was to be a combined effort of the volunteers and local community.

A silver haired woman sat up from a large rock she had been resting on and walked to Carlos. I noticed the tears that were streaming down her face as she explained that she had lived in Nueva Esperanza for many years. She climbed the hill to pray at the cross time and time again, despite enduring the occasional fall. She explained that she wanted nothing more than to be able to walk up the hill safely to pray. Between the woman’s passion and Carlos’s inspiration, the community agreed they would work with MEDLIFE to build the staircases. The people provided us with a yellow soda called Inca Kola to celebrate the occasion, and everyone thanked each other as we headed down the slope back towards home.

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I asked Carlos if what the old lady had said, that she fell often, was common in the hills of Lima. As I was speaking, a mother with her five-year-old daughter walked past on their way back from school. Carlos greeted them and turned my question onto the mother. She said she had fallen three times while she was pregnant with her daughter, and she still falls from time to time. I had helped build stairs with MEDLIFE two years ago. Back then I could tell the local people were excited and appreciative of our help at the time, but I hadn’t really understood how much a safe walk way can truly mean. The mother and her daughter reaffirmed that social infrastructure is just as necessary as healthcare and education.

September 2, 2014 11:16 AM

Meet the Interns Year-long 2014 Part 1

Written by Rosali Vela

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Name: Clare Lilek
Hometown: Rochester Hills, MI
School: University of Michigan
Major: Women's Studies and Spanish
 
How I got involved with MEDLIFE:My beginning involvement with MEDLIFE was a whirlwind. My senior year of college I randomly heard about an upcoming Mobile Clinic trip to Riobamba, Ecuador and on a whim I signed up with only two months until the start date. After that initial commitment, I was in. I was in the MEDLIFE boat.
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I love to travel and explore, yet one of my favorite things to do is curl up on the couch with a good book and a hot cup of tea. 
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: I've known for a while that the "real world" isn't quite ready for me as much as I'm not ready for it. I didn't want to immediately go into more schooling or a career right after graduation because I still needed to explore the world. I craved travel and different experiences in the hopes of better informing my future path and goals. After experiencing a MEDLIFE mobile clinic trip first hand in Riobamba, I knew that this type of work is what I would want to do during my year off. Be in a different country, speak a foreign language, meet some inspirational people, and work for something that is larger and greater than myself.  
 

2014-julieName: Julie Ma
Hometown: Topeka, Kansas
School: Emporia State University
Major: Biochemistry and Spanish
 
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: Prior to receiving this internship, I had no experience with MEDLIFE. I wanted to serve somewhere in Latin America and after researching online and coming across MEDLIFE, I knew I wanted to be a part of their mission and contribute as an intern.
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: It's a great opportunity to help those truly in need, gain practical skills doing something I love, and travel!
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I am currently a senior and am interested in pursuing a career related to health. Wanting to get out of my comfort zone and Kansas, I studied abroad in South America last summer and realized how much travelling changed me for the better. Since then, I try to take every opportunity possible to help communities in need, specifically in health. In my free time, I love trying new foods, travel every chance I get, and the beach!  
 

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Name: Carlee Latimer
Hometown: Monroe, Wisconsin
School: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Major: Bachelor of Science in Community and Nonprofit Leadership
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: After graduation I wanted to travel to South America and work for a nonprofit. Through researching online I stumbled upon MEDLIFE and it seemed like a great fit for me, so I applied!
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin with a big family.  I enjoy biking, hiking, painting, spending time with family and friends and eating cheese curds as often as possible.  
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: Becoming an intern at MEDLIFE just seemed to make sense for me.  It allowed me the opportunity to travel, gain perspective, meet so many new people, work with local communities, and improve my spanish skills!  Through this unique experience I look forward to growing both personally and professionally.  It was a real no-brainer for me.  
 

2014-lauraMcLungName: Laura McClung
Hometown:Leawood, Kansas
School: University of Southern California
Major:Biological Sciences, Minor in Spanish
 
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: I got involved with Medlife the summer after my freshman year when two friends asked if I wanted to go on a trip to Tena, Ecuador to see what Medlife was about. We were inspired by the work that Medlife does and thought that other USC students would be as well, so we went back to school that fall and started USC's Medlife chapter. 
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: After I went on my first clinic to Tena in 2011, I wound up attending two more mobile clinics to Lima, and I knew that I wanted to return someday to devote a more extended period of my time to Medlife's cause. The internship seemed a perfect way for me to learn more about how global medical non-profits function, while living abroad for a year, and helping to provide Medicine, Education, and Development to communities in need in the slums of Lima.
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: While I spent most of my time in college participating in pre-med-related activities, my two favorite things are food and music. I grew up playing the cello, and I love trying any and all kinds of food, so living in Lima will provide an exciting opportunity to discover all sorts of new food and music! 
September 2, 2014 10:38 AM

MEDLIFE ROLE MODELS: Meet Yolanda!

Written by Suzanna Kane

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Finishing the first steps in ‘Santísima Cruz’ community was not an easy job, especially for Yolanda Perez. As the community leader, Yolanda never stopped chasing after MEDLIFE to build a staircase, while also motivating all the members of the community to work together. Yolanda, now 32 years old, came to ‘Santísima Cruz’ with just a suitcase and many dreams. There she met her husband and soon her two sons were born, but Yolanda always wanted something more.

"Santísima Cruz had already existed for more than 15 years, but the neighbors had never worked together. 15 years and there were no steps built” Yolanda tells us.

Thus, after many meetings and discussions, Yolanda took over as a leader of the community. She focused on completing the legal procedures for getting basic services such as electricity and construction projects.

It was Gladys Huahua, community leader of the community ‘7 de junio’, who told Yolanda about MEDLIFE and how she had lead the construction of more than 10 staircases in the area.

"Gladys told me MEDLIFE would help us with the materials, but the construction had to be a joint effort with the community. There began my first problem- to try to convince the neighbors who previously would not help each other, to work together and make the staircase a reality" says Yolanda.

The mobile clinics that were held here gave MEDLIFE a good idea of the number of people living in the community, who were in desperate need of staircases for their own safety and that of their families.

"People are always afraid. There have been many institutions that have come and promised us things, and in the end the promises were never met, even those made by the mayors and the government. We were offered many gifts in exchange for our votes, they even took pictures [of the site as if they were going to help], but in the end they never came back. The mobile clinics were the best incentive for all my neighbors. I remember there were more than 3 [clinics], and everyone was treated well, the doctors and the staff even remembered who we were each time we returned” Yolanda recounted.

It took about 7 meetings for the neighbors to agree to work together. Many claimed that they had no time, that it would never happen and it was another empty promise. But Yolanda never gave up. She kept insisting until everyone agreed upon a schedule that they could fulfill.

Once she contacted and coordinated with MEDLIFE, a new problem arose. The blueprint of the staircase they had designed was wrong, and the staircase was angled slightly into the neighboring community, entering an area saved for another construction project.

"The framework had to be constructed and deconstructed twice before it could be filled with cement. The neighbors were not happy, but since the decision was made to go ahead with the project, we would not give up "

Yolanda couldn’t be happier with the completed staircase, and is excited that now all of the residents who won’t hesitate to work together again to build two additional staircases that they need. A little work and sweat was enough to unite this community who were previously living their own separate lives.

Though the hills of Lima are scattered with abandoned houses, Yolanda told us all the houses in her community are inhabited.  She laughed when telling us that Carlos, the MEDLIFE Peru director, even went knocking on all of the surrounding homes at night to make sure! Only one house is now uninhabited, where a very elderly gentleman formerly lived but was forced to move in with his son due to not being able to climb the hill. However, now the staircases make it possible for him to return home safely.

Yolanda currently combines her role as a community leader with selling second-hand clothing and raising quail that she can then sell. She tries to spend as much time as possible with her children, but being at home also brings some problems. "Often in the afternoons when I’m with my kids, I get knocks on the door from neighbors seeking help and advice. I do my best and I do really want to continue in this role, but being the community leader has become a 24/7 job" she tells us smiling. 

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Yolanda says that there are not enough words to thank all of the volunteers and MEDLIFE. The experience has been rewarding for everyone, and her dreams do not stop here. There are still many goals Yolanda wants to accomplish.

"The first thing I think of when I think of the future is my children. I always pray to have a job and for my children to have everything I have not had." Yolanda says, "then I think of the community. I've seen how much ‘Santísima Cruz’ has grown. From having nothing, we have been turning this piece of land into a livable place, where we have now used our own strength to complete this project of a lifetime with MEDLIFE."

There are over 300 people in the ‘Santísima Cruz’ community who will benefit from the staircase. Now, we are just waiting for the next group to finish the remaining staircases. Although challenges always exist, Yolanda remains hopeful that good things will continue to happen.

‘We have learned from MEDLIFE that unity is strength’ says Yolanda.

August 27, 2014 4:11 PM

Intern's Journal: Dileep Mandali (2)

Written by Dileep Mandali

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One of the reasons why I elected to pursue this internship can be credited to the communities MEDLIFE reaches out to aid. Working in these communities 2-3 years ago taught me about the value of opportunities that I have back at home. I learned that what we take for granted, someone somewhere else is yearning for it. Through this internship, I hoped to further discover about myself and what kind of individual I wish to become in couple of years down the road.

Through this internship, I discovered that despite our best intentions and efforts, we cannot help everyone that are struggling. My first field visit was to a small shelter, which housed around 20 elderly people. I recall there was an article about this on MEDLIFE’s Facebook page few weeks ago. It had “old people’s home” as part of its description, and I clearly remember one of the commenters asking for clarification on the description: “Is it a nursing home or assisted living?” We were not sure how to answer this, because it is neither. I learned that it was a house for the elderly, who have families and relatives yet were abandoned because of their mere age and illness. I also learned that there is a long wait-list, extending to nearly 50-60 (homeless) elderly people, for this shelter.

When I inquired if there is any form of government support for the elderly home, I learned that there is little to none. I was afraid to hear that answer, but I was not surprised. From my journey in Lima, I discovered parks and recreation that attract tourists are further developed while the slums are further ignored in this city. This is precisely why I find MEDLIFE’s work to be crucial. MEDLIFE is not just present in Lima to hand out “free” medical, educational, and developmental care; they are present to bring awareness to the concerning issues of severely underserved areas in Lima to its government. This is their goal in Peru as well in Ecuador and in Tanzania, where there is potential for development but lacks resources and efforts.

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Nonetheless, not every one receives help from MEDLIFE. What sets MEDLIFE apart from other organizations with “similar” goals is that MEDLIFE focuses on helping community individuals that seek out and work for their assistance. As I followed Carlos Benavides, the Director of MEDLIFE Peru, on field, I noticed that some community individuals initially wanted student volunteers and local medical practitioners to just provide their aid and leave. But MEDLIFE’s goal is to provide and continue their sustainable assistance in the underserved communities, and Carlos assured the individuals in these communities that their conditions will only improve and will only be sustained if they too take part in MEDLIFE’s efforts.

 As a result of engaging community individuals in MEDLIFE projects, I also learned that both the community individuals and the student volunteers benefit from their interactions. The community individuals are indeed appalled by how our volunteers travel hundreds of miles just to help a random community of strangers. As a result, they are awed and inspired by the great efforts and help of those from abroad. Likewise, our student volunteers are awed and inspired by the perseverance of the community individuals to continue to support themselves and their families even during poorest conditions.

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As a MEDLIFE student volunteer and intern, I have had the opportunity to help with nearly 5 mobile clinics. Although mobile clinics were unique in their own respective ways, they all shared few commonalities. They all were life-changing to most students. I encountered students on mobile clinics and my members at The Ohio State University chapter who changed their professional track, because they recognized the value of opportunities at home and strived to use these opportunities to better the lives of those struggling to put food on table; I personally know individuals who would eventually go onto attending well renowned medical schools, dental schools, and graduate schools for Public Health because of their experiences on mobile clinics. Then, at the inauguration of MEDLIFE Projects, I realized the type of impact our student volunteers were making on these communities. Just past week, MEDLIFE inaugurated its 107th staircase in Lima, and for this specific inauguration, there were 5 MEDLIFE community leaders present from surrounding areas to share their their heartfelt gratitude for MEDLIFE and its volunteers. Each community leader shared how our student volunteers dramatically changed their lives by providing their communities with medical and educational resources, and infrastructure. Our student volunteers not only made a difference in their lives but their children’s future as well.

Even outside of MEDLIFE Summer Internship, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience in Peru. Despite being 4000 miles away from home and no fluency in spanish, I felt very comfortable living in Peru for these past 2 months and will definitely miss this place. As a foreigner, I encountered some of the friendliest individuals, welcoming me into their homes with open arms. Even as a college student with a budget, I was able to enjoy the excursions Peru had to offer. This past week alone was extremely adventurous. I traveled to Islas Ballestas, saw penguins in very unlikely places of earth, gazed at the mesmerizing Paracas Candelabra, and snapped pictures of sea lions and dolphins in their natural habitats. I then traveled to Huacachina village, the “Oasis of America”, where dune bugging and sand boarding was more exhilarating than the amusement parks in United States. Finally, I ended the weekend with some of the world’s delicious cuisine, including Astrid y Gaston, ranked as the 18th best restaurant in the world, where 2 sets of delicious bread and olives, 2 main meals, and a dessert dish only totaled up to $60 with the tip (inexpensive compared to the same quality of food in United States). Overall, this summer has been the best one yet in my life, and I would relive it again if I could.

August 26, 2014 9:16 AM

MEDLIFE ROLE MODELS: Meet Herminia

Written by Rosali Vela

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She was only 14 when she arrived from Huanuco, Herminia was fleeing an uncertain future. Her mother's words were clear: we have no money for you to study. That was when she decided to use savings to travel to Lima and try to build a future in this chaotic city.

Upon arrival she sought out a distant aunt who gave her a job peeling potatoes at a market. The owner of the place, a gentleman who was very friendly, offered her a small room in his house, but his wife, full of jealousy did everything possible to get Herminia out. Thus, soon enough she was once again alone again and on the street, Herminia bought a box of tomatoes and began selling them, trying to get some money.

She slept on the street for many weeks, until she could buy a patch of cheap land in the hills. There, using some cardboard and old wood, she managed to build a house, good enough to at least stay warm in the cold and wet Lima climate.

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She met the father of her children one afternoon while working in the market. Love was not immediate, but they began to rely on each other in hard times, and grew stronger together. When her son was born, Herminia did not know whether to laugh or mourn. The money was enough for her to barely eat, let alone an to feed an extra mouth. But the value of having their own child won her over and that's when her son was born.

10 years have passed and Herminia remains living in poverty, and she became pregnant once again. But their bond and perseverance to build a better life has meant she stopped being the shy young woman who came from nothing, and Huanuco has became the leader of his community, where six MEDLIFE staircases have been built. He and Herminia have worked day and night to help complete all of them.

Getting electricity in her community had always been a big problem and was not easy. Herminia had to learn the laws that she had never heard of before and rights that she did not even know she had. But by overcoming struggles between her and the system brought electricity and light to an entire community. Incredibly, Herminia achieved this alone.

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Now, Herminia has a newborn baby and faces another problem. Her house is falling apart. Bad weather, moisture and rats, have made their home unlivable, it will soon fall. Therefore, recognizing the work of Herminia, MEDLIFE is looking to the next group of Development Corps to build a home for Herminia, so that she can continue her work as a community leader and to protect their children from the inhospitable climate in the hills of Lima.

Together we will succeed!

August 21, 2014 9:21 AM

Hima Patel's Intern Journal (2)

Written by Hima Patel

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Walking through the pebbly roads of Pamplona Alta, climbing up the rocky hill sides, and waving at the peeping eyes peering from the corners of the ramshackle corrugated metal homes, I have come to learn so much about the lives, families and communities that MEDLIFE reaches out to. When venturing into these towns, seeking the feedback and help of the communities that want a new staircase, a new Wawa Wasi or another new project, I get the chance to hear the oratory skills of Carlos, MEDLIFE’s Director.

Carlos commands the attention of the audience, each set of eyes fixed on his face, his jokes eliciting hearty chuckles and his moving speeches garnering solemn looks. Carlos effectively engages the community- convinces them that a mobile clinic will bring needed medical attention for their families, and that educational sessions will inform the young women about pap smears, self-breast exams and safe sex practices. Watching Carlos interact with community leaders, town residents and even grinning children, you understand how pivotal Carlos’s work is in creating a working relationship with all of the neighboring communities. His work is the foundation that we build MEDLIFE off of- he lays the groundwork with the communities, allowing mobile clinics to come in and aid the communities by building what they need, and providing necessary medical attention. What I find most awe inspiring is that MEDLIFE is able to include the communities in our work; we do not simply go in, have a clinic or build a staircase, and leave. We are able to partner with these families in the communities, their hands diligently working alongside ours.

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The gray skies and chilly days are no match for the bright smiles and warm hearts that greet us when we trek into the communities. It is moving to see that so many people are so thankful for what we do, and are willing to help us make a difference, however large or small, in their communities. Each day that I get the opportunity to venture out into the field, I am rewarded with the smiles, tears and heartfelt hugs from the families we help. Knowing that a simple staircase, or a medical clinic, can improve the lives of so many in such a small, yet profound way, makes the work here at MEDLIFE more meaningful, as cliché as that may sound.

A little more than halfway through my internship, and I have begun to understand the impact that MEDLIFE has on the communities and families we help, outside of the mobile clinics themselves. The work does not end simply because there are no students from abroad coming in for a clinic. MEDLIFE has a constant flow of patient follow up mingled with community development, working with the people we serve to improve their lives in small, yet significant ways. A day in the life of an intern is never stagnant- sometimes I am in the office, sometimes I am out speaking with a patient about his recovery. It is marvelous to realize that MEDLIFE’s work affects so many, and many more will continue to receive help long after I am back in America.

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