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The MEDLIFE chapter at University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras did an incredible job of fundraising $4,847 for the MEDLIFE project fund. This donation allowed us to finish 5 of our six remaining projects; a prosthetic leg for Roman, a home for Soledad, a staircase for Pompinchu, empower Union Santa Fe, a sandwhich cart for Tatiana and Camila. Ontop of all of this they also managed to put $1000 towards the Urucancha community intern project. Thank you and congratulations to the UPR Rio Piedras MEDLIFE chapter for your outstanding work. 

Tell us about your chapter, how many members do you have, how did you create it, what is your history?

 We have 409 members organized and dedicated to working and giving their best to the needs of communities. MEDLIFE UPR-RP was created in the year 2012 and since then we have demonstrated that the unity of our members is the secret to achieving success in all of our activities.

Why did you decide to start the fundraiser? How did you get the idea and motivation to do it?

 During the last semester, we successfully raised the funds for Santusa’s house together with other chapters in Puerto Rico, and MEDLIFE Cayey. But we wanted to impact and reach more people. Our President Alessandra Torres, was revising projects pending in the website this semester and saw that 6 projects still needed to reach their fundraising targets.  Later, we had a meeting where we decided that we would help complete 5 of the projects and give the rest to the one remaining. To contribute to these projects was more than just giving a donation, it meant the commitment and dedication of all of our members to help patients in need; it meant hope, happiness and love from each one of them.

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What activities did you do to raise the money?

During this second semester we held a variety of activities to raise money such as: selling pizza, bake sales, events in restaurants, and a raffle.

What obstacles did you encounter and how did you overcome them?

 Actually, the economic situation in our country is not the best, so raising the money took a lot of strength, work and determination. Nevertheless, when we did a strong promotional campaign for each activity we were able to draw the attention of many members, friends and family members who helped complete our goal.

How do you feel knowing that 5 projects have been completed because of your support?

 Honestly, it is something we still cannot believe. We never imagined that our fundraisers would be so successful that we would be able to support all of the projects. We feel extremely grateful for all of the members who were present in each activity and for all of the other people that in some way offered their help and support. The success is not ours alone; it is a success for MEDLIFE.

What are your futures goals, what plans do you have as a chapter?

 In terms of future plans, we would like to continue to give back to projects that are the pillars of our organization: medicine, education and development. We would also like to have our chapter represented in Mobile Clinics, be it in Peru, Ecuador or Nicaragua. 

April 21, 2016 2:53 PM

Earthquake in Ecuador Update

Written by Jake Kincaid

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Five days after the catastrophic earthquake that rocked Ecuador on April sixteenth, the death toll has risen to 570, along with 7000 injured, 2000 buildings damaged and 24,000 survivors left homeless in refugee shelters, according to government tallies.

            The government has estimated that the disaster caused between $2-3 billion dollars worth of damage, and could knock 2-3 points off of growth, already predicted to drop by the World Bank this year because of falling global oil prices, and lead to a shrinking economy. It will take years to recover.

            The president has unveiled a plan to finance parts of the reconstruction through raising taxes, sellings bonds, and federal loans, but alot of help will still be needed.

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            MEDprograms director Ecuador Martha Chicaiza arrived in Esmeraldas today, the afternoon of the 21st with 50 emergency kits full of non-perishable foods, soap, matches, and basic medical supplies. The kits cost $25 each. She has also made 100 kits to send to Pedernales, one of the hardest hit coastal towns. 

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“These tragedies have brought a lot of pain,” said Martha. “We needed to do something to relieve at least a little of the pain for those who have lost everything.”

Rescue personal are just beginning to reach many of the remote villages, the kinds of places MEDLIFE works, often finding few survivors and the towns reduced to rubble, like in this New York Times Article.

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Martha will be visiting affected areas in coming days with leaders of communities where MEDLIFE has worked in the past and meeting with authorities to figure out the best way to help.

“How can I give you a measure,” said Martha. “ In the days that have passed, observing more the dimensions of the tragedy- these cities are going to need help for a long time to clean and reconstruct. It destroyed houses, schools, and whole communities. We are going to have to work on this for a long time.”

MEDLIFE is collecting donations to put towards relief here.

            *Photos from Pinterest page collecting earthquake photos*

April 19, 2016 8:37 AM

Devastating Earthquake Rocks Ecuador

Written by Jake Kincaid

4From a Mobile Clinic near Esmeraldas in March 2016 before the earthquake.

  Saturday April 16, 2016 a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the central coast of Ecuador near Muisne. Over 400 people have been killed and more than 2,500 people are injured or missing as of Tuesday the 19th, these numbers are expected to rise. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that it was the greatest tragedy to hit the country since the 1949 earthquake in Ambato, and that the reconstruction will cost billions.

13Collapsed building, from this pinterest page collecting photos of the earthquake.

This video taken on a security cam gives some idea of the intensity of the earthquake. In the main areas affected, such as Guayas, Esmeraldas and Manabi, infrastructure was devastated. According to the government, at least 370 buildings have been counted as destroyed. In the town of Pedernales, near the epicenter 80% of the town’s infrastructure was demolished. Soldiers and police have begun to patrol the area in an effort to prevent looting. Many people are homeless and the police have begun setting up shelters. A soccer stadium in Perdernales has been turned into a relief centre and morgue.

Engineer Enrique Garcia told the BBC that the Ecuadorian infrastructure was not prepared for such a disaster. The municipalities did not follow regulations to make sure that buildings were constructed with materials that could withstand a disaster, and thus many collapsed during the earthquake.

15From this Pinterest page collecting photos of the earthquake.

 All six coastal provinces are in a state of emergency. However, the quake was felt all over Ecuador, Quito lost power and several bridges collapsed in Guayaquil. Atacames, Muisne and Esmeraldas were evacuated, but there was no sign of a tsunami. The tremors were felt as far away as Cali, Colombia, where a clinic was evacuated.

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   From this Pinterest page collecting photos of the earthquake.

10,000 Ecuadorian military troops and 3500 police officers were deployed to assist in rescue operations. Foreign aid has begun to pour in, the Red Cross sent over 1000 volunteers, and Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru have sent manpower.

16 11.44.23 AMA devastated road, from this Pinterest page collecting photos of the earthquake.

Authorities told the AP that landslides, crumbling bridges and roads were making it very hard to reach the hardest hit. The hard to access rural communities that MEDLIFE works in are likely yet to be counted in the roundup of damage and casualties. In places like Carlos Concha and Tabiazo, the nearest hospital was a two hour bus ride from the town center on precarious roads, along with hours of hiking and a swim across the river for the majority of habitants who live in the dispersed settlements that have no road access.

11A tienda in Pumpula, next to where the bus was parked for a March Mobile Clinic, sunken into the earth.

MEDLIFE has worked extensively in the rural communities around Esmeraldas and Atacames for years, both regions were hit very hard by the earthquake. MEDLIFE is not equipped for disaster relief, but we are using our fundraising capabilities to aid in the cause. Director of MEDprograms Ecuador Martha Chicaiza is in Riobamba collecting donations to send to affected areas. She said that travel by land is extremely difficult, many roads in the area were destroyed.

If Ecuadorian infrastructure as a whole was poorly suited to withstand an earthquake, many of the homes in the communities we work in are extremely poorly prepared. Martha has heard from communuty leaders that many homes have collapsed in Pumpula and Chinca, both communities where MEDLIFE held Mobile Clinics in March 2016.

Given the widespread destruction caused to the concrete buildings in the town centers, it is hard to imagine that elevated wooden houses like those in the photos below are still standing. All photos below are from a MEDLIFE trip to Esmeraldas in March: 

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This contruction style is common in the poorest rural communities near Esmeraldas. The houses are elevated to save them from seasonal flooding. 

Martha is preparing emergency kits to send immediately to affected areas. We are collecting donations to put towards emergency relief here.   Please donate now and send help to the victims of this terrible disaster.  

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The supplies to prepare emergency ration kits

17A finished kit, ready to be send to the disaster zone.

Sources and further reading: 

Follow #sismoecuador on twitter for updates. 

http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2016/04/160416_ecuador_terremoto_magnitud_colombia_peru_bm

http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2016/04/160417_ecuador_terremoto_preparacion_il

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/04/18/americas/ecuador-earthquake/index.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/17/ecuador-earthquake-230-killed-magnitude-seven-point-eight

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/04/ecuador-earthquake-400-dead-economy-battered-160419043007636.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/17/tsunami-warning-as-powerful-earthquake-hits-ecuador/

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ecuador-quake-idUSKCN0XE009

http://www.elperiodico.com/es/noticias/internacional/los-muertos-por-seismo-ascienden-246-ecuador-5062706

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/18/world/americas/ecuador-earthquake-deaths.html

 

 

 

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Maximilieno Cedeno did a 50:50 campaign to raise money for his 2016 trip to Esmereldas, Ecuador. Here is what he had to say about running a fundraiser and about his Mobile Clinic trip to Ecuador.

How did you hear about a 50:50 campaign?

I heard about a 50:50 campaign from my chapter and from a previous trip. It is a good way to raise funds for MEDLIFE and also help with the cost of the trip.

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Why did you decide to do a 50:50 campaign?

I decided to come on a MEDLIFE trip because it’s a great chance to help others in another country that have low incomes. Also you get to see another side of the world that back in the United States you are not able to see.

How long did it take you to raise the money?

It took me around 2 months to raise the money. I blasted in social media and asked my dad and some friends to pass it around.

What was the main obstacle you encountered?

The main obstacle was myself, I don’t like to ask for money. That was an obstacle, getting over asking for money. But the money was going to a good cause, so that helped me get through it.

What did you learn from doing a fundraising campaign?

I learned first of all that it is not hard. You have to put some time into it but once it gets started it’s going to go on it’s own basically. The first big step is just to get the word out, and letting people know you are fundraising for a good cause.  Basically keep track of how much each person is giving you so you can send them a thank you card. It’s actually my second fundraising campaign, because it is my second MEDLIFE trip.

So this is your second 50:50 campaign?

Yes this is my second campaign. The first one I raised less than this one. I learned from the mistakes I made that time and I was able to raise more this year.

What did you do to raise more this time?

I let more people know this time. I also showed them personal experiences that I had before with MEDLIFE. 

What did you learn on your trip?

One of the things that struck me the most is how people are able to survive on such a minimal amount of income. How they are able on a day to day basis with so little resources that they have. One of the great things that MEDLIFE does is follow up with the patients and make sure that they get the right treatment, that money does not go to waste.

How do you feel about the impact you made on the communities with the money you raised?

It feels really good knowing you are helping others that actually need it and really appreciate it. When we leave at the end of each day the people are really thankful that we did a mobile clinic in their community , and that makes you feel really good about it. 

 

April 11, 2016 10:13 AM

A Long Road to Recovery for Maura

Written by Jake Kincaid

It was an unremarkable day. Maura was driving her Moto-taxi up the steep dirt roads of Villa Maria Trufino in Lima, Peru, with her son and his teacher in the back seat when a stray dog jumped in front of her car and caused a crash, catapulting her out of the roof of her car.

That was in November of 2011- in March of 2016 Maura has a large metal apparatus sticking out of her right leg with 6 spikes puncturing her skin and going right into her bone. MEDLIFE nurse Carmen had come to check up on her, and bring her gauze, saline water and disinfectant to clean her leg. 

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The apparatus is designed to finally force her bones into alignment and unity after five long years of being broken. Maura may not have been able to walk since 2011, but she is still moving forward on the long path to recovery.

The car crash destroyed her leg, breaking her bones and tearing her skin, she needed surgery.  While she was able to get an operation through the public health system- the surgery left her worse off than when she started. Maura was the victim of medical malpractice (the story of which is detailed in this post), her doctor incorrectly performed the operation and left her with detached bones in her leg and a loose bolt. She no longer had insurance she could fall back on and use.

This is how MEDLIFE found Maura, and promptly got her the first of two surgeries she needs.

6Maura in the hospital after her surgery in 2016.

7The nurses pointing in shock at the long trek up the dirt path from the road to Maura's home.

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Now, she is waiting for a specially designed plate for her next surgery that the doctor will put in to finally connect her two bones.

It has been three months of waiting for the second surgery, but it cannot be done without the plate, which must be manufactured specially for her case outside of Peru and imported. Maura’s home is high in the hills of Via Maria, it would be too hard for her to live up there while recovering, even with the staircase MEDLIFE built to give her better access to her house.

Her niece and ex-husband have been supporting her by renting her a room at the bottom of the hill. She still has to look after her three-year-old son Angel while recovering, who as we were visiting dropped bread on the ground and ten proceeded to knock everything of off the nightstand. The walls are covered in crayon streaks, which Angel had colored when Maura was in the shower one time.

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Maura didn’t get upset, she remained calm, light, her demeanor betrays little of the hardships of the past five years. She just laughed and calmly convinced Angel to pick the things up. Even though caring for a three year old while she is crippled is hard, Maura says that Angel is more of a help than a burden.

“Angel is my helper. Even though he is a child he understands, he always helps me,” Maura said. “He gives me the strength to go out. I was depressed, but I have to keep moving forward with my life for him.”

Soon, Maura will get the operation she needs to begin walking again and move forward with her life. Until, then, MEDLIFE will continue supporting her. 

April 6, 2016 12:09 PM

Emergencies at Clinic: Isabel Morocho

Written by Jake Kincaid

During spring Mobile Clinic season MEDLIFE travelled to many extremely remote indigenous Andean communities in Peru and Ecuador, which are often several hours away from a hospital. When a Mobile Clinic visits a community like this, it is a rare opportunity for easy access to health care. Oftentimes, a simple treatment like an antibiotic prescription is enough to alleviate an otherwise serious condition. But what happens when we are several hours away from a hospital and we encounter a patient with a serious and urgent condition who we cannot treat at clinic?

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That is what happened in this community, located a couple of hours outside of Riobamba, Ecuador. At above 10,000 feet altitude, the village is literally in the clouds, which morph and billow across the patchwork quilt of crop fields and grazing livestock that sustain those who live here at a mesmerizing speed typically only seen in time-lapse videos. 

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The people who live here are physically and socially cut off from the rest of society. No public transit serves this area. To arrive here our bus struggled up steep and winding dirt roads, crossing a bridge so precarious looking everyone got off the bus before it tried to cross; thankfully the bridge did not collapse. Many of the older residents here only speak Quechua, a language not often spoken outside of indigenous Andean communities. If an emergency occurs here, community members have a long journey ahead of them to a hospital where someone may not even speak Quechua.

When MEDLIFE encountered Isabel Morocho her skin had a yellow tinge, she had a high fever, severe dehydration, was perspiring heavily and complaining of pain in her ribs. She hobbled slowly into the room where the doctors were stationed with a stooped over posture and eyes cast to the floor. Her son was translating from Quechua into Spanish for her. It was obvious that her condition was serious. 

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When her son brought her in, they had just gotten back from a trip to Guayaquil, a major city in Ecuador many hours away, in an attempt to get her medical attention there.

After an ultrasound she was diagnosed with gallstones. The doctors there told her that she needed to be operated on right away, but her son elected to try get the surgery done in Riobamba, a city much closer to their village. They could not afford to stay in Guayaquil while Isabel recovered and the long journey back would be too much to handle for an elderly recovering surgery patient.

Several days went by, they journeyed home- they did not go straight to the hospital. Meanwhile, Isabel’s condition worsened rapidly and she got the flu; her condition had left her immune system weak and vulnerable. 

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It was decided that she needed to be taken to the hospital immediately. 

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  She was helped to a car by her son, who accompanied by MEDprograms Ecuador Martha Chicaiza, went straight to the hospital with her. 

She was given medication for the infection, and the doctors are waiting for her to recover from it so they can safely do the surgery. Isabel was put into the MEDLIFE patient follow-up care system. MEDLIFE will continue to walk Isabel through the treatment process until she has recovered. Eventhough she was hours away from a hospital, Isabel still got the care she needed.

 

 

 You never know what you are going to find when you roll up to a new community with a bus full of medical supplies for a MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic. This photo essay shows a collection of patients and their stories from a particularly eventful day in a rural community outside of Riobamba, Ecuador. 

1MEDLIFE begins patient intake at a church. Most people here either work in agriculture, or work peeling garlic brought in from elsewhere to be sold in local markets. This occupation can produce a host of fungus infections on the skin, which was treated at the clinic. 

2 The epileptic patient came in saying that her barbituate medication was no longer controlling her seizures. She had broken bones from falls during seizures in the past and her lips showed signs of damage from chewing during seizures.

3 She was only taking her medication some days once a day. It was determined her routine was not consistent enough to prevent the seizures, she was given more medication and told to take it twice per day every day, not only when she had seizures.

4Patient came in complaining of back pain. She took a big fall down a flight of stairs 25 years ago. This probably caused the Lumbar Lordosis that was visible in her posture, and causing her pain.

5She was given pain medication and taught some physical therapy excercises.

8 This man was brought in by his daughter because she was concerned he was taking too many barbituates, damaging his health and making him sedate. He had had an operation for cerebral edama, the build up of fluid in the brain, years earlier. After the surgery, he experienced severe pain in one side of his face which was neurological in origin. The barbituates were perscribed to alleviate the pain. He has since become addicted to the powerful narcotics. He was given other medication and his daughter was given instructions on how to ween him off the the excessive baribituate consumption.

 11Cecilia, a grade school teacher at the school where the clinic was held, brought in one of her students, Emiliy, because she knew Emily had been told she had a heart condition. Emily cannot participate in physical activity with the other kids at school.

10 Listening to her heart with the stethescope, a heart murmer could be heard. Emily has coronary heart disease, a birth defect of the heart that likely developed into a serious condition because of malnutrition. She was put into MEDLIFE patient followup care and will need to be taken to a specialist to find out what needs to be done.

14 This sick two month old was brought in by her mother with a peristant high fever.

17 After being examined by a doctor, it was determined she had an infection and was given Amoxicilin. Without access to antiobiotics, even a simply treated infection like this can become a serious threat to an infant's life.

13As the clinic wound down community members gathered around the sick infant and gave their support. The sense of community one can see here is part of what makes working in indigenous Andean communities so special.

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18As people began to leave, the volcanoe Tungurahua erupted outside.

12 Here, you can see the mushroom cloud above the volcano. Though the eruption was not serious nor close enough to seriously harm the town, people began wondering whether or not it would begin raining ash again and cover everything in soot as it had the week before. They hoped it would not.

March 23, 2016 4:39 PM

Treating Malaria in Tanzania

Written by Jake Kincaid

In Kilimanjaro, Tanzania a visibly underweight one-year old girl named Nance Mungure was brought into our mobile clinic in January of 2016. Her mother carried her on foot for an hour to bring her to MEDLIFE doctors because she was worried about her daughter's gaunt appearance and high fever. Our doctors suspected a common culprit in Tanzania, Malaria. They immediately administered a test- Nance was Malaria positive.

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Nearly half the world's population lives in a Malaria risk zone. It claims more than 400,000 lives per year and primarily hurts those in poverty, who lack access to testing and treatment. About 70% of these deaths are in children under 5, just like Nance. Early diagnosis and treatment can reliably prevent these deaths, which is why the WHO considers it a fundamental right of at risk populations.

However, access to treatment and diagnosis is typically not a reality for subsistence farming families living in remote areas like Nance's, which is why MEDLIFE has made Malaria testing and treatment a focus in our Tanzania clinics.

In addition to treatment and testing, Mosquito net donations can help prevent infections. Education about prevention and treatment is critical in motivating at risk populations to go the extra mile (or many miles) and seek out early testing.

MEDLIFE visited a month later after Nance completed the course of Malaria treatment that she was given at the Mobile Clinic. We found a happy smiling baby who had finally managed to put on a bit of weight.  MEDLIFE Mobile Clinics will continue to bring critical Malaria care directly to the poor in remote communities in Tanzania, so that kids like Nance can get the treatment they need.

Congratulations to Michelle Millions from McGill University, who raised $412 in her 50:50 campaign. This is what she had to say about her trip to Esmereldas Ecuador and about running a successful fundraising campaign.

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What made you decide to do a 50:50 Campaign?

Well, originally I was with other organizations at my University, but I didn't agree with the full scope and the full mission statement that they had. So, this summer I spent a lot of time researching different NGO's and things I wanted to be a part of and I found out about MEDLIFE through that. I really really believed in their mission statement and what they were doing which made me really want to come on a trip and see first hand how they were impacting communities. I decided to do a 50:50, because it's one thing for me to come and help, and it's another thing for me to come and bring resources and for the community that I am helping.

Can you tell me more specifically what about the MEDLIFE mission was more in line with your values?

I really really appreciate the idea of local doctors, and people staying here for an extended period of time, like the interns for example, who are trying to make a lasting impact on the community. There are so many NGOS where they will bring in an American doctor who isn't really well versed in the area, leave them for a week, and take them out, and that's great, but that isn't sustainable for the community. What I believe that MEDLIFE does is really allow a community to stand on it's own and contribute to the help that they are receiving.

What strategies did you use to be successful in your 50:50 campaign?

I had a blurb I had written both about MEDLIFE itself and what I believed I would be doing on the trip and I shared it through facebook and a lot through emails, to coworkers of parents or people I knew who had gone on other trips or who I knew were into sponsoring  things. So, it was mostly through sharing of emails.

What did you learn through running a fundraising campaign?

I learned the most important thing was to make it relevant to people. Like it's one thing to say I want to go on a trip I want to help some people can you help me do that? It's another to send them links to the information. Here are the problems going on in the area I will be going to, here are the communities you will be impacting, really show them what it is their money is going to do. I also sent them all follow up emails saying I would send them information from this trip about how it went so they would really know how they were making a difference, so it wouldn't just be an abstract concept. I sent them pictures and updates, descriptions of how I felt about the communities so they would know where their money was going and to make it relevant to them so they would want to continue supporting MEDLIFE, and not just me.

How do you feel about the impact you made on the communities with the money you raised?

This last week- it's been really great. There are very few ways an NGO can grow without people doing fundraising. You see all the medications we gave out, I worked in pharmacy a couple of days. There is no way we could have done that without people fundraising. It's really nice to see where people's money is going and have it be part of an organization that I believe in so much. 

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How is it that 840,000 people worldwide die each year from a water-borne illness? Twice the population of the United States lives without access to water! I found myself sitting there, staring at these facts along with countless others, in awe. Just questioning how they can even exist while I am sitting there with a big bottle of clean water right in front of me. That’s when I decided I needed to do something. I wanted to influence that statistic no matter how significant it may be. I needed to make a difference.

After extensive research, I decided that the most practical, efficient, and cost-effective water filtration system for development work in Tanzania were Bio-Sand filters; a cement structure with a hollow center made up of layers of sand and gravel. The dirty water is poured into the top of the filter, then travels down through the sand bed and passes through multiple layers of gravel. As dirty water works its way down the filter, pathogens and contaminants are removed. The clean water pours out through the plastic piping for a family to collect in clean containers with a lid and spigot that I will also be providing called a jerry bucket. These filters have proven to remove 90% of bacteria and 100% of parasites, resulting in significant improvement in the quality of the water making it safe to drink.

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Now all I had to do was fundraise! It started with three filters for three families, which turned into fifteen filters which eventually turned into thirty filters! Enough for two nursery schools and twenty four families! Over the course of two months, I had overwhelming support from friends, families, University MEDLIFE chapters, and two incredibly supportive and enthusiastic elementary schools, one of which was the school I had once attended as a child. Not only did these two elementary schools raise over $1,000 but they also wrote countless letters and cards to the children in Tanzania that would be receiving these filters.

Before I knew it I fundraised a total of $4,350! It was more money than I could have ever imagined! What a reflection of the people I am so blessed to have in my life as well as a beautiful portrayal of the compassionate and generous world we live in. Sometimes people just need an opportunity to make a difference, a little encouragement to help change the world, a sudden realization of how the other half of the world lives…

As the ball dropped in Times Square New Year's Eve, I was flying somewhere way above Africa on my way to Tanzania. Anxious, excited, nervous, overwhelmed, full of anticipation for the adventure that was soon to unfold and the lives I would soon be able touch in ways I never thought possible.

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After endless preparation, the first day of the project had finally come. A group of forty University of Delaware MEDLIFE volunteers, Amber, Neema, and myself arrived to the nursery school of a wonderful quant community known as Kilema. Working hand in hand with the families and teachers receiving the filters, we used posters and picture games the volunteers had created to educate the community members on the risks and dangers of the unsanitary water they are currently drinking. Most importantly, the family members were taught exactly how to use the bio-sand filter and how to maintain it properly, so it remains a sustainable water filtration solution for years and years to come! The community members raised their hands to ask questions, worked side by side with the volunteers figuring out the correct choices to the activities we presented, and discussed with their neighbors basic hygiene, sanitation, and the importance of filtering their water. It occurred to me in that moment that this was the very first time they had been taught these facts that many of us take for granted. Without understanding what is causing them to get sick, or what significance invisible pathogens floating in their water has on their health how are they supposed to be inclined to use a filter in the first place? To see first hand these individuals fully engaged and enthusiastic about learning reinforced my belief that education truly is the foundation of any attempt in resolving a given public health issues in our world.

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The following week Neema and I returned to Kilema along with the two technicians who had driven 11 hours to deliver and install the bio-sand filters. It was time for the very first  filter to be installed at the nursery school. All the teachers and parents crowded around entirely intrigued, watching as the technician carefully poured the layers of sand and gravel into the hollow cylindrical filter. Afterwards the technicians, Neema, myself and a group of the family members receiving a filter all piled into the truck full of the bio-sand filters, squished side by side. We arrived to Deo’s home first, a tall quiet man with a infectious smile who shared a home with a wife, three children, and his mother. I was introduced to Deo’s mother who sat on the dirt floor, surrounded by banana trees, missing one shoe, with a bible gently placed next to her. She took my hand in hers and softly began to pray. When she had finished, she looked at me and repeated “Ahsante” which means thank you over and over. The other family members joined together to help Deo and the technicians carry the heavy filter and materials through the path that lead to his home which was made of scraps of wood, dirt, cement, and cardboard. All the individuals receiving a filter helped each other one by one with each of the installations until they were all finished.

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Now, time to share my favorite day of the entire project. A few days after all of the filters were installed, we all returned to Kilema nursery school for a final inauguration and celebration of the filters. As some volunteers painted the water filters with the names of all the people who donated to the project, other volunteers spent time hanging up every letter and drawing made by the children at the elementary schools back in the United States on a wall in the classroom. After sharing everything with the children at the nursery, the volunteers and children sat around and wrote thank you letters and cards in return to the students back in the United States.  

It was that morning, as I walked around watching the filters being painted, the colorful pictures being hung on the wall, the giggles from the children writing cards, and the smiles coming from the family members and teachers that I realized I had done something immeasurable. I had changed their lives, I had successfully bettered the lives of 24 families and 2 nursery schools with the support of so many giving people that helped me make this possible.

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Joseph, an older man who had received a filter for his home, took my hand before I left, and told me “You may have two grandpas back in America, but you tell them that you now have one grandpa here in Tanzania”. I always try and read their faces, their minds. Some are friendly and appreciative while others are hesitant and skeptical. Often times I am left wondering; wondering the thoughts that are invisibly floating through our two minds, the unanswered questions lingering between our separate worlds, the curiosities that arise amid our unspoken lives.

Now, I know. I know that they care, that they appreciate our help. I have never been embraced, or thanked the way I was that final day by each person who benefited from this project. I would like to let them know that I was born into the life I was privileged with, that I had no choice just like they hadn’t. However, it is because I recognize how fortunate and blessed I am that I am here, trying to understand and figure out their story, their life, their mystery.

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I returned to New York after 46 hours of travelling with a stack of cards from the nursery school children. The very next morning, I pulled up to my old elementary school with the stack in my hand and a big smile on my face. The principal went on the loudspeaker and told the children and teachers sitting in each and every classroom I was here! She asked me to read the letter I had written for the children over the loudspeaker. I shared with them not only my appreciation but the gratefulness of the children and their parents in Tanzania. What they had done as a school was not some invisible act of kindness, it was real and the children and families on the other side of the world will always remember them for what they had done. I hope children all over the world can be inspired to help others less fortunate and this project has inspired not only me, but I hope has touched the hearts of my friends and family as well as all of the children.  

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Along my journey, with each hand I have touched and every individuals life I have tried to help, ironically I am the one who has been changed. It has taken me countless of encounters and experiences to try and understand why I dedicate much of my life to helping others live a better quality life. The answer I seem to have been left with is one I am sure will continuously evolve overtime. What I do know is that I do it for both myself and for those I help. I set out to help individuals facing daily obstacles that seem to be unimaginable to many of us in an effort to satisfy my never ending desire of wanting to see the world through the eyes of others besides myself, to impact the lives of others, and to give back. I do it because I was born just like they were born; without preparation and without a say of where I would live, what family I would have, or how my life would be staged when I came into this world.

The truth is that these individuals living without access to basic needs such as water, or food, or medical care may be poor in wealth but they are certainly rich in humanity. They smile and laugh, they cry and they fight but despite our vast worlds apart we are all the same and in this cycle of life they are the ones who can use a little help this round. The reason I dedicate a part of my life to doing this work is because I believe in the faith of humanity. I believe that humans should help one another. All of us are just living and surviving one way or another but we all love and with that comes empathy; the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. So take a moment and truly believe in the faith of humanity because who knows, maybe in your next life you can be in their shoes…

 

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