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Petronila Santi has lived a long life. In her 70 years, she has endured great hardship, overcome adversity, and emerged out of the darkest moments of her life to raise her children to be healthy and strong.
Petronila was born in the sierra region of Apurimac, Peru. Her father was very ill, and her family was poor. When Petronila was twelve years old, her father told her to make a better life for herself by moving to Lima for better education and employment opportunities. Petronila listened to her father’s advice and allowed her aunts to bring her to the capital of Peru. She traveled without a birth certificate or any formal identification, but her parents were confident in the move and promised Petronila the documents would arrive later—but they never did.
Once in Lima, Petronila found herself in an inaccessible society: confronted with great amounts of racism and prejudice associated with Peru’s rural region, she was not able to study without her legal documents. She was forced to sacrifice her adolescence and work to survive.
Petronila worked for years as a house cleaner. Many of the families she worked for were kind and offered her the means to study, but only if she could produce her birth certificate. She never attended school.
At 16 years old, Pertronila fell into a trap. After watching her day after day walking to the market, an older man fell in love with Petronila. The attention did not bother her, she thought nothing of it. However, Petronila’s older cousin watched the budding relationship between her and the older man and assumed the worst. Without consulting Petronila, her cousin went to the police with a fabricated story to put an end to the relationship. She claimed the older man raped Petronila.
Petronila was brought to the police station and was forced to put an innocent man in jail and risk her cousin going to jail for lying, or succumb to the wrongly accused man’s request to drop the charges against her cousin and marry him instead. Petronila received a lot of pressure from her family, and ended up marrying a man she hardly knew.
Petronila’s cousin’s accusations came true. Petronila endured her unwanted marriage – filled with rape, domestic violence and alcohol abuse – until her husband left her and their child. She yearned to go home to the sierra and be with her parents.
In her second turn living in Lima, Petronila fell in love with another man and gave birth to another child. Like her first marriage, she endured disaster, filled with pain and suffering.
In Petronila’s older age, her daughter told her about a MEDLIFE mobile clinic held in her neighborhood. Due to the physical strain her body went through as a young child, Petronila was especially interested in attending the health services for women.
Petronila visited all the stations at the MEDLIFE mobile clinic, including having a pap smear exam at the OB/GYN station. She was surprised when her test results came back positive.
MEDLIFE nurses followed up with Petronila and brought her to medical appointments to determine a diagnosis: Dysplasia, or the enlargement of an organ from abnormal cells - a developmental disorder or an early stage in the development of cancer. Her illness could only be cured with rigorous treatment and monitoring. Due to her frailty, it was decided a minimally-invasive surgery would not jeopardize her health.
The biggest obstacle in the process was convincing Petronila to have the surgery. Over the course of several weeks, Petronila’s hesitation delayed the surgery several times over. However, thanks to the perseverance of our follow-up care nurses, Petronila finally understood that having the surgery was the only way to ensure her health and reduce the risk of cancer.
Because of our dedicated follow-up staff, Petronila is currently recovering and healthy. In four months, she will return for a follow-up consultation with her doctor.
Petronila was alone for most of her life, without anyone’s support, without anyone to care for her. She feels lucky to have found people who care about her well-being when everyone else in her life silenced and abandoned her.
“Thank you for the support with my medicine and with everything that I could not have covered on my own,” Petronila says. “The nurses were incredibly kind to me. They called me, came to my house to find me, and always helped me with my prescriptions.”
“Ruth is outstanding. She calls all the time to make sure we are ok. Even during the operation when I had to tend to my son, Ruth took my spot and stayed at the hospital with my mother for hours. We are very grateful,” says Petronila’s daughter Mary.
Petronila has lent us a very important lesson that caring for women’s health is a priority. “I was very fearful of the operation, but I would tell other women to continue receiving and asking for medical care and treatments. Women need to know how important it is to care for their bodies. They need to be informed. Now that I’ve been through the experience, I feel very content knowing I am not at risk anymore. I am so appreciative to God and everyone who helped me and knowing that everything will be ok,” Petronila expressed.
Petronila concludes by providing us with some words of wisdom and a conclusion of her experience: “Its not about money, you can earn money, you can work for days and months to earn money and pay for treatment. It’s about the interaction. Knowing that someone is calling you all the time, every step of the way, to keep you company. That is what I valued the most about my experience.”
In her dark, unlit kitchen filled with swarming flies and dust billowing up from the dirt floor, Maura lifts up her skirt to reveal her left leg—mangled.
Her flesh is contorted in unnatural ways, sunken in due to an absence of muscle, patterned with criss-crossed and jagged scars slithering up and down her leg. Deep maroon marks – a constant reminder of her physically traumatic accident – converge at a robust protrusion just left of her kneecap, which oozes liquid from a persistent internal infection. Nothing has healed since the day her life took a turn.
She tells us her story:
One day in November of 2011, Maura Quiñones Morales, a mother in her mid-30s, was driving her 10-year-old son to school in Villa María del Triunfo in Lima, Peru, going about their day as usual. Maura would take breaks from her workday as a driver of a mototaxi, a three-wheeled motorized scooter, to ensure her son (and sometimes his friends) arrived to school safely. On this particular day, Maura offered a ride to one of her son’s teachers, and the three continued down the dusty road. Everything was fine, until a stray dog jutted out into their path, causing Maura to swerve violently out of control. She remembers the events vividly:
“When I stopped short, the taxi’s roof flew off and I went flying through the windshield. After we crashed I didn’t know what was going on, but I thought the worst. I thought my son had died. Sincerely, I fell trying to get myself up to see my son. When I saw him walk out of the moto[taxi], my reaction was… I was relieved. He walked over to me and said ‘mom your leg is broken’, but I hadn’t even felt anything at all, until I looked down. When I looked down I saw the top of my leg going in one direction, from above the knee down going in another direction, and my leg opened up with the muscle hanging out. It was ugly. I told my son not to worry, that I was fine. ‘I’m fine’, I said, but I wasn’t fine. And I tried to walk away. A woman came over to help and wanted to attend to me. I told her ‘please, I’m fine, but please give water to my son’. I didn’t care about myself, only about my son.”
Maura’s son and the teacher were both fine; her son sustained a small cut on his head requiring only two stitches. Maura, however, was not fine. After examining her own physical condition, Maura realized the severity of her injury, and she understood she would need emergency medical care.
The accident occurred at 1:30 in the afternoon, and Maura did not receive any medical attention until 6:00 p.m. at the Maria Auxiliadora Hospital in Villa María del Triunfo. By the time Maura was seen, she had passed out from the pain, only to rouse from her unconscious state in an ambulance that was rushing her to another hospital. The first hospital not only failed to attend to her, but also lacked the facilities and medical professionals to treat her injuries.
Maura was transported to Virgen Guadalupe Hospital in Chorrillos, Lima, about a thirty-minute drive from the first hospital. While in pain she thought, “Why didn’t they see me earlier? Why didn’t they clean my wound?” She says these questions still haunt her today.
At Virgen Guadalupe, Maura was immediately admitted to surgery, which lasted four to five days. Although she suffered from pain and trauma, Maura found peace in knowing her husband was by her side taking care of her son; she was in the hands of experienced medical professionals, and her health insurance earned from her job as a mototaxista covered her medical expenses.
All at once, Maura’s securities fell apart, she tells us.
The recovery was rough, Maura says, more difficult than expected, but she trusted in her surgeon who assured her everything was normal. For several months following the accident, Maura would have routine post-surgery check-ups every fifteen days. During these visits she voiced her concerns that her leg was healing slower than she had hoped for. Her intuition pointed to an error with the plates, screws, stitches, and bone reconstruction, but her doctor’s confidence in her result did not waver. The doctor also sliced open Maura’s arm from wrist to elbow to mend a broken bone, which she suspected was unnecessary.
Maura continues her story by explaining how, after months of virtually no improvement, she consulted with another doctor whose second opinion revealed the first doctor’s horrific surgical mistakes. The first surgery left her with a loose bolt protruding out of one bone, unattached to the other bone it should have been attached to, and one leg resulted four centimeters shorter than the other. Maura’s leg was in the same state as the day of her accident, nothing had healed, and she needed another surgery.
“I didn’t know what to do. I started to cry... It was all very traumatic,” Maura confesses. She felt immediate panic because her first surgeries and bi-monthly doctor check-ups had already drained the limit of 21,000 soles ($7,000) that her health insurance allowed her. She had no remaining financial resources to pay for additional surgeries.
“How was I supposed to pay for another surgery when I had a first surgery and it didn’t fix my problem? What could I do?” Maura asks.
To further complicate the situation, Maura explains, she became pregnant just months after the accident. Her husband could not handle the stress of Maura’s injury and a child on the way, so he left her to fend for herself. Left alone with no support system or income in Lima, Maura retreated to her city of origin in Trujillo, Peru, where family could care for her.
“It was a difficult pregnancy, but I endured it. And now look what I have,” Maura tells us, pointing to her bubbly two-year-old son Angel, who lovingly pulls at her skirt during the interview.
Maura continues to tell us that, just days after Angel was born, she was rushed to the hospital with pain and an infection in her leg. “After that, I visited about six different surgeons in Trujillo,” none of whom knew how to treat her injuries after the botched surgery job.
She returned to Lima where she fortunately obtained minimal health coverage through an insurance system called SIS, a plan for Peruvians with low economic resources. Since then, she has been living a strained life as a disabled single mother.
Her unsolved injuries render her incapable of walking without crutches, so she seldom leaves her small, two-room casita house perched at the very top of a hill. Even with the MEDLIFE staircase, Maura explains, she walks down only twice a week, usually for medical appointments.
“Thank god MEDLIFE built the staircase near my house, otherwise I don’t know what I would do,” Maura admits.
Her family of three is sustained by her oldest son who is now 13 years old. He purchases food, helps clean the house, and takes care of his two-year-old brother. “He is practically an adult,” Maura says regrettably. Money for food comes from the boys’ father, who drops of a weekly allowance for the family at the bottom of the hill, then drives off. “He doesn’t even come up to see us,” Maura says.
Maura admits that she misses her freedom as an agile and independent woman who could provide for her family. Her eyes fill with tears.
The injuries sustained from the accident are persistent and a constant reminder of the day Maura’s life took a traumatic turn. The infection she developed during her time in Trujillo after Angel was born still remains; the doctor tells her it’s a virus and slowly chewing away at the tissue inside her leg. She shows us the wound and shamefully re-bandages it. She’s embarrassed.
“If I don’t have surgery soon, if the infection does not heal, I will lose my leg. This is my biggest fear.”
Maura’s good news is that, finally, after three and a half years since the day of her accident, she will soon receive the reconstructive surgery needed for a full recovery. The surgery will be intensive, she explains, with weeks in the hospital ahead of her. She knows her leg will never be the same, as she’s lost a significant amount of muscle and bone, but at least she will have the ability to work again and provide for her family.
Her experience with the new health insurance, which covers almost all expenses, is infinitely better than before, she says. She still deals with frustrating issues to get the coverage she needs, as errors are continually made with her case—that is where MEDLIFE comes in.
Isolated in her house on the hill, Maura struggles to access medical care without external support. Her neighbor Herminia, a former MEDLIFE follow-up patient, suggested Maura contact the organization for help. Maura was reluctant to do so. “I had lost all hope that anyone would help me. I didn’t want to get my hopes up.”
Since being introduced through Herminia to MEDLIFE, Maura has been immediately enrolled in the follow-up patient program and has received support from MEDLIFE in the form of medication, transportation to her doctor visits, and moral support throughout the entire process.
Although Maura is rational and accepts the reality of her situation, she is still angry with first surgeon who caused her years of pain and suffering.
“I would tell him how bad it’s been, and that I trusted him to heal me, and he did the opposite. I would ask him why he operated on me if he wasn’t sure how to do it. He should have sent me to a better doctor! I’ve had to undo all of the work this doctor did on my arm and legs, and lost years of my life. If you go to a doctor, you put your confidence in them. They have a license, so you put your life in their hands. I’ve always wanted to tell him how upset I am.”
Her anger subsides when she talks about her wishes for the future. “My children are the best thing I have in my life, and my hope is to have the ability to care for them.” Although this period of her life has been dark, Maura looks forward to the next step with optimism and hope that everything will get better.
“I would tell others in my position to never lose hope. If you have strength and determination to continue forward, help will come,” Maura concludes with a smile.
Time flies. What a cliche term. Alas, cliches come to be because they have so much truth behind their overused sentiment. This phrase has never been so clear to me as I approach my last days as a MEDLIFE year long intern, and my last days living in Lima, a city I have grown to love. For the last nine months, I have been living and working in Lima with some of the most inspiring and talented people. Nine months, for some people, may seem like a short amount of time, but I assure you that nine months is a formative span of time in a young adult’s life. That nine months can teach you lessons about yourself, your passions, and your future. It can give you a life changing perspective and a support system you never could have dreamed of having. It is a fair amount of time to create change, impact lives, and open the eyes of students all over North America. Nine months may seem short in the span of one’s hopefully very long life, but it it is a substantial amount of time to do some good and learn something new.
And learn, I have. Working with MEDLIFE has taught me many lessons about life and about working in a professional environment, just what every recent college grad is looking for. From my very first week here to just this morning, I learn something new about Peru, marginalized communities, sustainable development work, disparities in health care, the lifestyle of our communities, and of course, the Spanish language. The internship has also given me a perspective that will, hopefully, continue to drive my career and life path. I never want to forget all I have seen and learned, and I never want to forget the real struggles these communities face every single day. In MEDLIFE's introductory video, Dr. Nick Ellis, the founder and CEO of the organization, shares a story of the very first patient that started what would become the non-profit I know today. Darwin is a little boy in the rural parts of Ecuador who ten years ago, needed heart surgery. After Nick raised the money needed to help this then little boy survive, Darwin's father said something that will always hits me to my core. He told Nick, "Don't forget us," and Nick describes in the video how all MEDLIFE employees feel, that we could never forget about Darwin, the catalyst for an organization that we love. But, no, Darwin's father explains "don't forget about all the poor people, everywhere."
Don't forget. Such a simple concept that is so poignant to someone who is passionate about doing social development work. Too easily can we get swept up into our own lives and into the trials and tribulations of our own struggles that we forget why we got involved in this type of work in the first place. The sentiment Darwin's father brings to light is my biggest fear about leaving Lima. Will I forget? Will I lose nine months of valuable perspective that has deepened my understanding of human kindness? Will I get swept back into the world of material goods, and forget about all the people whose biggest concern is getting to school safely? Only time will tell, I guess. But this I do know: I know how I feel today, and today I feel completely permeated and changed by my MEDLIFE experience. Today I feel more enlightened about the world, about myself, and about my future. Of course I fear losing this perspective, because I feel how important it has been in cultivating the person I am today. But can you ever really lose a part of you, that at one point was the dominating factor of your being? Again, only time will tell; but I’m hopeful.
My time in undergrad at the University of Michigan cultivated and developed my critical analysis skills, especially when it comes to social justice centered issues. MEDLIFE has helped me take those skills learned in school and then properly apply them to developmental issues as we tackle access to healthcare for impoverished communities. Working in Lima has given me the opportunity to focus. To take one of my many, many interests and really dive in deep to the issues it presents. Not only has MEDLIFE given me focus, but its given me support to pursue this interest in international healthcare access and the tools to do so.
MEDLIFE brought me to Lima, and Lima showed me a love for a country I had previously never even visited. Lima showed me I can live in a massive city, humidity and all, and that I can find a community of diverse, caring, intelligent, and inspiring people to surround myself with inside and outside of work. Living in Lima has prepared me to be ready for anything. No curveball is surprising or shocking after living in Lima and after working with MEDLIFE. I have found a flexibility and resilience inside myself that I didn’t even know was there, which are valuable qualities to have at your disposal.
All that I have seen, done, experienced, and grown to love in my time here is because of MEDLIFE. I moved to Peru, a country I had never previously been to, away from all of my family and friends and everything I have grown accustomed to in order to be apart of the change MEDLIFE brings to communities around the world. I have grown and learned in these past nine months and have connected with people that have brought such a special light and meaning to my life through their friendship. The friends and family I have made here, all the professional and life lessons I have learned, all the drive I have to continue this type of work I have gained because MEDLIFE brought me to Lima, gave me a home, and gave me an opportunity to grow. For this, my time here, and all that it does to help those who have previously been forgotten, I am and will continue to be grateful to this organization.
Even though my fear of forgetting is still present, it has no power over me. Deep down, I know that I have been so profoundly influenced by my time with MEDLIFE that I will never be able to forget, but I believe the exact opposite will occur. I believe that these ideas and memories will only ferment itself further into my being and drive me to continue MEDLIFE’s mission, but in a different part of the world using slightly different methods. Because after all, how could I truly ever forget? All the patients I have met, all the students who have helped, and all the profoundly inspiring and charitable staff that work under the guise of MEDLIFE but for the marginalized communities we support. For me, Darwin’s father need not worry because I will never forget all the people who still need help, all the people who remained ignored and continue suffering. MEDLIFE will be here to support you, and I will continue to support this work, just in new capacities, using the tools that MEDLIFE has given me. I won’t forget. How could I?
One of our newest chapters, the MEDLIFE Inter Aguadilla chapter, is already making waves in the MEDLIFE community. Within their first year, this group of motivated students hosted their first annual MEDtalk event, which was attended by MEDLIFE students from all over Puerto Rico. Let's see what the Inter Aguadilla group has planned for this next academic year.
When and how did your chapter begin? What strategies did you use to promote MEDLIFE on campus?
MEDLIFE Inter Aguadilla started around one year ago when two friends got together and started talking about their passion for travel and helping people in need. These two people immediately began communicating with their circle of close friends and discussed the possibility of opening an organization on campus. They mentioned MEDLIFE and everything the organization accomplishes in the global community. Once all of the involved people were informed about the organization, they decided to take the plunge and begin the process for accreditation with the university; the MEDLIFE Inter Aguadilla has existed ever since then.
Once the chapter was made official, we began recruiting people to join through meetings in which we presented about MEDLIFE with videos, photos and information. We also promoted on bulletin boards. Similarly, we incorporated social media promotion, creating groups of conversations so they could carry the message more directly. We made all of our application forms electronic to create an easier process. Another way we promoted was by utilizing the digital bulletin boards that publish information on activities and events. We are currently working to develop new ways to communicate and attract students to be part of the best organization out there.
What process does a new member go through once part of the chapter?
All students interested in being part of the MEDLIFE Inter Aguadilla chapter must fill out our online registration. Once the application is received, the students are contacted so they can be provided with more information, and have any doubts or questions they may have clarified before eventually joining the chapter.
To make the membership official, we hold an initiation ceremony at the end of the academic year where members are recognized in front of their families and guests they have worked with while serving the chapter. During this activity, we acknowledge everyone’s’ hard work, and at the end of the ceremony, there is a reception where everyone celebrates their accomplishments.
What activities do you organize to keep your members interested throughout the year?
MEDLIFE Inter Aguadilla focuses on community service work. Each academic semester we organize a minimum of one event or activity in which we help a community we elected to serve. We have participated in many activities and impacted various groups of people in need, such as the homeless or people with few food and clothing resources.
We also hold social chapter-wide activities. Just recently we had the opportunity to visit the Center for the Conservation of Manatees in Puerto Rico. During this event, we donated food and basic necessities that the center does not have access to, as all of their employees are volunteer workers. The event was a very successful outing! We enjoyed the opportunity to bond with other member and develop the qualities and values that each MEDLIFE member possesses.
Additionally, on April 16, 2015, MEDLIFE Inter Aguadilla hosted our first annual MED Talk conference which was attended by the majority of MEDLIFE chapters and Puerto Rico. The goal of this event was, in addition to speaking on common themes, be able to share and meeting other people who work for the same purpose as us.
What are your goals as a chapter for this academic year (2015-2016)?
MEDLIFE Inter Aguadilla undoubtedly has an array of leaders who are passionate about medicine, education, and development, and even though we are still in the development stage, we continue to position ourselves as a strong and efficient chapter that helps those in need.
Carly Epstein from the University of Delaware fundraised $3,700 before her MEDLIFE trip to Cusco, Peru in the Spring of 2015. Fifty percent of the money she raised went towards the cost of her participation fee and the other fifty percent will be put towards supporting MEDLIFE's work prodiving healthcare to communities in need.Thank you for your hard work, Carly!
How did you hear about the 50:50 campaign?
I received an email from my school about the MEDLIFE trip. I decided I wanted to go on the trip and volunteer, and then I began raising money for the 5050 campaign!
How long was your campaign?
I started campaigning about three weeks before my trip.
What did you do to be most successful during the fundraising process?
To be most successful, I wrote a small little blurb about what I was doing, why I was doing it and why it meant a lot to me. I posted this on Facebook and sent out a few email. My mother and father actually helped me as well.
Did you encounter any obstacles in the process? How did you overcome them?
The only obstacle I had was just getting (the message) out there and explaining what this trip was about. But I think once I was able to write down my feelings about it, I was able to get peoples’ attention and they were able to contribute and help me raise money for the campaign.
How was organizing a 50:50 campaign a positive experience?
It was really rewarding being able to see the money go up as the time went on. It meant a lot to me that people cared about my purpose and this cause. It actually has been a very positive experience for me.
How do you feel about the impact you have made raising money to support people like the ones you are working with on this trip?
I think that the impact is huge to be able to donate this money towards such an important cause. To deliver health care to people who don’t have the opportunity to go to the doctor, have a visit, and be taken care of.
Do you have any advice for other students considering 50:50 campaigns?
Its definitely important to make it personal, to say what you feel about it and why its important to you. I think that’s what worked best for me and I think people can feel that; they feel it through your words. That would be my advice for other students J.
Betty Alvarez, a 42 year-old woman who moved from Huancayo city 14 years ago, now lives in Lima with her husband Santiago Ochoa.
Although she is the mother of 3 grown up children, she still works in a club for mothers in her community to support them.
At the present time, Betty is a follow-up patient with MEDLIFE. Her story started 6 years ago when she suspected that she had a problem in her right breast. However, due to her lack of income, she couldn’t go to her first doctor’s appointment until 3 years later.
Betty had a calculus operation on her right breast, but after a while she developed extreme pain in her breast, so doctors decided to take an ultrasound and the results came up with cysts. She started a treatment for the cysts but time went on and the pain did not go away, so she decided to take a mammogram but the results were the same: cysts.
A short time after this, in December of 2014, MEDLIFE was holding a mobile clinic in her community. Betty attended the clinic, and that was when the OB doctor found a lump not only in her right breast, but also in her left one. “There in the medical clinic they checked me out and they told me that what I had was not a cyst, what I had was a tumor and that I had it in both of my breasts, the right and the left one”.
A few days after the clinic, Betty received a call from MEDLIFE nurses who were calling in order to take her to the doctor. She had to take a new Ultrasound to confirm that what she had was not a cyst but something that needed an intense treatment. “They told me that they were going to help me, and they did. They called me, and since that moment, they’ve been helping me”.
When the results came, it showed that what Betty had was a medium sized tumor in her right breast and a small one in her left one. With these results, at her next appointment, Betty had a biopsy exam so that the doctors could know if the tumor was benign or malignant.
Betty tells us that before becoming a MEDLIFE follow-up patient, she had problems getting an appointment. Although she had SIS insurance that covered her appointments and exams, it was very difficult to get an appointment. “You have to be there one day before, you have to get there at dawn to get an appointment. I like MEDLIFE because it’s fast. They call you, they accompany you on your appointments, they are here with me.”
At the moment, Betty is calm. She is waiting for the biopsy results and she says that she is going to follow the doctor’s instructions for her treatment. She advises women to attend the medical clinics that MEDLIFE holds in different communities, and suggests that if MEDLIFE calls you, you should be open to the communication, because you don’t have to look for them, they look for you.
Lauren Britt from the University of Michigan completely covered the cost of her participation fee for her MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic in Lima, Peru by simply organizing a successful 5050 campaign. In no time, Lauren’s strategy for her campaign and the generous contribution of friends and family earned over $2,000! Her campaign was straightforward and allowed her to have an amazing trip experience in Lima. Find out more about the 50:50 campaign
Here at MEDLIFE we are proud to introduce Neema Lyimo, who recently began her work with MEDLIFE in the summer of 2014. Neema will help further MEDLIFE's development in Tanzania. Read more about Neema below:
Where are you from?
I am from Arusha, Tanzania and I received my Bachelor degree in Human Nutrition from Sokoine University of Agriculture in 2010. After that I went for masters degree in Public Health at Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences with partnership with University of Calgary Canada in 2012. I enrolled in a course in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Eastern Finland in 2013.
How did you get involved with MEDLIFE?
I had attended a seminar on teaching children with Autism in Moshi, which is where I was first introduced to MEDLIFE. I met Terry Mulligan, MEDLIFE's director in Tanzania and I was interested in the organization, since I have been dreaming to working with organization which helps to improve the lives of the poor. Attending mobile clinics is an amazing and fulfilling experience to be helping people in poor communities.
What is it that you like most about working with MEDLIFE?
I love working at mobile clinics because I find it very uplifting to provide Public Health Education to the communities. It is wonderful to be able to provide them with treatment and medicine and improve the lives of people within the community.
Can you name a particular patient that has had a strong impact on you?
Well I have been very pleased/impressed when going on the mobile clinics and find that older people (90 or 100 years) walk great distances together with their families to get the health care. They really impress me and I enjoy working with them.
Before MEDLIFE, what were your experiences with non-profit/humanitarian organizations?
Before MEDLIFE I worked with Compassion International just after high school while waiting to join the University in 2007. Thereafter I worked with St. Elizabeth Hospital as a Nutrionist after earning my bachelor degree in 2010 before going for my Masters degree. On top of that, in 2013 I worked part-time with World Vision in the evaluation of Mid-Term Review of the East Africa Maternal Newborn and Child Health (EAMNeCH) Project.
Why is this work important to you?
The idea of reaching the poor through a comprehensive package of access to medicine (mobile clinics), community development and education is so appealing to me because of my education background and passion. Also, as a trained nutritionist, I know firsthand how important this work is in health and community development. In addition, as a Public Health professional I know the value of multi-sector approach to solving access to health services challenges. Hence all of the above mentioned points, combined with my passion, is what makes working with MEDLIFE so attractive. This work has always been my dream.
What do you do in your free time?
I enjoying learning new things and traveling to getting exposure to other people and cultures.
Joanna Dainton traveled all the way from her home in England to be an intern with MEDLIFE from November 2013 through May 2014 to gain relevant experience working for a non-profit in a developing country. During the internship, her experience with one community leader MEDLIFE frequently works with, Jorge Vargas, motivated her to make a difference in the community beyond what her intern duties entailed.
“I wanted to help Jorge because he was someone who I really connected with,” Joanna remembers. She says he has a lively and humorous personality, and despite his physical handicap, “his optimistic attitude was incredible,” she says. Jorge was bound to a wheelchair because of polio he contracted as a child, and Joanna wanted to help him where he needed it most: his mobility.
As Joanna recounts, Jorge was restricted to using an old, rusted wheelchair to navigate the rocky and steep terrain of his community, high in the hills of Nueva Esperanza, in Lima, Peru. With this chair, Jorge required someone else to push him around, and his work as a community leader was severely limited.
“I felt this was an unacceptable situation, especially given his full involvement in his community as a leader and organizer,” Joanna explains. “I could see that by enabling him to be independent, not only would his life be improved but the lives of those around him would be too.”
During the last stretch of her internship with MEDLIFE, Joanna launched a plan—in collaboration with MEDLIFE staff including Carlos Benavides, MEDLIFE Peru’s Director—to buy Jorge a motorized wheelchair. She would start a MEDLIFE campaign to turn his dream of having his independence again into a reality.
Upon her return to England, Joanna communicated Jorge’s story to her network of friends and family across her social media accounts, she sent out countless emails and even held fundraising events. Before long, she had reached her goal of $1000 and MEDLIFE matched her contribution to afford the motorized wheelchair.
After the funds were in, the MEDLIFE team proceeded on to the next step: finding the perfect motorized wheelchair customized to Jorge’s needs. After trial and error and months of research to find the perfect fit, as of February 2015, Jorge is comfortably navigating his way around his community with his motorized wheelchair.
Joanna feels overjoyed with the accomplishment and collaborative team effort. “It's brilliant knowing we achieved what we set out to do and have hopefully changed Jorge's life for the better,” she said.
Jorge’s newfound independence not only means he does not need to rely on friends and family to get around, but also allows him to continue his work as a community leader, which was very limited before. Helping organize MEDLIFE mobile clinics in his community was difficult for Jorge to manage previously (although his passion for helping his community enabled him to accomplish it), but now Jorge has the tools, along with the heart, to really create change.
Reflecting on her experience, Joanna says she feels an even closer connection to the communities she helped serve during her internship, despite being half way across the world. “Seeing the photos of Jorge with his new wheelchair has created a link between myself and everyone who donated and worked on the project, and Jorge and his community,” Joanna says.
Joanna’s friendship with Jorge made her feel very passionate about her campaign for his motorized wheelchair. She believes this type of connection MEDLIFE strives to achieve with its follow-up care and long-term relationships with families and communities is essential for effective change. Joanna certainly saw an opportunity to directly change someone’s life in her experience with Jorge, and encourages anyone else considering development projects to find that personal connection in order to be the most successful.
Several years of pain and hardship are finally over for MEDLIFE follow-up patient and mother of three, Nery Huaman Salas. In January of 2015, Nery had an operation to remove a troublesome tumor in her breast that she had lived with for six years, along with the antagonizing fear that it could be cancerous.
Several months before the operation, in the summer of 2014, Nery’s journey began when she first connected with MEDLIFE at a mobile clinic held in a community of Nueva Esperanza, located in the hills of Lima, Peru. Nery knew she should take advantage of the services offered at the mobile clinic because her access to health care is very limited, she explained. It was during a routine breast exam that the doctor discovered her breast tumor.
The doctor’s discovery was not news to Nery; she had lived with the tumor, a fibroadenoma, overwhelming her daily life for years. However, due to limited economic resources, receiving the appropriate medical care was never attainable.
Nery is unable to provide an income right now as a stay-at-home mother and her husband’s irregular salary of $50/week is barely enough to provide for a family of five, let alone afford an expensive operation. Nery felt trapped without the resources or ability to improve her situation.
Despite her financial obstacle, Nery frequently tried her hand at different approaches to make an operation possible, but to no avail. At one point, for example, when Nery visited a doctor at the hospital she was assigned a SIS — a health care plan for people with low economic resources — she walked away with only disappointing news.
Nery said the doctor seemed unconcerned about her tumor. He told her not to worry—she did not need an operation. Nery did not trust the doctor’s judgment and she speculates he had come to that conclusion only because her health plan would not cover follow-up care, like an operation. Disregarding the doctor’s recommendation, Nery did worry—a lot. The pain was unbearable and she feared for her health.
Just when Nery thought she was out of luck, MEDLIFE informed her that they would support her to afford the medical care she needed. “The truth is I had no other option,” Nery admitted.
From that point forward, MEDLIFE worked with Nery every step of the way; supporting her through the medical appointments like biopsies, ultrasounds, and eventually to her operation to ensure the tumor’s removal. “Before I was in significant pain,” Neary said, recounting the years of being in constant discomfort. “But now I don’t feel it anymore. I’m not in pain anymore.”
Nery is currently recovering from the operation at a family friend’s house located down the hill from her own house because the steep paths and rocky terrain make it too difficult for her to access during the healing process.
As Nery remains a follow-up patient, MEDLIFE will continue to ensure Nery gets the medical care she needs so she can live a healthy life for herself and for her children.