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Part of our Mobile Clinic routine at MEDLIFE is the dental station, where patients are able to receive dental treatments such as cleanings and extractions. Many of the communities we serve are in very remote areas, so even the simplest tooth cleaning can become complicated if the tools and resources to perform it are not available. Another important station at Mobile Clinics is the toothbrushing station, directed at children. Here, we teach them how to brush their teeth correctly, how to use fluoride, and give them a brand-new toothbrush.
However many adults also come to this station discretely, listening in the back as our student volunteer give toothbrushing lessons to the young ones. This is because many of these adults have never received dental hygiene education and are unaware of the importance of brushing our teeth on a daily basis.
In the past few months, we have heard several stories from patients that have inspired us to take a step further and add a new segment to our educational workshop: dental health.
Stories like Giovanna’s and Selvestrina’s have showed us that the lack of dental education and preventive measures can end in the loss of all of one’s teeth, such as in their cases. Selvestrina and Giovanna went several years without being able to fully smile until MEDLIFE gave them the necessary support. Now it’s time to go further.
Doctor Jorge Vidal accompanied us to our last educational workshop to hold our first presentation about dental health. The workshop was held in the Marco Polo Educational Center in Villa María del Triunfo. About 80 community members attended to hear presentations on nutrition, domestic violence, diabetes, breast cancer, cervical cancer, and now dental health.
“We have plans to create an area of MEDLIFE specifically for patients who have dental problems, and the first step is holding these dental health presentations at our workshops,” said Carlos Benavides, Director of MEDLIFE Peru.
Jorge Vidal, Orthodontic Doctor, has supported MEDLIFE since the beginning when Jorge was just a dental student. He has seen the growth of this organization and is very proud to have an active role in MEDLIFE’s mission: bringing medicine, education and development to communities in need.
Workshop participants remained very interested throughout the presentation and even took the opportunity to ask questions to Dr. Jorge about preventative dental health. Deemed a success, “this is the first of many workshops,” Benavides said.
At MEDLIFE we are proud to be able to take the extra step and bring more support to people who need it.
In the old district of Rimac in Lima, which is cut through by the Rimac River, the “Shipibos” (a community from the Amazon jungle) have found a place to live.
More than 10 years ago, Cantagallo was used as a landfill for those who lived in surrounding districts -- nobody would have ever thought to live there. Years later, in 2001, approximately 15 families from the Shipibo community arrived in Lima from the Amazon to participate in protests against the ruling government at the time.
Lacking the means to return to their homeland and thinking of finding a better future for their children, they found the uninhabited land that seemed to closely resemble the banks of the Rimac River and other rivers in their homeland of the Amazon. Little by little, more families settled and eventually they created the Association of Shipibo Artisan Residents in Lima (Ashirel).
Living in the capital has a very strong impact on the Shipibo families, especially considering that they live in a desolate area of Lima that is very different from the damp jungle. However, the families of Cantagallo continue to maintain their customs and traditions from their native region in the Amazon. Additionally, they have created a fusion of cultures that has proven to be an alluring attraction for tourists, who buy their crafts.
Creating necklaces, bows and arrows and even a small organic garden where they grow fruits and herbs from the jungle, the Shipibo people have transformed Cantagallo into a safe haven for all Shipibos who are trying to find their place in the concrete jungle that is Lima. Currently, 300 Shipibo people live in Cantagallo.
Although this community is only minutes away from Peru’s central government, it still lacks basic services such as water, electricity and sewage.
MEDLIFE is currently working to integrate this community into our Mobile Clinics and development projects.
Meet our new MEDLIFE year-long interns! Part 3!
What was your first impression of Lima?: It's huge and there are a lot of cars, but it has a great energy to it and a landscape like nothing I've seen before.
Here at MEDLIFE, we recognize that strong families arecentral to any community or society.
In the communities we serve, maintaining healthy families is one of the most important ways for members to work together and move their communities forward. Recognizing this importance, MEDLIFE held a new education workshop in the “Fernando Belaunde” community in Villa Maria del Triufno that focused on the importance of healthy families and ways to prevent domestic violence.
The workshop began with an introductory speech from Carlos Benavides, Director of MEDLIFE Peru. The first half of the workshop was athorough discussion on domestic violence led by Fanny Vargas. She discussedthe root of domestic violence and ways to prevent it, such as education on respecting the opposite gender from a young age.
After Fanny’s presentation, nurses Ruth Varona and Lucia Suarez led talks on topics such as breast cancer and STIs, along with examples ofways to prevent such conditions such as giving self-breast exams. Fanny Vargas again stepped into the presentation to explain the step-by-step process of a pap smear. The community members asked questionsthroughout, and expressed a genuine desire to learn more about preventative health.
Finally, Carlos Benavides closed the workshop by thanking the attendees forcoming and for engaging in the discussion, emphasizing that this participation isone of our most important priorities here at MEDLIFE.
Since MEDLIFE's operations began in Lima, we have always dreamed of building an office close to the people we serve. Now, thanks to your support through the MEDLIFE Fund, this dream is finally coming true.
Unión Santa Fe is a community located in Pamplona where we have brought more than ten mobile clinics, seven staircases, and both water and road projects. Additionally, this community is where our daycare center is currently being built. Throughout our years working on various projects with community members of Unión Sante Fe, they have always shown commitment, collaboration and unity.
Now, we are proud to announce that Unión Santa Fe will be the site of our first MEDLIFE operations office!
This new office will be used as the headquarters during Mobile Clinics, Mobile Schools and Development Corps. The space will also be used for meetings with community leaders, follow-up patients, and educational workshops. Finally, the new office will also create jobs for locals such as our future neighbor Selvestrina, who will maintain our gardens.
Thanks to everyone for all of your support! As MEDLIFE expands, we become more able to deliver more medicine, education and development for communities in need.
Stay tuned for updates!
It is very important to MEDLIFE that the citizens of the communities we serve have the necessary informationto maintaina stable quality of life, which is why we hold educational workshops on various health topics. Last week, we held an educational workshop in the community of Oasis Nª3 in the district of Villa El Salvador for the first time, where we presented important information on diverse themes of preventative health.
More than 40 community members attended the workshop. They were first given educational brochures and then participated in an introductory conversation led by Carlos Benavides, Director of MEDLIFE Peru, about the importance of preventative health care measures.
Following that conversation our field nurse and patient follow-up coordinator Ruth Varona led an important presentation on women’s health, which included topics such as cervical cancerand the importance of getting an annual pap smear. Our other patient follow-up coordinator Lucia Suarez furthered the discussion by giving a presentation on STIs. Lastly, our nurse Dina gave an informative presentation on diabetesand how to maintain a balanced diet.
The attendees showed a lot of interest in learning more about preventative health. After the presentations, conversation continued in the room, where community members asked several questions to the nurses about all the health topics that were discussed. The enthusiasm in the room grew when community members learned of the possibility of MEDLIFE holding a Mobile Clinicthere in the near future.
It was a good afternoon for the community of Oasis Nª3, as they received a great deal of information on preventative health care measures that will ultimately help further improve their quality of life.
Ruth Varona is a certified nursing assistant who first joined our team as a volunteer in 2010. She now works with us as a Patient Follow-Up Coordinator and Field Nurse. Read more about her story below:
Where are you from?
I’m from Lima. I was born here and raised in the district of San Juan de Miraflores.
How did you get involved with MEDLIFE?
I started out a few years ago volunteering for Mobile Clinics at the pharmacy station for a few hours a week. After a while, I began to work at the office a few times a week as well. Later, as we started to gain more patients, MEDLIFE asked me if I would like to join the organization as a full-time nurse. Now, when there aren’t Mobile Clinics, I am visiting patients several times a week.
What do you like about working with MEDLIFE?
I really like working at the Mobile Clinics because I am able to meet new patients. I love listening to their needs and learning about what we can do to help. It’s the starting point of building relationships with the patients. More than anything, what I love about this job is helping people improve their health. Good health is the foundation for a good life.
What is a problem you find most frequently at Mobile Clinics?
The dogs! There are dogs everywhere. But in all seriousness, one problem I find frequently is that many people do not know their own bodies. That is to say, when patients feel something wrong with their bodies, they often times don’t know where that problem is coming from. Many people are just not oriented with what is going on with their bodies. This is something that I try to teach to people during Mobile Clinics.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I have a 1-year-old son, so my free time is spent with him. Whether it’s playing with him or changing his diapers, I love spending time with him as I watch him grow up.
Anything else you would like to add?
I just wanted to say that I am very glad that you all (the interns) have come here to Peru to learn more about this country and meet the people here. Never forget that there is always someone to help; there are always people in need.
The 50:50 Campaign is MEDLIFE's online fundraising tool that allows students to raise money towards their participation fees and travel grants. Stephanie Nava Guerra is a senior majoring in Biochemistry at Manhattan College, who raised more than $2000 for her trip to Tanzania. She has recently started a MEDLIFE chapter at her university, which you can follow here. Read below about Stephanie’s experience with the 50:50 campaign:
How did you hear about MEDLIFE?
One of my friends, Manny, from the University of Georgia, went on a trip to Tena, Ecuador. I saw his photos on Facebook and thought, “how cool!” I sent him a message asking him more about the trip and he sent me a link to MEDLIFE’s website. I must have sent more than 100 emails about MEDLIFE to Amelia, the Associate Director of Student Affairs, but she was very helpful and answered all of my questions. I was originally going to participate in one of the clinics in Ecuador, but when I saw the announcement about a new trip to Tanzania, I knew I just had to go there. I signed up for the trip, without knowing a single soul, and travelled to Africa by myself, but it was all amazing and I would definitely do it all over again.
What made you decide to do the 50:50 campaign?
I’m a really big fan of fundraising in general, but especially if it’s for a good cause. A trip and experience like this is not always offered to students, let alone one coming from a single parent household. As soon as I discussed my plans with my mom, and that the cost did not have to be all paid for by her, that there was a way for me to receive donations and work for the money. My mom said, "It would be easy to just submit the money for the participation fee." By doing the 50:50 campaign, I thoroughly went through the MEDLIFE website to be able to answer any questions that I would be encountered. As I read about the campaign, I learned that the money goes to more real causes like medicine, food and other supplies. This extra cause gave me more of an incentive to fundraise. It also allowed me to investigate more about what MEDLIFE is and spread the word about MEDLIFE.
How did you fundraise?
I was very assertive with my fundraising efforts. In most cases of fundraising, you send out one email to everyone you know explaining your case, you get a few initial donations, and mostly everyone else forgets. In my case, I sent out an initial email explaining my cause and would send reminder emails multiple times a week. My mom, Marla was a great help: she and I sat down and made up a list of people I could ask to donate, and the list was always growing. My mom’s boss, Nancy Lepre, was also very helpful. She sent out an email explaining my campaign to all of her friends and family and always checked up on my progress.
Would you recommend the 50:50 campaign to other students?
Yes! My motto for things like thisis “just do it.” While I was on the trip, I really saw where that money went -- upon arriving to Tanzania, they took us to the pharmacy to buy medicine with the fundraised money, to the local market to buy toothbrushes and the grocery store for the food. Because of my fundraising and the trip, I opened up a new chapter here at my school and now we’re planning a trip to Riobamba, Ecuador. Now at our chapter we’re encouraging students to fundraise as much as they can, whether it’s $50 or $500, because at the end of the day it’s all going to help a good cause.
What were your impressions of Tanzania?
It’s absolutely beautiful! It really opened my eyes, it opened my mind and it opened my heart. All of the people there were really happy to see us and welcomed our help with open arms. It also made me realize that basic things such as running water are something that we take for granted here in the States. During the Mobile Clinic, we met a man who had walked several miles from another town to the clinic site just to get ibuprofen. That really put things in perspective for me.
What was your favorite part about the Mobile Clinic?
Definitely the people. When I was there I really tried to immerse myself in the language and the culture. I quickly became friends with Terry’s assistant, Innocent Massawe, who is local to the area and taught me some Swahili. I also kept a book of Swahili phrases and always introduced myself in Swahili. Sometimes I would butcher the language, but the people were always happy that I was trying to word and would often correct me. You know, many people have this stereotype of Africa -- that everyone is starving and everyone is poor -- but there are poor people all over the world, not just Africa. So it was really interesting to get there and see all of those stereotypes from TV to be put into perspective. The kids laugh and smile like we laugh and smile. Because at the end of the day they’re human beings like everyone else.
Anything else you would like to add?
I’d like to give a “shout out” to some of the people who heavily supported me inmy trip: Kathleen Rothschild, Robert Boyer, Manhattan College Faculty from the School of Science for all of their support, and lastly, Nancy Lepre for being a huge help in my campaign endeavors. I would also like to just give a big thanks to everyone who donated. Finally, I'd like to thank my mom, Marla Del Milagro Guerra Garza, and my sister, Kimberly Nava for making all of my goals and dreams come true.
Lucia Suarez is a certified nurse who first began volunteering with MEDLIFE in February as a leader for a staircase project in her community. Now she joins us as both a patient follow-up coordinator and field nurse. Learn more about Lucia below:
Where are you from?
I was born in Ayacucho, a small town in the mountain ranges of Peru, but I have lived in Lima for the past eight years. I like it here, but I will never forget the language, food and traditions of my hometown.
How did you get involved with MEDLIFE?
I first got involved with MEDLIFE in February when I volunteered as a community leader for a staircase project MEDLIFE was working on in my community. That’s when I met Carlos, and from there I began volunteering for other staircase projects around the community. One day, Carlos asked me what I do for work, and I told him that I am a technical nurse. He then asked me if I would like to join MEDLIFE full-time. I’ve now been working as a nurse in the office for three months.
Can you name a patient that has had a strong impact on you?
Everyone we help has had a strong impression on me, as they all have very powerful stories. One of those patients in particular is Selvestrina, a lady from the mountains who speaks Quechua. As I also speak Quechua, Selvestrina and I are able to communicate well in the language. Although she has gone through many hardships, she always still has a smile on her face. Her house was robbed, her son was killed, and her husband left her to return to living in the mountains, but she always moves forward with a huge smile on her face. This is something that really touches my heart.
Are there things that still surprise you?
Almost all of the cases of the patients still surprise me, especially those of children. There are many children who don’t eat the way they are supposed to eat and have many health problems because of that. There are other children who don’t have proper adult supervision. It breaks my heart to see amount of poverty and hardship that happens in these communities.
What do you do on your free time?
Well, I’m always helping people. On the weekends after work, I help an elderly woman in my community with chores around her house and other tasks. And on the weekends, I’m involved with the elective board in my community. So I don’t really have “free time” per say, since I am always busy, but helping people is what I enjoy doing the most.
What do you like working about MEDLIFE?
Working for MEDLIFE means a lot for me. It’s a place where all of the staff and interns are side-by-side working for the greater good. Everyone is always committed and has a smile on their faces. And overall I just love being a general helping hand and serving people in need.
To learn more about Lucia’s work and our Patient Follow-Up program, click here.
As I looked around the room lined with community members, a young girl smiled and caught my eye as she waved. This was 13-year-old Jennifer, a curious and friendly girl who lives in the community of La Florida. She came over and excitedly confirmed that yes, us interns would be coming to help build staircases with them, and yes, I had a cell phone number I could exchange with her. That community, along with the neighboring 27 de Diciembre, were meeting on a Friday night with MEDLIFE to discuss the beginning steps of working with us to get workshops, mobile clinics, and staircases in their community.
I met some residents of La Florida during my first full week in Lima, when a couple of students on a mobile clinic and I went with MEDLIFE Peru's Director Carlos to meet the community for the first time. Despite the fact that the houses have been there from 8 to 20 plus years, the best groomed paths I could see were only crumbling rock “stairs.” The kids have no way to play as a normal kid should, and going anywhere away from their home in the hillside meant endless opportunities for serious injury. The women also mentioned frequently dropping the large jugs of drinking water, costing them money they don’t have. As Carlos explained MEDLIFE's mission and work process, women produced cups of Coke for us to drink with them to inaugurate the occasion.
I was struck by how lucky I was to be there. Carlos made sure I had a chance to talk with the women. I explained to them that I, along with Carlos and the other year-long MEDLIFE interns, would work side by side with the community throughout the entire year on various projects. This includes conducting health education workshops and discussions, and continuously evaluating the community’s needs. Even with my bad Spanish the women did not stop smiling or wanting to talk, and seemed genuinely enthusiastic at the prospect of working with a random young American women who did not even speak their language fluently.
As we left, a women named Angelique who knits clothes for a living gave me a bright red hat as a gift.
It was on my second visit to the community that I had met Jennifer. Another intern Hannah and I quickly became friends with her, and before she left she handed over a small book as a gift. That visit was to see the drawn plans of the communities, measure future staircases, and record preliminary data. It was also during this visit that Hannah and I had warm and friendly conversation with a couple women living there, both the same age as us.
As Carlos emphasized the importance of unity and cooperation to the group of assembled community members that Friday night, I thought about the potential reasons behind a community's motivation. The list is endless, but participation and dedication of all community members can still be difficult. I am looking forward to getting to know the communities better, and to seeing this process of community mobilization and development continue.