The last season of MEDLIFE Mobile Clinics in Ecuador was amazing. Many students raised funds for their trip through a 50:50 campaign, here is one of their stories. For more information about the 50:50 campaign click here: 50:50 Campaign

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Name: Patrick Loudermilk

School: Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College MEDLIFE chapter
Trip: Tena, Ecuador, from Aug. 15- 23rd 2015.

What Medlife chapter are you a part of? I am part of Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College MEDLIFE chapter.

How did you hear about the MEDLIFE 50:50 Campaign? I heard about it from an email actually, from our chapter. That told us about it; that told us about all the cool things that it does.

Why did you decide to organize a 50:50 campaign? I wanted to find a way to raise money for the trip but it also seemed to be a good idea to get money for the organization.

How long did it take you to run your campaign? It was about three and a half months.

How much money did you raise? I raised $1870.

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What did you do to be successful with your campaigning? I asked a family, friends, local church leaders - my grandfather’s bible study helped a lot.

Did you encounter any obstacles in the process, if so how did you overcome them? No real obstacles, it slowed down about halfway through and I had to ask some more people, but it all worked out.

Was using a 50:50 campaign a positive experience? It was a positive experience to see who was donating. They could leave little messages for me and it was really cool for me to see that and have a cool impact on people who care what I was doing and what I could do.

What did you think of your volunteer trip? It was an amazing experience, everyone that wants to go or is thinking about going should definitely go on one because you got to work in the clinics and you got to see a bunch of patients, if you’re a Pre-med kind of person. Or if you just want to help- people could always use help and this is a great place to come and serve.

How do you feel about the impact you have made raising money to support people like the ones you’re working with during your trip? Oh it felt great to see the end of the community project!

August 18, 2015 3:01 PM

Intern Journal: Tara Piryaei

Written by Tara Piryaei

Why You Won’t Regret It

I have one week left in Lima. I have learned more about myself in these last 2 months than I have after years of college. Going abroad alone is an experience that forces you to be vulnerable, encourages you to be independent, and pushes you to new boundaries you didn’t think you were capable of. Working abroad, specifically with an organization as selfless and impactful as MEDLIFE, is truly humbling.

At my first community meeting, the 11 Volunteer Affairs Interns, Señor Carlos, and George took two combis and a moto taxi to the pueblos jovenes. The mototaxi was absolutely terrifying. We were off-roading in what felt like a motorized tricycle. Stray, angry dogs chased us up the mountain side. We got to the top and saw the pueblos jovenes lit up below. The overcast skies of Lima revealed no stars. The only lights were the faded orange lamps that lined the dirt roads, casting just enough light to dodge dogs but not to dodge the dog feces.

We made it to the meeting, and everyone stood at the bottom of the stairs. On one side there were the American interns--11 of us. On the other side stood about 30 concerned Peruvians, men and women of all ages. Carlos began to speak.

He thanked them for having us here. He introduced the interns. He explained our goal to build a staircase in their community and apologized for the 2 year wait, from our lack of funds. He asked if any organization has ever reached out to them, has ever asked if they needed help, has ever asked for their input. “Nunca,” they murmured in unison.

He continued to discuss the importance of education. He asked how many women have gotten pap smears and clinical breast exams. He called out three women and asked each one if they knew why it was important. They didn’t. They were embarrassed. But it captured everyone’s attention. He asked the men to raise their hands if they were over 40. They didn’t, so he called them out. He asked if they’ve gotten prostate exams before--only one person had. He briefly discussed safe sex practices. He covered a lot in the hour we were there. He ended with a talk about unity. MEDLIFE works together WITH the community. Carlos ended his speech by saying “manos que trabajan juntos son más fuertes.” Hands working together are stronger. Some community members spoke and expressed their gratitude.

Then we hiked. In the dark, in the cold, we climbed the mountain side. It was a trek for the interns, but a common path for the community members. Someone slipped. I pictured it raining, and all of us slipping off the mountain side. I wondered how young children made this trek. We used the lights from our iphones. We were told that the trek we made was where the stairs were to be built.

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I felt the beauty of childhood within me--the excitement and wonder of seeing things for the first time. Before this trip, I had never seen so many homes packed onto a hillside. I had never seen a hospital with beds outside because the emergency room was over capacity. I had never seen an NGO working hand-in-hand with a community to build a cement rooftop. I had never seen nurses trek up a mountainside to hunt for a patient’s home, with no GPS, in order to provide follow-up care. I had never seen a doctor buy an entire community breakfast and proceed to give them an educational talk on nutrition.

I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by the most inspirational, loving, and beautiful group of interns. Whether it was an issue of cultural sensitivity, the safety of children at a daycare, respecting a community by obtaining their consent, or working to influence others through a documentary, these interns persistently took action and inspired others to do the same.

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Traveling opens up your mind as you meet people beyond the boundaries of your family, friends, and hometown. I am leaving with part of Peru in me--I am keeping part of Lima in my heart. Everyone I’ve met, as well as the kind souls I never crossed paths with, are a small piece of me as I carry their stories. I came into this internship with a plan, and left with much more than a list of goals could ever create. I hope to use my experience to inspire others to not only volunteer for MEDLIFE, but also to travel. This experience was so much more than working for a non-profit. It was a chapter of a story that can be told after my death; that my children can tell their children I took part in.

When you believe that one person cannot change the world, you are ignoring the power that comes with sharing stories. A passionate person acts as the first domino in a row of billions--a person is as powerful as their experiences, and these experiences are meant to be shared with others.

Whether it is a spontaneous decision, or a decision planned out years in advance, going abroad with MEDLIFE will be life-changing, and it is well worth taking a break from your life to experience someone else’s reality. 

August 18, 2015 2:44 PM

Meet the Interns Year-long 2015 Part 2

Written by Rosali Vela
2015-2-2- NickName: Nick Bettencourt
Hometown: Topsfield, MA
School: Boston College
Major: Psychology
 
How I got involved with: I found MEDLIFE pretty much by complete luck. I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a video about MEDLIFE that one of my friends had put up. After watching it I was immediately interested and decided to look into how I could get involved.
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I am a 2015 graduate of Boston College, where I spent most of my time either consumed in pre-med coursework or surrounding myself with my friends. While there, I was lucky enough to get to travel to Madrid, Spain and Morelos, Mexico, where I developed a love for global travel and service. I am pursuing a career in healthcare, and am passionate about working to help others.
Why did you decide to become an intern?: I have always been interested in healthcare and medicine, but have never explored the field of global or public health. I thought this would be a good way to get an introduction to the field and see if it is something I am interested in.
What was your first impression of Lima?: Although I experienced Lima for the first time during an hour long cab ride with a driver who had no idea where he was going, I still thought Lima was a very interesting and beautiful, but sometimes confusing, city.
What are your goals for this internship?: My goal is to explore the field of global health, as well as witness and be a part of the good that MEDLIFE is doing for people in need.
 

2015-2-4-Leigh
Name: Leigh Ann Cohen
Hometown: Oceanside, New York
School: University of Michigan
Major: Anthropology and Medical Anthropology
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: During my sophomore year at Michigan, a close friend introduced me to MEDLIFE.  Right off the bat, I truly valued everything MEDLIFE stands for, and so, I attended MEDLIFE's first ever mobile clinic to Moshi, Tanzania.  The work being done and the friendships I formed, not only with my co-volunteers but also with the people of Moshi, left me with an immense love and respect for the MEDLIFE family.
Tell us a little about yourself: Though I have a seemingly untreatable case of wanderlust, one of my favorite things is returning home after a long trip away.  Some of my most cherished memories are of being picked up at the airport by loved ones holding a sign with my name on it.
Why did you decide to become an intern?: Throughout college, I attended two mobile clinic trips and served as my university's mobile clinic chair.  These experiences solidified my interest in pursuing a career in Public Health and a year-long internship with MEDLIFE seemed like the best way to be a part of something greater than I could have ever imagined.  I was right!
What was your first impression of Lima?: Lima is a large and busy city.  Though there are many areas that are mind-blowingly beautiful, there are also many areas that are heartbreakingly impoverished.  The reality of disparities in health and socioeconomic status are ubiquitous throughout the city's districts, which makes my time in Lima even more motivating and worthwhile. 
What are your goals for this internship?: I hope to take full advantage of everything Lima and MEDLIFE have to offer.  I want to be fully immersed in Peruvian culture, to learn more about sustainable development, and to be inspired and challenged by new people and experiences.

2015-2-5-SnehaName: Sneha Kolla
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
School: Rowan University
Major: Biology with a Spanish and Chemistry Minor
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: I started the MEDLIFE chapter at my university.
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: Besides being a huge Steelers fan, I enjoy traveling and everything Latin American, especially the music. I am also a very service-oriented individual with a keen interest in healthcare and social work.
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: I decided to be an intern because I strongly agree with MEDLIFE's mission. It is an great opportunity to serve those in need and gain a better understanding about the issues of healthcare at a more social and communal level.
 
What was your first impression of Lima?: I found Lima's warm and cozy climate ideal as compared to the freezing winters back home. I can smell the food every time I step out and it is always mouthwatering. For someone who has lived in the suburbs all their life, living in a city environment has always been a dream and Lima most definitely fulfills it.
 
What are your goals for this internship?: I hope to gain a better understanding about healthcare's role in improving the life of an individual as well as the community. Mainly I hope to do something positive for the low-income communities that MEDLIFE serves and help spread their mission to more places abroad as well as here in Lima.

2015-2-9-JessicaName: Jessica Danker
Hometown: Cincinnati, OH
School: The Ohio State University
Major: Nutrition and Community Health
 
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: I became involved with MEDLIFE through Ohio State’s chapter. Shortly after learning about MEDLIFE I attended a mobile clinic in Riobamba, Ecuador. The mobile clinic experience was what really made me want to become more involved in the program.  
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio but have always loved to travel. I spent last year in Spain teaching English where I found out that I really enjoy living abroad and everything that comes with it.  I love trying all of the new foods, exploring new cities and especially making new friends from all over the world.  When I’m not traveling you can most likely find me binge watching Netflix and/or eating chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. 
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: I decided to become an intern because this internship combined both of my interests into one! I love traveling to new places with different cultures and I also studied community health.  I really enjoy and have seen first hand what the MEDLIFE program does for the community. I couldn’t turn down such an amazing opportunity to make such an impact on the community!
 
What was your first impression of Lima?: SO MUCH TRAFFIC. In Limas defense, my flight landed just before the peak of rush hour so this only made getting to the apartment that much more difficult. Living in a city this large has taken some getting used to, however, from what I have seen Lima has a ton of exciting things to offer. At first glance Lima seems too large to ever get to know but each neighborhood has something different to offer. 
 
What are your goals for this internship?: This internship has endless opportunities to learn about all aspects of Public Health. Working specifically with MEDprograms, I hope to gain a lot experience creating and implementing projects into the community.  While working with the community I hope to better my Spanish speaking skills as well!
August 18, 2015 8:33 AM

Meet the Interns Year-long 2015 Part 1

Written by Rosali Vela
2015-2-3-KristineName: Kristine Paiste
Hometown: Lodi, CA
School: University of California, San Diego
Major: Pharmacological Chemistry
 
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: In December of 2013 I decided to join a MEDLIFE mobile clinic to experience a new culture and to gain an understanding of healthcare in a developing country. However my expectations were far exceeded, and in that short amount of time I was completely immersed in all that MEDLIFE encompasses. From its inspiring efforts to help each community thrive, to the incredible stories and moments shared with the locals and volunteers, I came home with a new perspective and appreciation for life. Now two years later, I find myself again in this beautiful country ready to continue the movement and take on what's next!
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I graduated from UC San Diego in 2014 and am currently taking some time off before continuing my education in the medical field. I love to travel, hike, and experience new cultures, especially the food! When adventures aren't calling my name, you can usually find me reading, writing in my journal or watching YouTube/Netflix (who doesn't?). I also love to do arts and crafts, play board/video games, and go indoor rock-climbing!
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: As an undergrad I was heavily involved in Alternative Breaks @ UCSD, a student-run organization that sends individuals on service-learning trips both nationally and internationally to address a diverse range of social justice issues. Through those years my eyes were opened to new ideas, perspectives and endless possibilities of creating real positive changes to our world. I had found my passion for life-long service and becoming an advocate for change and with MEDLIFE I found middle ground. Through medicine, education, and community development it drives all my passions in one amazing organization, taking the time to really understand the communities we work with and their needs to help build a foundation to thrive. So when the opportunity came and how could I not take it?
 
What was your first impression of Lima?: The first time I was in Lima was in 2013, and although I am currently here for Lima's winter instead of summer, both seasons have not failed to show the liveliness of this great city. Full of culture, food, history and life, Lima has a lot to offer. Though it is Peru's capital, there are areas that are still developing and it is hard not to notice some of the effects of poverty, but I hope throughout my time here I continue to fully immerse myself in all the good and the bad, and to take every opportunity to make the most out of it.
 
What are your goals for this internship?: Throughout my time here I hope to broaden my perspective on global health and the culture of Peru, all while strengthening my leadership roles on a larger scale. I also hope to gain a better understanding of how a non-profit works and attain hands-on experience from healthcare professionals to create a substantial positive impact on the communities we will be working with. By engaging in MEDLIFE's unique experience, I hope to continue my passion of serving others while traveling the world, taking on new challenges and immersing myself in a place far from home.
 

2015-2-1-April
Name: April Gulotti
Hometown: Oceanside New York
School: University of Delaware
Major: Exercise Science
 
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: I went on my first trip sophomore year of college and when I cam back I ran for the position of President. I was elected and held that position for two years planning and coordinating more trips for University of Delaware students.
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I am an active person who likes to make a difference. I find my greatest fulfillment by making others smile especially those suffering. Although we live in a massive world it doesn't mean each and every act of kindness goes dismissed because that one act of kindness can give a single individual the hope that they so desperately needed. Spreading kindness, helping others, and changing the world little by little is contagious. I am a diligent, hard working, and perseverant individual that likes to see the good in everyone. One of my best friends passed away this past October who I came on my first medlife trip with. His name was Enoch and he was the brightest soul I knew in every way imaginable. Although I thought he had taught me a lot about morals and life and the world we live in while he was here with me physically; his lessons, spirit, and glow became even more profound since he has passed. I owe much of who I am to the person he has helped me become.
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: I wanted to become a MEDLIFE intern after going on previous trips and getting to know the past year long interns. I saw myself in many of them when I got to know the type of people they were. I felt instantly connected and I wanted to do something big. Something big to contribute to the world while still learning a lot about the foundation and logistics of what makes a successful and influential non- profit organization.
 
What was your first impression of Lima?: My first impression of Lima was how beautiful and modern it was. But, when i saw the reality of Lima I was disappointed and sad. I saw the wall that was being built to divide the wealthy communities from the poor and it made me feel as if I was living in a past life where I read in my textbook growing up as a student of all the cast systems and inequality and injustice in the world. It was at that moment when I learned about the wall and witnessed it myself that I knew I had to get involved in a bigger way and that way manifested its way into the medlife internship.
 
What are your goals for this internship?: My goals for this internship is to grow relationships with patients who have stories to tell. I want to learn Spanish so I can communicate with poor families and children so I can tell them all the things I have wanted to and have felt for so long. I want to tell them that they are important to us and that they matter in the world and that life is a beautiful gift and although there is bad in the world there is also a lot of good with a lot of wonderful people and to never give up hope as hard as it may be.
 

2015-2-8-CristinaName: Cristina Negrón Busquets
Hometown: San Juan, Puerto Rico
School: Clark University
Major: Biological Sciences/Pre-Med
 
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: There wasn't a MEDLIFE chapter at my school so I recently found out about the organization through one of my close friends from home. She absolutely loved her mobile clinic trips and when I heard what MEDLIFE was about I applied for the internship.
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I am an adventurous eater who takes naps on a daily basis. I love my family and friends, as well as my dog Kaya. This is probably the hardest part about being here, but they are also my inspiration to do it.
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: I decided to become an intern at MEDLIFE because my goal is to pursue a medical career and to hopefully be able to help people that don't have medical resources and services readily available. I have worked with people in the United States that have intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) in the past and although the United States has great resources sometimes these still can not be easily accessed. I aspire to help this demographic as well as improving global health.
 
What was your first impression of Lima?: My first impression of Lima was that it was HUGE. I'm from a tiny island so every place is huge to me. Hopefully, I get to experience everything that this big city has to offer by the end of the internship.
 
What are your goals for this internship?: My main goal for this internship is to learn as much as I can from MEDLIFE and about how this great non-profit helps the people most in need. My goal in life is to join an organization like Doctors without Borders so having an internship in MEDLIFE will definitely teach me about improving global health and how to best do my part in giving back to the world.
 

2015-2-7-RoxanneName: Roxanne-A. Garibay
Hometown: Greenfield, CA
School: University of California, Los Angeles
Major: Biology & Spanish Minor
 
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: I applied for our school's leadership board my junior year of college as our chapter was started. Senior year I wished to become more involved and joined the executive team. While I never went on a clinic trip during college, I enjoyed being on the team that expanded our club's knowledge of global health and sent volunteers on trips.
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I love food, pastries are my favorite. I also love traveling (naturally with moving to Peru) and being in new places; Cassis, France and Granada, Spain are my favorite cities.
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: As I mentioned above, I was part of my school's executive board and was never able to go on a clinic trip. I applied for the internship for two reasons, the first to continue my involvement in MEDLIFE and my perspective to see the functioning of the organization as a while. Secondly, I also am planning to attend PA school and I felt that this internship would solidify my interest in healthcare.
 
What was your first impression of Lima?: It is enormous! It is also full of culture and different people, and slowly I am learning the different niches that are in the city. The ocean is also so beautiful with the extremely long and peaceful waves that crash on the cliff shores. Lastly, it is always cloudy, always.
 
What are your goals for this internship?: I hope to be able to expand my understanding of community health, culture and myself. I believe that this MEDLIFE internship will be a great highway to complete this, as well as learning the functions of an NGO. But overall, I hope to be able to help the communities here in a way that positively impacts them, whether this results in expanding on an individual project or with making connections with the patients. I also wish to both bring back the knowledge of community health abroad with me and allow the volunteers to have a sliver of the same experience.
 

2015-2-6-ChelseaName: Chelsea Barth
Hometown: Newport Beach, CA
School: Boston University
Major: Health Science
 
How I got involved with MEDLIFE:  I wanted to take a year off after college to get more experience in the field of global public health. I wasn't involved with MEDLIFE prior to my internship, but I found out about MEDLIFE after looking at different global health organizations online. I have always wanted to travel to South America and after reading about the work they have done, I knew I wanted to get involved right way.
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I love to travel and explore new places as well as meet new people. My favorite thing to do in a new city is go for a run to help me learn my way around. I also really enjoy just chilling at the beach or hanging out watching movies with friends. 
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: I want to continue pursuing a public health career and felt I needed to get some hands on experience before I did so. I think that this internship gives me the opportunity to look at the multiple sides of public health and will hopefully help me figure out my next steps. I also loved that I will be able to gain some hands on experience by being out in the fields or helping out in the clinics
 
What was your first impression of Lima?: Lima is such a big and lively city. There is so much to see and do just in this one city. I am excited to be able to spend more time here and really experience all that it has to offer.
 
What are your goals for this internship?: I hope to be able learn more about how a global health non-profit runs. I also want to be able to learn more about the different aspects of global health so that I can figure out what I want to do next with my public health career. Another goal of mine is to be able to contribute to the MEDLIFE team and help make a difference in the communities we help.
August 11, 2015 4:51 PM

Meet the Patient: Rosario Huayhua

Written by Rosali Vela

IMG 4902Rosadia lives alone with her green pet parakeet whose cage sits near the door, surrounded by cluttered bits of clothing, garbage bags, buckets. Even her mattress is covered. The house smells of damp dust and dirt since it is almost always misting outside at this time of year. Her house dimly lit by a single light bulb. There is no kitchen, no sink, not even a stove to be found; just a small television set with two massive antennas sticking out. Rosadia smiles as we come inside and greet her.

The piles of clutter spread around the room look like vague lumps; individual objects are hard to distinguish. Just like it is hard to distinguish home from home, community from community in the hills during the perpetual greyness of a Limenean winter. She smiles as we come inside, the state and disorder of her home seem just fine with her. She is over 70 years old.

She moves slowly with a stooped posture. She wears a red baseball cap whenever she goes out. As she grabs the brim to remove it the mood in her eyes changes- like when someone is unexpectedly delivered bad news and you can see their positive energy keeping their spirit afloat get sucked out of their face, shrink, shrivel and fall away like a deflating balloon.

The reason for the abrupt change in Rosadia´s mood is bulging out of the left side of her head, her skin is taught, a lump the size of a tennis ball that looks like it would not just bleed but burst if cut into. She has a massive tumor. She has had it for 3 years.

Andres, a MEDLIFE medical intern, and Ruth gather around her and inspect the tumor on the dirt path the leads to the shack. The dirt is wet and slick underfoot. The mixed scent of smoke, mud and dog feces is a constant prescence, adding a kind of texture to the air. Behind us the hills stretch into the distance and eventually melt away into a grey daze. A visually indistinguishable cloud of homes and people like Rosadia.

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Her motor function is impaired in the walk test. She complains that she cannot sleep well because of the pain, and because it is hard for her to properly rest her head with such a large tumor. The pain is obvious in her eyes and Andres inspects the tumor.

Her neighbor Nilda, a 23 year old mother, tells us she feels as if Rosadia is her own mother, and she cares for her as if she is.

Thank god, because Rosadia’s own kids do not care for her. They don’t visit her either. “They don’t have time,” said Nilda.

Nilda’s own children shrieked with delight as they played on a wooden beam that supports Nilda’s house across the way as Andres gave Rosadia the exams and Ruth talked with Nilda.

Rosadia isn’t the only one who is sick here- Nilda has a massive tumor on her chest.

Nilda’s children took turns swinging back and forth on the wooden beam, hanging off of each other, lighting up the hillside with the sound of their laughter. It is no wonder people love children so much. They looked like little islands of joy, an oasis, perhaps blissfully ignorant or perhaps immersed in their play just momentarily rising above the grave problems facing their mother and neighbor    Rosadia rarely leaves her home. Neither does Nilda, for fear that something would happen to Rosadia, that she might need something. She is totally devoted to caring for Rosadia and her children.

Ruth and Andres conclude they need to get Rosadia an MRI to see what can be done about the tumor. We take Nilda’s information – she is our only way of contacting Rosadia. She will need to help Rosadia get to the appointment. It would be hard for her to make it there on her own in her phsyical condition, and she only speaks Quechua. Who knows how long it would take her to find medical personel that could communicate with her.

 


 

Several weeks later Nilda waited all day with Rosadia at the hospital. They couldn’t get anything.  Going through the public health system is simply too slow so we meet them on a corner on a chaotic street in the valley below the hills where they live. Rosadia is wearing the same red baseball cap, blue plaid skirt, and sweater she was wearing when we visited her home several weeks ago.

Cars are constantly honking. The median in the street is full of garbage. The air is thick with car exhaust and when the wind blows you can smell both. We are on a street full of businesses offering private medical testing. We couldn’t make an appointment in advance though. We push through the sea of honking cars, rushing pedestrians and shouting street vendors from one lab to the next, asking for the exam. We are turned away time after time. The doctor isn’t here right now. We only do them at night. We are full, they tell us.

Janet finally finds a desk inside of a café. Inside people are sitting drinking coffee, eating pastries. Salsa music is blaring in the distance. The desk organizes and makes appointments for medical testing in nearby labs from inside the bakery. They can finally help us here.

 Rosadia feels bad that Nilda has had to leave her children all day and apologizes. Nilda tells her not to worry. They will be ok she says. They are young. The lab can’t do the MRI right now. Nilda will have to return with Rosadia at night. At least her husband will be there to look after the kids then.

This is why we send out the nurses into the field to not only pay for exams and appointments, but to accompany our patients to them and help them navigate the complicated and chaotic medical system. Everything is slow. They explain to the patietns what the doctors tell them. They make sure they find the appointment, get one, and don’t just end up waiting around all day, getting nothing and never returning.

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MEDLIFE is currently waiting to get the results of the MRI that Rosadia has been waiting three years for. We worked with Nilda and her public insurance to get her testing. Her tumor is not cancerous and we are following the process of treatment. Our fingers are crossed for both of them.

The Pueblos Jovenes are complex places. Looking the bleak surroundings and hearing about the grave struggles that these communities on a daily basis, it can be easy to see nothing but hardship, misery, and hard living conditions.  But the Pueblos Jovenes are full of people living their lives as best they can much like anywhere else, encompassing a range of human experience. The juxtapositions I see in this collection of photos reminds me of that.

IMG 4867Two children play on a wooden beam outside their house while a nurse inspects her mother's tumor, seemingly blissfully unaware of what we are doing there. 

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IMG 2547A MEDLIFE patient and her daughter on our nurse's first visit.

 

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IMG 1584A 16 year old MEDLIFE patient named Dixon who suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis, with his mom and sister outside of their home. Since his arthritis has left him unable to walk, Dixon´s father often carries him down the steep hillside on his shoulders.

 

IMG 2614A MEDLIFE patient and her children along with MEDLIFE nurse Janet look at a litter of puppies living outside their home.

 

IMG 2637A pile of rubbish next to a group of houses and a community meeting area. There simply isn't space here to seperate these things.

 

IMG 4788A patient takes a break for picking apart the corncobs she cooks and sells to sit with her baby and talk with us.

 

IMG 2642A community meeting space.

 

IMG 4768The hills look dramatically different on a sunny day; you can see the lack of city planning and infrastructure clearly in this photo.  

 

August 10, 2015 9:05 AM

Intern Journal: Andrew Lindeborg

Written by Andrew Lindeborg

Today was the day. With sweaty palms and few expectations, I would finally have the opportunity to accompany one of the nurses, Janet, for my first patient follow-up visit in the field.  I excitingly rushed down to the lower floor of the office, greeted her with a customary kiss on the cheek and introduced myself.  While we waited at the bus station, which was about a block or two from the office, I nervously attempted to converse with her in Spanish.  Feeling invigorated,I understood almost everything, the amount of time she had been working with MEDLIFE, the names and ages of her children, and the patients we were going to visit.

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It took about an hour and a half to travel to the location of the patients in Villa Maria del Triunfo. We whisked through Lima’s infamous traffic on a city bus, transferred to a Combi, a privately owned transportation bus, and finally ended up in a cramped mototaxi chugging our way up the bumpy and uncomfortable dirt road.  When we arrived at the smog-covered community, I was struck by the intriguing beauty of overcrowded houses immersed in the faint smell of burning trash and echoing barks of stray dogs.  Janet and I had spent about an hour walking around one hill to the next. Finally after asking for what seemed like 100 people for directions, we arrived at a tattered and rustic house.  What I first noticed was the almost impossible stairs that we had to traverse just to arrive at their front door.  The uneven stairs were made out of stones and dirt and, when wet, would require the residents to navigate an extremely dangerous thoroughfare.

Every family member in the house politely greeted us when we entered and I finally found myself face to face with the patient, Francisco.  Sitting down on a worn out couch was a 69 year-old man with a ruggedly serene face framed by a smattering of withered grey hair.  He smiled and mumbled a few indistinguishable words to express his gratitude in light of the fact that he had to deal with so much. Before we had entered, Janet mentioned to me that this man suffered from a severe case of Alzheimer’s, making it impossible for him to leave the house.  We sat down on another couch just a few feet from Francisco, while his wife patiently stood nearby. Once I handed the evaluation papers to Janet, I was a silent observer.  It was a back and forth communication between Janet and the patient’s wife for about 20 minutes. Ultimately, all of Francisco’s symptoms became clear.  He had pain in his joints, difficulty swallowing, controlling his bladder, and had a very difficult time conversing with others. He needed a 24/7 caretaker to aid in his daily activities.  I was shocked to learn that this family had limited access to basic resources, which many of us take for granted: running water, electricity, a clean and healthy living space, and easily accessible healthy food.  It quickly became clear that all of these factors contributed to the difficult situation Francisco and his family faced.  It not only is medicine that can provide a stable and healthy recovery, but also the correct environment.  Francisco slowly descended into a vegetative state because of the almost impossible trek to leave his house.  Their lack of running water and electricity made it very difficult to sustain a healthy living space.  On top of that, they had no access to general physicians or medicine.   However, despite all these challenges, they always had big smiles on their faces and laughed as if life was the best that it could be.

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MEDLIFE has provided me with many new insights about myself and the world around me. This great organization identifies difficult situations and strives to alleviate the suffering and hardships of many in need.  They listen to the community and act upon what needs to be improved rather than rashly barging in and temporarily fixing a problem.  With Francisco’s case, the nurses visit him regularly to ensure that he has sufficient medication and knowledge to sustain a stable lifestyle.  I hold in high regard one of MEDLIFE’s core goals: to establish the proactiveness and personal sustainability within these great communities.  Even though Francisco and his family lack many basic resources, they still strive toward a better and brighter future.  After we had finished conversing, I was astonished to learn that he knew some English.  As we were leaving, he shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and said two words that deeply touched me, “My friend.” I feel immensely privileged to have been an advocate for MEDLIFE’s mission this summer and hope to return in the near future.

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August 6, 2015 3:12 PM

Intern Journal: Rolando Gerena

Written by Rolando Gerena

Peru. The country where the Spanish founded their empire and took over the Inca Empire. Having been in Lima for six weeks has put several things into perspective.  First off, the world is so large! The fact that I’m living in a city with over 3 million people is unbelievable. You see different faces everyday, whether on the street or on a bus. What’s my point? That everyday in this city has potential. You can decide whether or not you want to make a name for yourself. You can assimilate with the culture, or you can stick to what makes you comfortable. You can enrich your life with positive experiences, or you can sit at home and go on social media. The possibilities are infinite, but it’s for you to decide what it is that you want to get out of your stay.

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On one of the more recent mobile clinics, I was introduced to a daycare center called “Virgen del Buen Paso”. The UC Davis MEDLIFE chapter sponsored a project to repair the flooring and kitchen of the toddler area. The principal, Blanca, took us class by class to meet the kids. The kids loved seeing us and were in awe when they discovered we were Americans! It just so happened that the lesson of the day was poetry. Not many people know this but writing poetry is a hobby of mine.  A few of the kids recited some of their poems, and then they asked if any of the volunteers wanted to recite. Nobody knew any! So I decided to recite one of my own.

After taking the daycare tour, we walked to the playground. It was ginormous! There were a group of kids playing in a small section of the playground while the rest remained unoccupied. At first I thought it was because the kids enjoyed playing in the smaller section but I was then told that the majority of the playground had been closed due to infrastructural concerns. The main wall surrounding the playground was old and deteriorating. When brushed, the concrete would flake off.

The principal mentioned that it would take lots of money to fix it but it was something that they’d look into in the future. This caught my attention but I didn’t think much of it at the moment. That same night I sat down to write in my journal and reminisce on the week’s events. I got this sudden rush of anxiety and all my mind could think of was that daycare wall. I wanted to do something I had never done before. I wanted to leave my mark in Peru. I think what pushed me to start my own project was when the principal called me the “angel de los niños” which translates to the angel of the kids. 

This is the part where I talk about my good friend Carlos Benavides. Carlos is the director of all MEDLIFE development projects in Peru so I had to meet with him to discuss my plans. We both concluded that repairing thiswall would be a great idea but we first needed an engineers opinion.

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And that’s where I’m at today. Making small amounts of progress and getting closer to the bigger picture. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Peru, or life in general, it’s that you can’t get anything done on your own. Carlos proved to me that being successful is all about the quality of your network. You save time, money, and resources just by knowing the right people.

Instead of hiring an engineer for a few hundred dollars, Carlos called over a friend to do it for free.  Instead of purchasing thousands of dollars worth of cement, Carlos found a person that can provide it for free. Instead of waiting a month to meet with government officials to discuss our plans, Carlos was able to get an appointment for the same day. Carlos is the perfect example of a leader and team member. Carlos didn’t meet this people from behind a desk or computer. He met these people by going out into the city and meeting people. By listening to what they have to say and giving them what they need. What do you get in return? A life with new meaning. So when I say that everyday you have the opportunity of meeting someone that can potentially change your life, I mean it. 

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MEDLIFE Nurse Janet pounded on the flimsy metal door to the small house and waited- No response. She tried again. Nothing. “Señor!” she yelled. “Hola Señor! Estamos con la organización de MEDLIFE.”

It is hot, the sun is shining for the first time in weeks. We wait. She tries knocking again. Where were they?

We were looking for a teenage boy who had come to a Mobile Clinic complaining of respiratory issues. MEDLIFE doctors had told him he needed to get tested for Tuberculosis. Had he? We didn’t know. 

Tuberculosis is a highly contagious and often deadly lung infection that is rapant in the Pueblos Jovenes where MEDLIFE works and disproportionately affects people living in poverty worldwide. It spreads quickly in enclosed areas where one is in close proximitiy with an infected person. For example, the interior of the combis, small crowded busses used to get around Lima, are ideal for the spread of Tuberculosis. Many buses even have signs asking passengers to keep windows open to stop the spread of Tuberculosis, but oftentimes they still remain shut.

The infection can remain dormant for months or years in someone’s lungs before becoming active, contagious and symptom causing. Symptoms can begin mild, but typically progress to lethal if active TB is untreated. MEDLIFE doesn’t offer Tuberculosis testing onsite at clinics both because it is difficult and because all public hospitals offer free testing and treatment centers.

If this boy we went to find really did have active TB, he had could have spread it to his entire family and countless other people by now if he hadn’t started treatment.

Janet sighs and begins asking passerby for the family’s wherabouts. Eventually she discovers that the boy’s mom runs a fruit stand in a nearby market. We walk up the stairs to the top of the hill and find the market. We eventually find her surrounded by piles of grenadilla, mandarinas, and pineapples in her stand. The boy’s mom has no idea who we are- immediately the lines on her face deepen and take on the shape of concern and sterness that only the face of a worried mother can have.

Her son hadn’t told her anything about visiting the MEDLIFE clinic. He hadn’t told her anything about possibly having TB. “Vamos!” she said and we took off towards the house. She was sure he was there, and she was going to find him.

We hadn’t come to give him treatment or pay for it. He could get that for free at public hospitals. We had come to make sure he was getting treatment, following proper precautions to avoid spreading the disease, and was following the directions with the antibiotics. The only thing MEDLIFE occasionally pays for is medicine to help with the stomach issues some patients experience when taking TB medication, to make compliance with the treatment more likely.

If a patient begins taking the antibiotics and then decides to stop before finishing all of the medication, the TB bacteria can become resistant to the antibiotics and the disease can begin progressing again. If this happens, they will be spreading a strain of TB that has adapted a resistance to that antibiotic. There are many strains of antibiotic resistant TB now, and some are very difficult to treat because they are resistant to many different antibiotics.

The situation we were in was making it obvious why it was necessary to actually visit TB patients and make sure they are getting proper treatment.

We put on our masks outside the house to avoid becoming infected if the boy did indeed have TB, but the mother, she didn’t have one. As his mother storms in shouting his name he sheepishly comes out of the back of the house sporting a mop of disogranized hair, a white t-shirt and pajamas. He looks like he just woke up to his worst nightmare. We must have been very intimidating, showing up in surgical masks with his unhappy mother.

He remains quiet as Janet and his mother explain the situation. You could have cut the tension in the room with a knife. Janet questions him about how he has been feeling, each question ends in a debate between him and his mother over to what degree he exhibits each symptom. The mother seems to think he is downplaying his symptoms and has been sick. The boy says that he simply forgot about it and is fine.

A friend of his who has TB had been coming to the house for months so they could study together. Their pile of books was sitting on the table as we spoke. His friend had told them he wasn’t contagious since he had been taking the medication long enough, but if he had decided to stop taking the medicine because he felt better, or forgotten too many doses, he could have become contagious and passed anti-biotic resistant TB to them.      

Who knows?

That is the problem with trying to control the spread of TB in places like the pueblos jovenes; lots of people with weak immune systems living in close proximity to one another with a lack of education and many barriers to access healthcare are extremely vulnerable to the spread of TB.

TB is not just a problem in Lima´s Pueblos Jovenes, but all over the world. In 2013, 9 million people around the world became sick with active TB and there were around 1.5 million TB-related deaths worldwide. The rate of TB has been declining around the world and in Peru due to efforts from governments and international health organizations, but is still a significant problem. In Peru, the per capita rate of active reported TB infections has declined by about 72% between 1990 and 2013, according to the World Health Organization. 67% of patients who began treatment were treated successfully.

No one knows how many people have latent TB since those with latent TB do not have any symptoms. The United Nations public health agency estimated in its 2013 report that about a third of all active TB cases are unreported worldwide.

Antibiotic resistant TB, on the other hand is on the rise globally and has been called a public health crisis by the world health organization. Patients with drug resistant TB must take multiple drugs daily for as long as two years. Making this happen is extremely expensive and difficult.

One of the only ways to stop the spread of antibiotic resistant TB is to ensure patients follow it in the first place, and don’t create new strains of resistant TB. To do that sometimes you have to go out and see them in person.

The boy and his mom promised to go and get a test. Janet says she will stay in touch. Hopefully he will actually go this time. I have a feeling this time around his mom will make sure of it.

July 31, 2015 2:03 PM

Intern Journal: Leema John

Written by Leema John

"We won't have water for two days, starting tomorrow at nine o'clock AM."

My finger nearly became a part of the onion that I was cutting, as my knife dropped at the news that I had overheard.

"What? No running water for two whole days?" exclaimed another intern.

A thousand thoughts raced across the forefront of my mind. Since our apartment did not have a water tank for excess water storage, we would have absolutely no water to supply our needs.  How would I shower? How would I clean my growing pile of laundry? How would I live with twelve people, all limited to a single flush for each of the three toilets in the apartment? Because let's be real, we were all on Pepto Bismol.

Untitled1Precisely how I felt when I heard that I would not have access to running water.My qualms were quickly reassured with another claim of the night:  that there would be running water in the office, as the cut only affected the district that we lived in.  It was going to be alright-- I could have my toothbrush in tow to the office, and have pearly whites after a mysterious bathroom break.

The next morning, I filled up my water bottle with the last remaining bits of filtered water that my apartment would spit out for me for the next 36 hours. As I stepped into the office kitchen later that morning to stow away my lunch, my eyes feasted on an unusual array of colors. The floor was covered with multicolored buckets filled with water. I nervously glanced at the microwave clock. It was 8:04 AM.

I arrived to my desk listening to the fear that was settling into panic-- the district that our office was in, would be affected by the water cut as well. No running water here, either.  To be honest, I freaked out a little bit. How does one survive without running water? What do you do when your back up for running water needs to be backed up?

As the clock approached nine, so did my uneasiness. I had never tackled the issue of water cuts. The closest thing I could relate to was electricity cuts at my parents' childhood homes in India, which was a completely different game. At those routine 9 PM power cuts, I was never worried about being dehydrated or even unclean.

But I began to ponder about my work with MEDLIFE and the communities that we served.  A lot of the homes do not have running water, nonetheless access to it at all. I thought back to the community meeting that I had attended just that previous Friday with Señor Carlos and the rest of the Volunteer Affairs interns. On our trek down to the city center, he pointed out a portion of the area that was cloaked in darkness, as opposed to the gridded lights that illuminated the outskirts of Lima. He explained to us that this area was documented as an illegal settlement, as those who lived there did not have land titles to claim it as their own. Those settlers had moved to Lima nearly a year ago, and had to scavenge for water and pay spiked rates for electricity.

More often than not, the water that the people in pueblos jovenes ("shantytowns") receive are stored in old chemical waste containers because it's a cheaper alternative to the larger water tanks that are clean. This one tank of water is used for a family to cook, do laundry, bathe, and aid in personal hygiene. As the water tanks sit outside of homes with a flimsy tarp as a cover, they become prone to the bacteria that resides in the air. Burning garbage, human excrement, dog excrement, dirty diapers, and dirt all culminate into the air and rise to water-borne illnesses. I bore witness to this fact at a patient follow-up visit during hour 25 in my drought with water.

Untitled3A look at the water containers that are used to house water in los pueblos jovenes.I accompanied one of our field nurses, Janet, to a women's health clinic in Jesús María. Any patients that had irregular breast exams or pap smear results at the mobile clinic were brought to that clinic for their next round of care. I sat in the room, quietly listening to the initial consultation, trying to understand each patient's condition. After a few minutes of formalities and chatter, a young woman in her mid-twenties stepped into the room. We were told by the doctor that her irregular pap smear results were caused by a parasitic infection near the opening of her cervix, which had caused a large open wound and a source of great discomfort. The likely cause? Some form of water intake, most likely through washing of the body. Though her wound was cauterized and closed, it didn't solve the issue at hand-- access to clean and safe water.

As  I came upon hour thirty of my drought with water, I had already stopped at two bodegas, or convenience stores, to find no bottled water available for purchase. I also learned that the water cut had happened in all of the areas but the extremely wealthy ones. Though it was due to maintenance, we all joked that the Miraflores district paid the water company, Sedapal, from cutting the water in their district. Unfortunately, the role that money plays in accessing privilege is a reality for much of the world, Lima included.

I'm happy to announce that I survived the thirty-six hour run without running water. Looking back at it, I am a little embarrassed at my fears and anxieties about it. Putting your life in perspective to the conditions in the world is humbling, sparking a renewed sense of appreciation. The unknown is always intimidating and a bit scary, but can be morphed into a challenge for bettering yourself. My time in Lima has been incredibly challenging, but working through those hurdles has brought an immeasurable amount of growth and reward. My point: always remember to check your privilege, and keep the thirst for life alive!

Untitled2Overlooking the hills of Villa Maria del Triunfo, one of the many areas that are a part of los pueblos jovenes.

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