April 16, 2014 11:13 AM

Helping one to help many

Written by Joanna Dainton

Jorge Luis Vargas Candela is 37 years old and lives in the community of Nueva Esperanza, Pamplona. He suffers from Polio which he contracted from an expired Polio vaccination at the age of 1; this vaccination was a donation and caused serious physical disabilities for many children in Lima in the year of 1977. While a lawsuit ensued, calling for compensation for those affected, for Jorge the damage was already done. As a result of the vaccine he lost the use of his right arm and his legs became severely disabled, to the extent that he required help walking and only through extensive and expensive surgery was his left arm saved,. For his parents, Jorge’s situation was a burden; his other siblings had to live with their grandparents and his father suffered from depression and alcoholism, leaving only his mother to care for him.




As a child unable to be physically active, school was a high priority however, being accepted into elementary education was difficult as teachers viewed his disability as a barrier to his learning. Luckily, Jorge’s father found a Principle who was willing to give him a chance, and with this opportunity he flourished, making the grades for secondary school and beyond. With an interest in Information Technology and computers he became a professor and taught for a number of years in a local school and he has since worked in a call centre and for Peru’s biggest mobile phone provider.


However, in 2003, he began feeling sharp pains in his back, which eventually prevented him from sleeping, and thus working. He was diagnosed with a side effect of Polio and given medication to deal with the pain, but he became addicted to his painkillers, and was instructed to rest to the point of not walking. 


He has now dealt with his addiction, but is confined to a conventional wheelchair in which he cannot propel himself as it requires two hands to push the wheels. At nearly 40 years old, he is isolated by this ill-fitting wheelchair and unemployed through the lack of access for wheelchair users, for example, on public buses. 


But this difficult situation has not prevented Jorge from focusing on those in need around him; he has become a community leader and he independently made contact with MEDLIFE to arrange mobile clinics in Spring 2014. He is a rock for his community: helping organise infrastructure such as roads and sidewalks, as well as helping a neighbour through the hardship of a cancer diagnosis and treatment.


Jorge is not one for drowning in his own sorrows: when I met him he was waiting in the community centre alone, unable to move himself until his nephew arrived to push his wheelchair but all he wanted to talk about was arranging future clinics with MEDLIFE and working with us to improve the lives of those around him. As he pointed out himself; if he can help people from his position now, how many more could he help with the freedom of mobility?




MEDLIFE is fundraising for an electronic mobile wheelchair so that Jorge doesn't have to rely on his family and friends for mobility. This piece of equipment would give Jorge the freedom that was taken away from him as a baby and, considering how driven he is to help his community, it would change the lives of so many more through hisincreased ability to work.


Now, Joanna, MEDLIFE year intern, have started a campaign to help Jorge. For donations, click here.


Our various medical campaigns not only help our current patients, they also help us find new follow up patients. Eleven year old Julio Cesar Mendez Tica, a child who has overcome great difficulties,is a perfect example.

When Julio Cesar was eight years old, he loved to play football near his home on the rocky hillsides of Nuevo Milenio, Pamplona. Similar to many kids his age, he liked to play with friends and was known for his constant smile and friendly nature. However, one evening his life took a tragic turn. While playing with some friends, a rock broke off of the hillside and headed toward the field, hitting Julio Cesar on the right side of his head.

The rock had smashed one of the bones of his skull, damaging vital brain tissue. In the time that it took to transport Julio Cesar to the María Auxiliadora Hospital, blood clots in his brain had developed. This forced doctors to remove the damaged bone, placing it under the skin of his stomach to preserve it. During surgery, it was discovered that the damage was too severe to rectify, leaving the entire left side of Julio Cesar's body paralysed.

Directly after his surgery, various government representatives, NGOs and the media publicly pledged to help Julio Cesar. However, it has been three years since the accident and the promised help never came. Therefore, when MEDLIFE met him during the first Mobile Clinic in Nuevo Milenio, Julio Cesar's mother, Alejandra, was very suspicious. She felt that all previous organizations who had promised to help her child had instead taken advantage of the situation, advertising the case for their own gains. Weeks of meetings and discussions with our nurses enabled the Mendez Tica family to trust the help of others once again. 


Julio Cesar has since undergone surgery, in which the bone of his skull was successfully realigned in place however, that was just the beginning of his recovery process. Several rehabilitation treatments were necessary, and the accident had changed Julio Cesar into a very reserved and shy child. As of September of 2013, MEDLIFE has taken care of all treatment costs for Julio Cesar, including speech, learning, occupational and physical therapy. 

These many months of hard work are paying off. Now Julio Cesar is starting to smile again, and has taken a liking to photography. He has started to recall events that he had forgotten due to the accident. Additionally, after several recent assessments the Cesar Carbonell Public School has opened its doors to him, and now Julio Cesar is entering the 4th grade. 

It is important to note that through a partnership with Area Children with Special Abilities, Cesar Carbonell Public School, located in Lower Pamplona, will now help other children like Julio Cesar to enroll and continue their education. 

MEDLIFE will continue to support Julio Cesar and his family. We are now aiming to supply him with a computer to do his homework, as well as help his family remodel their home. These two important goals will help the Mendez Tica family greatly improve their quality of life. 


Sometimes we encounter patients through means other than mobile clinics. This is the case of José Luis Solizor, a 26-year-old who, like many in Peru, works hard for his family. More than anything he has two important goals; work to support his sick mother, and be reunited with his younger sisters in Lima, whom he had been separated from through bad circumstances. Yet in an instant his goals became jeopardized. While working as a truck driver a terrible accident left José Luis with a serious spinal injury, resulting in loss of mobility of his legs. He was in critical condition when he arrived in his native region of Pichanaquí, Ucayali, to receive surgery. Unfortunately the operation was unsuccessful and he required immediate transfer to Lima, where he could receive further care. 


His family was determined to take action, and the efforts of his loving and devoted mother were pivotal in changing José Luis's life. Despite having health problems of her own, Sonia Arrostegui, José Luis's mother, did everything in her power to transfer her son to the capital where he could receive the care he needed. 

 In August of 2013, Sonia was at the Rehabilitation Center of Chorrillos trying to get an appointment for her son. MEDLIFE staff present were told about the case from other patients, and approached Sonia to learn more about her son.MEDLIFE began to help José Luis in many capacities, including providing him with medication to treat infections in his digestive and urinary systems, problems resulting from the accident. 


Despite many obstacles this story has a happy ending. After six months of navigating formalities, José Luis has access to the Adriana Rebaza Rehabilitation Center where, after various exams, doctors determined that after four months of treatment the likelihood of regaining mobility in his legs was very high. MEDLIFE continues to support José Luis with food specific to his dietary needs, transportation, and payment for treatment. 

Our goal is to see José Luis walking again, returning to work, and reuniting with his family. Until then, MEDLIFE will continue to provide support for him.

Walking through the "pueblos jovenes" of Lima is never an easy task either physically or emotionally. Working in these areas you will learn about people's stories and situations that can make you feel small and powerless, yet at the same you get to know incredible people who are full of hope and a desire for change.


During a Lima summer, it is excruciatingly sunny. The ground is dry and hot, and the relentless sun never lets you forget that you are in the center of a desert. Winter by contrast is humid and seemingly endless. Filled with grey skies and rainy days, the humidity brings the cold directly into the local homes and a chill cuts straight to the bone. For many of these families they have only a thin wall to protect them from these elements. 

DC2-2Such are the winters for Kiara, for which being inside or out of the house is the same; both places are wet, cold, and smell of garbage. At six years old, Kiara has learned to make due with her surroundings. Pretending that large stones are her own personal ponies, that the flowers she used to water are actually cactuses, and that her secondhand dolls have seen better days. Kiara's imagination has no limit, she continues every day smiling and doing her hair like a princess.

Dakota is different. She does not smile as much. At age four she does not understand much, but knows that things are not good. She knows that there are children who sleep in dry beds and whose houses are not full of holes in the walls. If you ask her if she prefers summer to the cold winters, she does not know how to respond. The heat is overwhelming, especially when you share the only bed with three other people. 

They are two different children but at the same time are equal, as both have infinite love for their mother. Their mother tries daily to get ahead, to better her family's life. Mónica Coquinchi came to Lima from the Tigre River in the Amazon at age 18, after a five day boat ride and her first and only ride in a plane. They told her that Lima is full of jobs, success, and was her best option. 

Love can at the same time be a blessing and a curse. Carlita, two years old, is proof that love forgives all, but can also be blind. Once you take off the blindfold, the truth can be painful. Two years of trial and tribulation to obtain sufficient food is the result. 


But Monica's dreams and her preservation are what we really love about her. Her desire to improve her life is so strong that when she enrolled in a free course on Geriatrics. She was such a good student that her teacher let her bring her three daughters to class. Come graduation day, a friend gave her a new pair of shoes, another a nice blouse. But Mónica did not use either; she is keeping them for a more special occasion.

When it comes to beautiful things, perception is relative. For some it may be the sky at sunset, for others it is colorful flowers. For us, it is when we see Monica's eyes after telling her we would build her family a new house. A house without holes and with windows. Cool in the summer and warm in winter.

The Development Corps volunteers are changing lives, fulfilling dreams, and giving hope to people that things can get better. It reminds us that we should not give up and that we need to continue our efforts. We are proud to say that this Friday we will not just be inaugurating a house; we will be inaugurating a home.


"Laderas de Nueva Esperanza” is a community that has never disappointed us. Full of hardworking, honest, and eager people ready to move forward for a better future.


We found out about a problem they had with the playground when Nancy Helguera, the community leader, asked for our help. Our assistance was important as this playground was used by dozens of children in the area.


We don't think twice about writing a blog and publishing the project on our "sponsor a project” section in the website. Never did we think that this recent project would be completed by our first group of Development Corps .

Participating Development Corps is demanding but very rewarding. This new form of project allows you to be a participant and to leave a mark that changes the lives of people for a long time.


For us who work with MEDLIFE it is a amazing to be able to meet old friends again in the community. We have recently been able to build 7 staircases in a single community and that allows us to remain much closer to its inhabitants.

Working in the communities allows us to meet amazingly humble people like Reynaldo, father of our patient Jimena. Reynaldo did not hesitate to leave his job as a delivery man for a week to be able to support our Development Corps without expecting anything in return.


Or like Mr. Fonseca who always full of wisdom and no doubt one of the leaders in all construction to occur in his community. If you ask him kindly, he will teach you all the tricks of the trade that he knows about construction.


This is our first group of Development Core participants and while they still have all week to complete their projects, we are sure there will be many new experiences for both the participants and the community.



Here at MEDLIFE, we're always proud to see our newest chapters hosting events and delivering Medicine Education and Development to their local communities. Our chapter at the University of Nevada, Reno was founded just last semester in September 2013. Since its founding, the chapter has hosted various events and fundraisers and sent a group of students to a Mobile Clinic in Lima, Peru in January. Last week, a group of 18 students from MEDLIFE Nevada and the American Medical Student Association participated in an event with Truckee Meadows Habitat for Humanity to help construct homes in that community. We interviewed Lucia Sanchez about the event, co-founder and president of her chapter who has participated in multiple clinics herself and has always been a great support to our organization. Read more about the chapter's service event below:

Why did you decide to host this particular community service event?
We decided to host this community service event with Habitat for Humanity because this organization gave our members the opportunity to give back to individuals of low income by providing development through the construction of houses. Their work is analogous to the development projects that MEDLIFE hosts when volunteers participate in mobile clinics.
Why did you think it was important?
Truckee Meadows Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit, volunteer based organization that helps provide low income families the opportunity to seek homeownership in the Truckee Meadows community since 1991. As a chapter of MEDLIFE, our mission is to provide MEDs (Medicine, Education, and Development) to communities around the world and in our very own community. As such, it is important for our chapter to give back to help touch the lives of those who deserve a place to live.

How did you get involved with Habitat for Humanity?
Our mobile clinic officer who focuses on community relations, Jake Eisert, contacted Habitat for Humanity and set a date for which we are able to volunteer.

Do you plan on doing this event in the future?
Yes, our members had a great time working with this organization and it was amazing to see the work that volunteers put in in order to create something that benefits so many people. Towards the end of our workday, the construction manager showed us a house that was completed 100% by the work put in by volunteers and it was absolutely breathtaking to see what the dedication of a group of individuals can do for a community.

What differences did you find working on this project in your local community compared to your project abroad with MEDLIFE?
The difference between working this project and the project with MEDLIFE is that we took part in a project that we did not necessarily see from start to finish like a stair project in Pamplona Alta. However, even though we did not take part of the whole process here, we still got the same feeling of excitement and joy knowing that what we made will help improve the lives of others. Whether it was plastering or putting up drywall, carrying buckets of cement or painting a mural what you are doing means so much more than you probably realize. That the smile on someone's face means that you have impacted them forever.


Like most 11 year olds, our patient Edison Tagua from Ecuador loves playing soccer and being active with his friends. But unlike his peers, he had long-suffered from a condition that prevents him from enjoying these activities to his full potential.

We first met Edison at a Mobile Clinic a year ago in the community of Achullay del Cantón Guamote near Riobamba, Ecuador when his father told us that Edison had difficulty running or engaging in other strenuous activities. After he was seen by a doctor at the clinic, we discovered that he had a heart murmur and was in need of further treatment.

Heart murmurs are the extra sounds that occur during a heartbeat. While most heart murmurs are not serious, some can be caused by various abnormalities or defects in the heart structure; these murmurs require further examination for possible treatment.

Living in a small house in rural Ecuador, Edison’s family comes from very low financial means. His father is day laborer and his mother works as a housekeeper. When MEDLIFE initially offered follow-up care for Edison, his family was very hesitant, as they had financial concerns and were also convinced that his condition could be fixed with a few home remedies. Finally, after speaking with MEDLIFE staff and medical professionals in Ecuador, and being informed that our organization would support them throughout the process, the family accepted
our help and we enrolled Edison into our follow-up program.


His road to recovery began with a three-hour journey to the capital of Ecuador, Quito, where his surgery took place. On the day of his surgery, his entire family accompanied him to Quito and showered him with support as he was being taken to the operating room. Finally, after eight hours of heart surgery in Quito, Edison was in stable condition and is on a steady road to recovery.

Now, he will be able to enjoy the activities he loves: playing soccer with his friends, spending time with his family, and continuing to study in school in order to accomplish his goal of becoming an engineer when he grows up.


February 20, 2014 4:50 PM

A Volunteer's Campaign: The Gift of Giving

Written by Ebony Bailey


Every year around her birthday, University of Michigan student Leighann Cohen reminisces on her previous year and the events that inspired her to give back. Last August, Leighann had the opportunity to participate in the first-ever MEDLIFE volunteer trip to Tanzania, so for her 20th birthday, she decided to give back to the organization that gave her an eye-opening experience.

Instead of asking for material gifts, Leighann started a campaign that asked her family and friends to use that money and donate it to MEDLIFE instead. Her campaign started on her birthday, October 28th, and continued on until New Year’s Day of 2014. Over the span of three months, she reached out to an array of people, from close friends and family to sorority and fraternity networks at her university, to donate to her cause. She wrote a letter to her prospective supporters to explain her cause:

“As I begin the final month of my teenage years, I face adulthood with a new appreciation for the world and the billions of people I share it with. For my 20th birthday, I would like to do something different. Although there is always something one could buy me that would make me smile, the something that I really want this year is your help in changing the lives of people that are in need of change. For my birthday, I want to know that I have done what I can to give back to all of the people that have changed my life this summer,” an exerpt from her letter.  

From all of the support she received, she raised a total of $1,235  for the MEDLIFE fund.

“My experience with MEDLIFE was one that truly gave me direction in life,” she said. “The communities we traveled to and the people we interacted with touched my heart. Despite the immense language barrier, every day brought new and exciting friendships and lessons.”

Her inspiration for the campaign started from her trip to Tanzania with MEDLIFE last August, and particularly from her experience in a community called Kikavu. The clinic in Kikavu was set up in an old dispensary that was once funded by a foreign organization who had since stopped their support. Because of this, Leighann’s group did not expect many people to show up for the clinic and thought that MEDLIFE would have to build back the community’s trust. To their surprise, nearly 300 children, adults and elderly were attended to at the clinic that day. “I cried out of happiness as our bus pulled out of Kikavu,” she said. “I think that seeing this, especially on my first day of mobile clinics, solidified the true impact MEDLIFE's work has on underserved and impoverished people around the world.”
Leighann strongly encourages that other students fundraise for MEDLIFE in a similar manner.

“One's social networks most often are full of people with similar interests to yours,” she said. “School organizations are also a fantastic way to get the word out.”

Thank you, Leighann, for all of your dedication and support to MEDLIFE! We wish you much success in your future endeavours.


After months of planning and construction, a new MEDLIFE project has been inaugurated! A school in Riobamba for children who are deaf and hard of hearing now has a new set of bleachers to accompany its outdoor court: enabling a prolonged dream for many students to finally become a reality.


This project, which began in September of 2013, was initially requested by the parents, who noticed that the school was equipped with a spacious, outdoor court,but had no place for people to sit and watch various games and activities.

The parents also noticed that the original space for sign-language classes was extremely small: the children were forced to cram back-to-back in a small classroom. This hindered their learning experience, as their tight seating situation prevented many students from being able to see the instructor. Now, students are able to take their sign language classes in groups, sitting on the bleachers with a comfortable view of their instructors.


At the inauguration, students and community members spoke in sign language and acted out various cultural and literary traditions in sign. One of the students recited a quote in sign language by Mark Twain:

“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

The inauguration ended with everyone singing peaceful hymns in celebration. The students named the project “the magic stands”, expressing their gratitude for something they had wanted for so long. Now that this project has been completed, families can visit to watch sporting and cultural activities, instructors can teach sign language more effectively, and the community can unite as a whole.

Holding true to our mission, our student chapters are constantly striving to bring Medicine, Education and Development to their own communities through various service events and projects. At our chapter at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico -- San German, students decided to give their part by spending a full day wandering around the streets of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico on a mission to feed the homeless.


The idea for the project was initially thought out and planned for in one executive-board meeting. A few days later, the team of 15 students headed off to the streets of Mayagüez to hand out sandwiches to the homeless. In total, the chapter gave out 35 breakfast bags, which contained sandwiches, fruit baskets and water. 

“As we met them, we started to talk to some of them and they shared their stories with us,” said Derecks Negron Torres, Fundraising Chief of the chapter. “It was an amazing experience."

The chapter decided to carry out this event because they noted the large number of homeless people living in their community. This project was a way for the chapter to ease some of their daily struggles.


“Each and every one of us is familiar with the large amount of homeless people in the streets of Mayagüez,” said Gladimar Rodriguez, chapter President.  “We now have a group of students who are so motivated to serve in our community, so when the time came for organizing charitable activities, this was the first idea."

The chapter will continue carrying out this event on an ongoing basis. Keep holding true to our mission and we look forward to your continued involvement in our organization!


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