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Marangu is a lush green rural Tanzanian town tucked in the shadows of the mighty Mt. Kilimanjaro. Residents walk its unpaved roads with loads of produce in tow, shouting “jambo” (hello in Swahili) to passersby on the way to sell off whatever surplus they may have of maize, coffee, plantains, avocadoes, or mangoes, the economic mainstays of the community. The trip is long to get to the market or hospital, several kilometres of walking and then hitching a ride on the public bus. In the rainy seasons, monsoons pound the roads into sludge and a 4x4 is necessary to gain access to the town.
When MEDLIFE visited for a 2016 Mobile Clinic, we found little infrastructure, and what did exist was in a state of dilapidation and disrepair. Modern bathrooms had been constructed at the local primary school by another NGO, but they had neglected to follow up with the community. The plumbing was not functioning, and no one in the community had the resources to bring in a plumber. As a result, the bathrooms had sat and festered, unused.
Many of the houses were very poorly constructed and offered little shelter from monsoons. One particularly dismal case was brought to our attention when during a mobile clinic, an 84 year-old woman wrapped in colorful cloth came in named Elianasia and asked us for help with her bathroom.
MEDprograms Associate Amber Pariona was on clinic that day and followed her through the jungle to see her bathroom. It was hard for Elianasia to walk so far, her leg was causing her pain. She lived all alone, all of her children had gone seperate ways and were not caring for her. Her husband died tragically in 1962. When Amber saw the rest of her house, she was surprised she was only asking for a bathroom.
Her kitchen was a fireplace sheltered by some wood poles and tattered rags, the bathroom was a hole in the ground covered by a small wooden board, which was being slowly devoured by ants and appeared it may collapse into the hole next time it was used. She did not have a room anywhere that could provide shelter from the rain. During monsoon season, she slept on a wet bed and tried to cook in the rain.
Before Amber left, Elianasia spit into her hand and rubbed it on Amber's forehead as a way of giving her a blessing. Elianasia left a strong impression on Amber, whom she remembers for having the best laugh in the world; high energy and contagious despite her circumstances.
After visiting Marangu, and meeting community leaders, MEDLIFE decided to do several projects in the community. MEDLIFE is going to bring in a plumber to fix the bathrooms at the local school, as well as construct offices for the teachers there so they have a space to work. Finally MEDLIFE is going to construct a new home for Elianasia, who deserves to live in a comfortable and safe home.
"I will be very happy if you can provide for me a house where I can stay," said Elianasia. "I am praying for you, so that god may bless you in everything that you do, thank you very much."
Thank you to GoodLife Travels for donating the money MEDLIFE needs for these projects! GoodLife Travels is a travel agency that donates at least 5% of all profits to MEDLIFE to make projects like this possible.
Olga doesn’t like to leave hear house, she prefers to hide in bed, where no one can see her. “I’ve been hiding my whole life,” she says. But she can only hide for so long until the obligations of motherhood, of day to day survival, trips to the market, picking crops on her farm, or to get her children from school, force her into the harsh light of day.
Vergüenza, that is the hardest part for Olga, not pain but shame.
She carries it on her neck, it swells and throbs. A weight that bows her head, dressing her neck in a veil of dark hair to protect it from the sharp gaze of others.
She is losing weight, her hair has begun to fall out, leaving her with one less thing to hide behind, naked. All the while the mass continues to grow.
She first noticed it when she was fifteen, just a girl, working as a live-in servant in the capital city of Quito. It came in just below her ear, subtle at first; a sensation of pressure, taut skin.
Until she could no longer look at herself nor anyone at her without seeing it, until it hurt to move her head and stung to be looked at. It wasn’t just the stares that drove her into hiding but the questions.
“What is that ball on your face?”
“Why do you leave it there?”
“Why haven’t you healed that thing?”
“Go to a doctor,” went a daily deluge of reactionary comments.
Didn’t they understand that she was poor? That her resources were already stretched thin? After all, they lived in the same impoverished farming community in the Ecuadorian jungle that she did.
And she had gone to a doctor, had even gotten surgery once, but the mass came back. More tests, more doctors, but now she was older, she had her kids to care for, she couldn’t afford it.
She cannot hide forever.
She has to meet with her son’s teachers at school; today this, tomorrow, something else. So she puts on her hat, lowers her gaze and pulls her hair down over it, and bracing herself. Even if she is lucky, even if the stares and questions don’t come today, the sensation remains; an out of place mass, dull pain, an ever present shame.
MEDLIFE met Olga in a winter Mobile Clinic in Tena. It only took a quick glance to see that she needed some kind of prolonged treatment. She was quickly put into our follow up patient program. When MEDLIFE took Olga to the hospital the mass on her neck was diagnosd was Pleomorphic Adenoma, a tumour on her salivary gland. This type of tumour is typically benign, but has the potential to become malignant. MEDLIFE is committed to getting Olga the surgery she needs to get it removed. “I don’t want to live in hiding anymore,” said Olga. “That is why I am asking for your support. I want to get the surgery. I want to get cured. I don’t want to hide my face.”
We cannot do this on our own! Let's give Olga the opportunity to walk down the street, healthy, with her head held high! Please help us fund Olga's surgery donate here!
The 2015-2016 year long internship has ended, a huge thank you to all of our interns for your hard work this year! A lot was accomplished this year, and we couldn't have done it without you. MEDLIFE is having a record breaking year, we have already brought over 3000 volunteers on Mobile Clinics. In addition to helping MEDLIFE achieve growth on core goals like volunteer participation, interns brought a host of new projects and ideas including: medicinal community gardens, nutrition workshops, family planning talk and condom donations, fuel efficient stoves, sustainable water filters for families in Tanzania and more. They also collectively took on an ambitious group project and fundraised for several development projects in the community of Urucancha. Several interns have stayed with MEDLIFE as full-time staff. Those who have left will be missed. The lasting contributions to MEDLIFE as an organization and to the communities we work in from this group of interns is greatly appreciated.
MEDLIFE is excited to announce a new project in Kirua, Tanzania. We did our first clinics there in August of 2015, and the community organized itself to work with us more. At a community meeting they asked us for help with the schools infrastructure.
Kirua is a rural agricultural community in the region of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Maize, bananas, mangos, and avocadoes make up the staple crops of the area, which the locals grow for food and sell of the extra in local markets. General infrastructure is undeveloped in rural Tanzania.
There are no paved roads that serve the village of Kirua, villagers must hike many kilometers to arrive at a road that is served by public transit with access to a major town.
Only 7.5% of people in rural communities have sanitary bathrooms. This means that a lot of waste drains into the river and contaminates the community's only water supply. A whole host of health problems like diarrhea and parasites, which were treated frequently in the clinics MEDLIFE held there, are caused by the contaminated river water.
The great importance of improving sanitation was summed up on a United Nations page about a global initiative to end open defecation: "Cross-country studies show that the method of disposing of excreta is one of the strongest determinants of child survival: the transition from unimproved to improved sanitation reduces overall child mortality by about a third. Improved sanitation also brings advantages for public health, livelihoods and dignity-advantages that extend beyond households to entire communities."
The quality of public education in general in Tanzania is very poor. According to a world bank report, about 25% of the population between the ages of 15 and 24 remains illiterate. Many schools are extremely overcrowded, with an average of 74.1 children per classroom and 50 students per teacher. One reason for this is that the infrastructure of the schools themselves is seriously lacking. Just 3% of schools have the basic services like electricity, water, and sanitary bathrooms. In the report, improvements in all of these measures were correlated with improved test scores. While only correlational, it does not take a great leap of the imagination to see how a school with basic services would create a better learning environment.
When a meeting was held with the community, they told us how they needed help with the school. The school serves 120 children. It is a simple school house, nothing but a room to teach in, no bathrooms, water, or electricity. They don't have enough desks, so many of the children must work on the ground. The children's meals are cooked over an open wood fire outside. Each kid has to collect some wood for the fire on their way to school.
They cook Ugali over the open fire and 3 large stones. Ugali is a staple dish made of corn flour that has the consistency of dough, along with beans. The Ugali is typically rolled into a ball and used to pick up the other food being eaten, like an edible utensil. The problem with the open kitchen and eating area is that it the wind blows dust and dirt into the children's food, causing diarrhea.
They told us that what they needed most was a kitchen and bathrooms for the school.
After listening to the communities concerns, MEDLIFE decided to do three projects at the Kirua primary school: a dining hall, a kitchen, and a bathroom project. MEDLIFE is also donating 29 desks and chairs so the children do not have to work on the ground. The kids will live a healthier lifestyle and have a better learning environment. MEDLIFE is proud to be able to help develop the community of Kirua, but we cannot do it alone. Please help by donating here.
The MEDLIFE chapter at University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras did an incredible job of fundraising $4,847 for the MEDLIFE project fund. This donation allowed us to finish 5 of our six remaining projects; a prosthetic leg for Roman, a home for Soledad, a staircase for Pompinchu, empower Union Santa Fe, a sandwhich cart for Tatiana and Camila. Ontop of all of this they also managed to put $1000 towards the Urucancha community intern project. Thank you and congratulations to the UPR Rio Piedras MEDLIFE chapter for your outstanding work.
Tell us about your chapter, how many members do you have, how did you create it, what is your history?
We have 409 members organized and dedicated to working and giving their best to the needs of communities. MEDLIFE UPR-RP was created in the year 2012 and since then we have demonstrated that the unity of our members is the secret to achieving success in all of our activities.
Why did you decide to start the fundraiser? How did you get the idea and motivation to do it?
During the last semester, we successfully raised the funds for Santusa’s house together with other chapters in Puerto Rico, and MEDLIFE Cayey. But we wanted to impact and reach more people. Our President Alessandra Torres, was revising projects pending in the website this semester and saw that 6 projects still needed to reach their fundraising targets. Later, we had a meeting where we decided that we would help complete 5 of the projects and give the rest to the one remaining. To contribute to these projects was more than just giving a donation, it meant the commitment and dedication of all of our members to help patients in need; it meant hope, happiness and love from each one of them.
What activities did you do to raise the money?
During this second semester we held a variety of activities to raise money such as: selling pizza, bake sales, events in restaurants, and a raffle.
What obstacles did you encounter and how did you overcome them?
Actually, the economic situation in our country is not the best, so raising the money took a lot of strength, work and determination. Nevertheless, when we did a strong promotional campaign for each activity we were able to draw the attention of many members, friends and family members who helped complete our goal.
How do you feel knowing that 5 projects have been completed because of your support?
Honestly, it is something we still cannot believe. We never imagined that our fundraisers would be so successful that we would be able to support all of the projects. We feel extremely grateful for all of the members who were present in each activity and for all of the other people that in some way offered their help and support. The success is not ours alone; it is a success for MEDLIFE.
What are your futures goals, what plans do you have as a chapter?
In terms of future plans, we would like to continue to give back to projects that are the pillars of our organization: medicine, education and development. We would also like to have our chapter represented in Mobile Clinics, be it in Peru, Ecuador or Nicaragua.
Five days after the catastrophic earthquake that rocked Ecuador on April sixteenth, the death toll has risen to 570, along with 7000 injured, 2000 buildings damaged and 24,000 survivors left homeless in refugee shelters, according to government tallies.
The government has estimated that the disaster caused between $2-3 billion dollars worth of damage, and could knock 2-3 points off of growth, already predicted to drop by the World Bank this year because of falling global oil prices, and lead to a shrinking economy. It will take years to recover.
The president has unveiled a plan to finance parts of the reconstruction through raising taxes, sellings bonds, and federal loans, but alot of help will still be needed.
MEDprograms director Ecuador Martha Chicaiza arrived in Esmeraldas today, the afternoon of the 21st with 50 emergency kits full of non-perishable foods, soap, matches, and basic medical supplies. The kits cost $25 each. She has also made 100 kits to send to Pedernales, one of the hardest hit coastal towns.
“These tragedies have brought a lot of pain,” said Martha. “We needed to do something to relieve at least a little of the pain for those who have lost everything.”
Rescue personal are just beginning to reach many of the remote villages, the kinds of places MEDLIFE works, often finding few survivors and the towns reduced to rubble, like in this New York Times Article.
Martha will be visiting affected areas in coming days with leaders of communities where MEDLIFE has worked in the past and meeting with authorities to figure out the best way to help.
“How can I give you a measure,” said Martha. “ In the days that have passed, observing more the dimensions of the tragedy- these cities are going to need help for a long time to clean and reconstruct. It destroyed houses, schools, and whole communities. We are going to have to work on this for a long time.”
*Photos from Pinterest page collecting earthquake photos*
From a Mobile Clinic near Esmeraldas in March 2016 before the earthquake.
Saturday April 16, 2016 a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the central coast of Ecuador near Muisne. Over 400 people have been killed and more than 2,500 people are injured or missing as of Tuesday the 19th, these numbers are expected to rise. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that it was the greatest tragedy to hit the country since the 1949 earthquake in Ambato, and that the reconstruction will cost billions.
Collapsed building, from this pinterest page collecting photos of the earthquake.
This video taken on a security cam gives some idea of the intensity of the earthquake. In the main areas affected, such as Guayas, Esmeraldas and Manabi, infrastructure was devastated. According to the government, at least 370 buildings have been counted as destroyed. In the town of Pedernales, near the epicenter 80% of the town’s infrastructure was demolished. Soldiers and police have begun to patrol the area in an effort to prevent looting. Many people are homeless and the police have begun setting up shelters. A soccer stadium in Perdernales has been turned into a relief centre and morgue.
Engineer Enrique Garcia told the BBC that the Ecuadorian infrastructure was not prepared for such a disaster. The municipalities did not follow regulations to make sure that buildings were constructed with materials that could withstand a disaster, and thus many collapsed during the earthquake.
From this Pinterest page collecting photos of the earthquake.
All six coastal provinces are in a state of emergency. However, the quake was felt all over Ecuador, Quito lost power and several bridges collapsed in Guayaquil. Atacames, Muisne and Esmeraldas were evacuated, but there was no sign of a tsunami. The tremors were felt as far away as Cali, Colombia, where a clinic was evacuated.
From this Pinterest page collecting photos of the earthquake.
10,000 Ecuadorian military troops and 3500 police officers were deployed to assist in rescue operations. Foreign aid has begun to pour in, the Red Cross sent over 1000 volunteers, and Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru have sent manpower.
A devastated road, from this Pinterest page collecting photos of the earthquake.
Authorities told the AP that landslides, crumbling bridges and roads were making it very hard to reach the hardest hit. The hard to access rural communities that MEDLIFE works in are likely yet to be counted in the roundup of damage and casualties. In places like Carlos Concha and Tabiazo, the nearest hospital was a two hour bus ride from the town center on precarious roads, along with hours of hiking and a swim across the river for the majority of habitants who live in the dispersed settlements that have no road access.
A tienda in Pumpula, next to where the bus was parked for a March Mobile Clinic, sunken into the earth.
MEDLIFE has worked extensively in the rural communities around Esmeraldas and Atacames for years, both regions were hit very hard by the earthquake. MEDLIFE is not equipped for disaster relief, but we are using our fundraising capabilities to aid in the cause. Director of MEDprograms Ecuador Martha Chicaiza is in Riobamba collecting donations to send to affected areas. She said that travel by land is extremely difficult, many roads in the area were destroyed.
If Ecuadorian infrastructure as a whole was poorly suited to withstand an earthquake, many of the homes in the communities we work in are extremely poorly prepared. Martha has heard from communuty leaders that many homes have collapsed in Pumpula and Chinca, both communities where MEDLIFE held Mobile Clinics in March 2016.
Given the widespread destruction caused to the concrete buildings in the town centers, it is hard to imagine that elevated wooden houses like those in the photos below are still standing. All photos below are from a MEDLIFE trip to Esmeraldas in March:
This contruction style is common in the poorest rural communities near Esmeraldas. The houses are elevated to save them from seasonal flooding.
Martha is preparing emergency kits to send immediately to affected areas. We are collecting donations to put towards emergency relief here. Please donate now and send help to the victims of this terrible disaster.
The supplies to prepare emergency ration kits
A finished kit, ready to be send to the disaster zone.
Sources and further reading:
Maximilieno Cedeno did a 50:50 campaign to raise money for his 2016 trip to Esmereldas, Ecuador. Here is what he had to say about running a fundraiser and about his Mobile Clinic trip to Ecuador.
How did you hear about a 50:50 campaign?
I heard about a 50:50 campaign from my chapter and from a previous trip. It is a good way to raise funds for MEDLIFE and also help with the cost of the trip.
Why did you decide to do a 50:50 campaign?
I decided to come on a MEDLIFE trip because it’s a great chance to help others in another country that have low incomes. Also you get to see another side of the world that back in the United States you are not able to see.
How long did it take you to raise the money?
It took me around 2 months to raise the money. I blasted in social media and asked my dad and some friends to pass it around.
What was the main obstacle you encountered?
The main obstacle was myself, I don’t like to ask for money. That was an obstacle, getting over asking for money. But the money was going to a good cause, so that helped me get through it.
What did you learn from doing a fundraising campaign?
I learned first of all that it is not hard. You have to put some time into it but once it gets started it’s going to go on it’s own basically. The first big step is just to get the word out, and letting people know you are fundraising for a good cause. Basically keep track of how much each person is giving you so you can send them a thank you card. It’s actually my second fundraising campaign, because it is my second MEDLIFE trip.
So this is your second 50:50 campaign?
Yes this is my second campaign. The first one I raised less than this one. I learned from the mistakes I made that time and I was able to raise more this year.
What did you do to raise more this time?
I let more people know this time. I also showed them personal experiences that I had before with MEDLIFE.
What did you learn on your trip?
One of the things that struck me the most is how people are able to survive on such a minimal amount of income. How they are able on a day to day basis with so little resources that they have. One of the great things that MEDLIFE does is follow up with the patients and make sure that they get the right treatment, that money does not go to waste.
How do you feel about the impact you made on the communities with the money you raised?
It feels really good knowing you are helping others that actually need it and really appreciate it. When we leave at the end of each day the people are really thankful that we did a mobile clinic in their community , and that makes you feel really good about it.
It was an unremarkable day. Maura was driving her Moto-taxi up the steep dirt roads of Villa Maria Trufino in Lima, Peru, with her son and his teacher in the back seat when a stray dog jumped in front of her car and caused a crash, catapulting her out of the roof of her car.
That was in November of 2011- in March of 2016 Maura has a large metal apparatus sticking out of her right leg with 6 spikes puncturing her skin and going right into her bone. MEDLIFE nurse Carmen had come to check up on her, and bring her gauze, saline water and disinfectant to clean her leg.
The apparatus is designed to finally force her bones into alignment and unity after five long years of being broken. Maura may not have been able to walk since 2011, but she is still moving forward on the long path to recovery.
The car crash destroyed her leg, breaking her bones and tearing her skin, she needed surgery. While she was able to get an operation through the public health system- the surgery left her worse off than when she started. Maura was the victim of medical malpractice (the story of which is detailed in this post), her doctor incorrectly performed the operation and left her with detached bones in her leg and a loose bolt. She no longer had insurance she could fall back on and use.
This is how MEDLIFE found Maura, and promptly got her the first of two surgeries she needs.
Now, she is waiting for a specially designed plate for her next surgery that the doctor will put in to finally connect her two bones.
It has been three months of waiting for the second surgery, but it cannot be done without the plate, which must be manufactured specially for her case outside of Peru and imported. Maura’s home is high in the hills of Via Maria, it would be too hard for her to live up there while recovering, even with the staircase MEDLIFE built to give her better access to her house.
Her niece and ex-husband have been supporting her by renting her a room at the bottom of the hill. She still has to look after her three-year-old son Angel while recovering, who as we were visiting dropped bread on the ground and ten proceeded to knock everything of off the nightstand. The walls are covered in crayon streaks, which Angel had colored when Maura was in the shower one time.
Maura didn’t get upset, she remained calm, light, her demeanor betrays little of the hardships of the past five years. She just laughed and calmly convinced Angel to pick the things up. Even though caring for a three year old while she is crippled is hard, Maura says that Angel is more of a help than a burden.
“Angel is my helper. Even though he is a child he understands, he always helps me,” Maura said. “He gives me the strength to go out. I was depressed, but I have to keep moving forward with my life for him.”
Soon, Maura will get the operation she needs to begin walking again and move forward with her life. Until, then, MEDLIFE will continue supporting her.
During spring Mobile Clinic season MEDLIFE travelled to many extremely remote indigenous Andean communities in Peru and Ecuador, which are often several hours away from a hospital. When a Mobile Clinic visits a community like this, it is a rare opportunity for easy access to health care. Oftentimes, a simple treatment like an antibiotic prescription is enough to alleviate an otherwise serious condition. But what happens when we are several hours away from a hospital and we encounter a patient with a serious and urgent condition who we cannot treat at clinic?
That is what happened in this community, located a couple of hours outside of Riobamba, Ecuador. At above 10,000 feet altitude, the village is literally in the clouds, which morph and billow across the patchwork quilt of crop fields and grazing livestock that sustain those who live here at a mesmerizing speed typically only seen in time-lapse videos.
The people who live here are physically and socially cut off from the rest of society. No public transit serves this area. To arrive here our bus struggled up steep and winding dirt roads, crossing a bridge so precarious looking everyone got off the bus before it tried to cross; thankfully the bridge did not collapse. Many of the older residents here only speak Quechua, a language not often spoken outside of indigenous Andean communities. If an emergency occurs here, community members have a long journey ahead of them to a hospital where someone may not even speak Quechua.
When MEDLIFE encountered Isabel Morocho her skin had a yellow tinge, she had a high fever, severe dehydration, was perspiring heavily and complaining of pain in her ribs. She hobbled slowly into the room where the doctors were stationed with a stooped over posture and eyes cast to the floor. Her son was translating from Quechua into Spanish for her. It was obvious that her condition was serious.
When her son brought her in, they had just gotten back from a trip to Guayaquil, a major city in Ecuador many hours away, in an attempt to get her medical attention there.
After an ultrasound she was diagnosed with gallstones. The doctors there told her that she needed to be operated on right away, but her son elected to try get the surgery done in Riobamba, a city much closer to their village. They could not afford to stay in Guayaquil while Isabel recovered and the long journey back would be too much to handle for an elderly recovering surgery patient.
Several days went by, they journeyed home- they did not go straight to the hospital. Meanwhile, Isabel’s condition worsened rapidly and she got the flu; her condition had left her immune system weak and vulnerable.
It was decided that she needed to be taken to the hospital immediately.
She was helped to a car by her son, who accompanied by MEDprograms Ecuador Martha Chicaiza, went straight to the hospital with her.
She was given medication for the infection, and the doctors are waiting for her to recover from it so they can safely do the surgery. Isabel was put into the MEDLIFE patient follow-up care system. MEDLIFE will continue to walk Isabel through the treatment process until she has recovered. Eventhough she was hours away from a hospital, Isabel still got the care she needed.