Voluntourism and medical missions have been heavily criticized both in the media and the academic community, and for a good reason: they often ineffectively funnel valuable resources and time into a trip that ultimately serves the participants instead of the community they set out to help. Simply put, one cannot effectively solve the complex and immense problems in global public health in a country and culture they do not know in a few weeks time. Progress in global public health is made on the timescale of years, not days.

Maya Roberts of Yale University summarizes the problem well in her critique of medical missions and what she calls “Duffle Bag Medicine.”

“I spot a young man, at most 19, smoking a cigarette, and leaning against the makeshift frame that converts the backs of pickups into the primary form of public transportation here in Guatemala. He is not a licensed medical professional; he is an American on vacation and he is about to distribute medication to patients… He has confidently slung a stethoscope around his neck, proclaiming an ability to provide medical care, an assertion that is at best questionable. He is from a small US town; all he needs to do to be part of this transient medical team is to finance his flight to Guatemala. He freely donates his time and energy, but he delivers “care” without the appropriate training, without knowledge of the predominant language, and without any clear accountability… This young man and his group are genuinely proud that they spend their vacation here and are especially proud of their contribution.  I worry that this pride prevents them from acknowledging that their actions may actually be harmful and do not necessarily address the complex needs of this community. Their short-term work is not integrated into a local infrastructure. Health promoters—local men and women trained to recognize serious ailments and to treat minor ones—are not introduced to these groups. Public health and preventive measures are not part of the overarching goals for the transient clinics; this inhibits the project’s long-term potential and puts the community at risk of receiving inappropriate care.”

MEDLIFE has taken the medical mission voluntourism model and fixed it by addressing these important critiques. We have local staff permanently based where we work who keep checking in with patients and build long-term relationships with communities to make sure that the valuable contributions made by volunteers on their trips are properly directed and able to accumulate into a lasting and sustainable change.

26334169914 abd4db06b6 zA volunteer listens to a patients heart murmur under supervision from an Ecuadorian doctor on a Mobile Clinic.

          Sometimes, on a Mobile Clinic, you really can just give a quick treatment and create a profound impact on a patient’s life. When a kid comes in with a bacterial infection or a parasite, pulling some antibiotics out of a duffel bag makes a big difference. However, being able to help that small number of easy patients isn’t good enough when many people who come into our clinics face much more serious and chronic problems.

When someone comes in with serious complications caused by diabetes, malnutrition, high blood pressure, or a tumor, things are more complicated. Sometimes on clinic, we run out of diabetes or high blood pressure medication and our volunteers are initially dismayed. MEDLIFE founder Nick Ellis explains that, in the end, it matters very little if we hand out a month’s supply of a diabetes medication. The impact on their overall prognosis will be negligible and the odds that they get more of the medication if they weren’t already taking it are slim. What really matters is that we found this patient.

27703185930 39248f1b74 zA patient's tumor being examined at a house visit after the patient was found in a Mobile Clinic.

 MEDLIFE works with local health care professionals instead of trying to replace them. Our Mobile Clinics use local doctors, this allows us to provide culturally appropriate care and provides greater opportunities for cultural exchange and for our volunteers to learn about how healthcare is practiced in the developing world.

Our follow-up program utilizes the parts of the existing local healthcare infrastructure whenever possible, so we are working together with local care providers. For example, the Peruvian health care system pays for tuberculosis treatment. The problem is that patients are often unaware that this is available to them and do not know how to access it. This is compounded by the well-known problems with proper adherence to tuberculosis treatment; medication must be taken regularly on a tight schedule or patients risk developing drug resistant TB, which is harder to treat and must be treated with medication that causes more severe undesired side effects. When we encounter a TB patient on a mobile clinic, we have our nurses visit them in their home and walk them through accessing the free treatment option, and often accompany them to their appointments. They continue visiting the patients in their homes to make sure they are following proper protocol.

We build a lasting relationship with communities; bringing clinics back to the same communities year after year to continue to address the root causes and allow our impact on the community’s health to accumulate over time. MED Programs staff was initially concerned when they noticed that the number of women coming in for Pap smears had dropped dramatically in communities we had been visiting for years. However, after speaking with community members, they realized that this was actually an encouraging indicator that our educational approach was working; the women had simply started going in for yearly pap smears on their own after learning about the importance of the screening in our clinics.

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We give our volunteers an opportunity to be a part of our long-term bonds to communities and patients. Volunteers often go back and fundraise for projects and patients that they encountered on their mobile clinics. Sometimes, that chapter is able to be present for the inauguration of a project they fundraised for. When that is not possible, we update them with videos and photos showing them where their hard work went and explaining why we need to fundraise to do a specific project or patient.

Voluntourism is a massive industry worth an estimated $2 billion with 1.6 million volunteers annually and it continues to grow. It is not going away. Despite shortcomings in results, it provides life-changing educational experiences to young students every year, fostering cultural exchange, a sense of global community, and inspiring young students to continue working to solve the problems they are exposed to throughout their careers. MEDLIFE has taken the broken model and fixed it. MEDLIFE Mobile Clinics and our patient follow-up program use a unique approach that ensures that the good intentions and hard work of volunteers produce life changing and sustainable results in the communities we work in, results our volunteers can be proud of. 

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November 30, 2016 4:31 PM

Specialized Care

Written by Jake Kincaid

screen shot 2016 09 26 at 8 08Delia in her apron after one of her first days working at the sandwich cart.

When Delia Martin discovered that she needed surgery for her rare chronic disorder, Caroli Disease, her primary concern was not the physical pain and distress she would have to undergo- she didnt have the privilege of focusing on her personal suffering. She was worried about how she was going to feed her children while undergoing the lengthy recovery, during which she would not be able to hustle through the difficult commutes and long walks required to survive in Lima's informal economy, the primary source of income for those who live in the cities slums.

After meeting Delia in a Mobile Clinic, MEDLIFEâ's nurses visited her in her home and spent enough time with her to understand that her illness was not just a medical issue requiring a medical response. If we wanted to really help Delia, we needed to take things a step further and find a way to empower her to care for her family. After talking with her, we decided that in addition to paying for her surgery, we would give her a food-cart that she could make and sell sandwiches from. She could do it right in front of her house and while sitting down- so it would not interfere with her recovery, and she could continue with this work after she had recovered.

Delia's situation required a special response, and because of donations from our supporters, we had the ability to give it her. MEDLIFE brings this philosophy to all of our follow-up patients, and it is this approach that distinguishes us from a medical mission. We specialize our care and quickly adapt it to meet patients real needs, which we discover by building a personal relationship with them inside and outside of medical facilities over the course of years.

Delia is not the only one, in the MEDLIFE patient archives there are hundreds of stories like hers.

1MEDLIFE Nurse Carmen visiting Maura after an operation.

Maura Morales has been a MEDLIFE patient for almost two years. She was in a tragic accident while working as a moto-taxi driver that left her leg mangled, useless and in need of major reconstructive surgery. Maura's bad fortune continued when after finally getting the surgery using the public health system, Maura became the victim of malpractice and was left with an improperly reconstructed bone and an infection that threatened to take her entire leg.

When MEDLIFE met her, she was in need of another more expensive surgery and had no way to pay for it. She could hardly get to the base of the hill her house was built on to get to a paved road, there was no sidewalk or staircase and the steep dirt path was nearly unnavigable on crutches.

MEDLIFE began following her case closely, and our nurses got to know Maura very well, an inspiring woman with an unbreakable spirit who never stopped smiling and cracking jokes with them no matter how many steel rods were sticking out of her leg or how much pain it was causing her.

In addition to getting Maura on health insurance that would cover her surgeries and paying for what was not covered, MEDLIFE built a staircase in Maura's community. We went with her to every appointment, and even carried her down the staircase when she could no longer walk on crutches after her surgery. Then, we redesigned her bathroom, which was just a hole in the ground, to make it handicap accessible.

Maura is recovering and MEDLIFE nurses continue to visit her regularly.

IMG 7757John before he got his prosthesis.

John Caisaguano was 3 years old when a simple toddlers fall went horribly wrong and caused him to lose his eye. After 10 years and thousands of dollars, it still remained a gaping hole is his face that made him the subject of ridicule in school, caused chronic pain and was at risk for infection.

John needed a prosthetic eye.

Adequate prosthesis of any kind are hard to come by in the impoverished mountain communities of the Ecuadorian Andes. The barriers to access are significant for those families who attempt to seek healthcare up to modern standards in the cities. For subsistence farmers, long trips, expensive travel costs, long waits and a baffling bureaucracy all conspire to prevent even the most determined from getting the treatments they need. That is why ten years after the accident, John was still without a prosthetic eye.

In a matter of months MEDLIFE was able to get him in to see a specialist in Quito to get the proper prosthesis put in.

Untitled 3John with his new prosthesis.

MEDLIFE was referred to Janet by the family of an old MEDLIFE patient who we had helped get a heart surgery to correct a birth defect. The family was contacted by a man in a nearby village whose daughter, Janet, had the same problem, and our old patient's family put them in contact with us. MEDLIFE nurse Maria set out to go find the family. After hours of driving around remote indigenous villages looking for the family, who had no cell phone, she tracked the father down in a market selling produce. He brought us to his daughter who was helping her family work the fields. MEDLIFE was able to get Janet an appointment with specialists in Quito and she will be getting her surgery soon after preparatory procedures are completed.

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MEDLIFE began when Nick Ellis decided he was going to find a way to get Darwin a heart surgery, who was then a young boy with a similar condition living in the same region of Ecuador. Today MEDLIFE is still finding these types of patients. Janet's surgery will be the fifth heart surgery that MEDLIFE has done for children in the Ecuadorian Andes.

This holiday season, MEDLIFE is trying to raise the money that will allow us to keep specializing our care in 2017 for our patients who require a unique effort on our part to help them. MEDLIFE has been able to support many patients this year and we are eager to help many more this holiday season. All funds from our Holiday Campaign will go to specialized care for our patients.

A heart surgery for Janet, prosthetic eye for John and food cart for Dehlia are just a few of our patients cases supported by MEDLIFE's Project Fund. What separates MEDLIFE from other organizations is that 100% of all funds raised during this campaign will go straight to patients, assisting them with medical costs and continuing their healthcare in our sustainable follow-up program. We appreciate all of your support and hope you have a wonderful holiday season! Find out more here!
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November 22, 2016 9:28 AM

Intern Journal: Allie Krugman

Written by Allie Krugman

529 allieFor the fourth day in a row, I opened my graduate school application portal only to reread the question - What are your reasons for interest in public health? - and minimized my browser. Although I had chosen to apply for graduate programs in public health before arriving in Peru, I was still not entirely certain this area of study was for me.  For this, I am grateful to MEDLIFE: My experiences working with this organization thus far have reinforced the importance of the public health field and my desire to influence it.

??Falta uno!? (??One more left!?) Announced Beatriz, nearly as out of breath as I was. We had one last flight of stairs to climb until we reached the fourth floor of the Maria Auxiliadora Hospital in Villa Maria del Triunfo, a smaller district on the outskirts of Lima and the third-to-last stop on the city's green line metro.  We were scaling the hospital steps to check in with Maura, one of MEDLIFE's follow-up patients who was recovering from surgery after a mototaxi accident had mangled her right leg.

After some effort, Beatriz and I finally reached Maura's room, a small four-bed space of which she occupied one corner. We had bought her a large bottle of water to replace her empty one, which I placed on her bedside table.  As Beatriz began asking Maura how she was, I watched as light emanated from this woman. Maura inexplicably answered every follow-up question with a smile and a laugh, in spite of her bedridden condition. Beatriz and I joked along with her, as if we had come to visit an old friend. When the time came for Beatriz to take a photo of Maura to document the follow-up visit, she put an arm around me and pulled me in with her.

Beatriz explained to me that Peru's patients suffer from an overburdened, underfunded health care system, similarly to the situation we face in the United States.  A lack of physicians results in brief doctor's appointments and little explanation of a patient's diagnoses or treatment options.

Enter MEDLIFE's nurses: armed with a lot of knowledge and even more compassion, Beatriz, Carmen, Ruth, and Janet fill in the gaps left by the system, providing a vital service to disadvantaged patients. Maura had suffered more than most could ever imagine: following her tragic accident in 2011, she underwent a botched surgery, battled infection, and endured many years of painful recovery. She struggled to obtain insurance that would cover her multiple operations and maintain financial resources as a disabled, single mother unable to work. MEDLIFE was able to pay for the final operation she needed, relieving some of the burden that she faced. Our organization also built a staircase near her home in the rocky hills of Villa Maria to prevent further accidents while recovering. During our patient follow-up visit, I saw the world of difference that MEDLIFE and its nurses made; in spite of her suffering and the poor infrastructure in place to address it, Maura had a source of infallible support. The light within her had not dimmed - the nurses would never have allowed it.

In one of our staff trainings, MEDLIFE's founder Nick Ellis gave a word of advice to those interested in entering the field of public health following the internship: ??when writing public health policy, write it with the poorest people in mind.' These are the stakeholders that will fall through the cracks; the people that will bear the worst of a faulty healthcare system and unsafe infrastructure. People like Maura, who brighten the day of all who have the chance to meet them, who deserve the utmost support while they wrestle with the multitude hardships associated with poverty. Maura deserves to live in a society in which not only health is prioritized, but access to healthcare as well. She deserves to have not only her physical health in mind, but her wellbeing, protected by healthcare workers such as Beatriz.  When I am hopefully writing and influencing healthcare policy one day, I will do so with Maura in mind.

 

November 15, 2016 2:54 PM

Intern Journal: Brittany Cook

Written by Brittany Cook

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The morning meeting came to an end when I learned about the four follow-up patients Beatriz was scheduled to see for the day. Beatriz is one of the four exceptional nurses that works for MEDLIFE in Lima and I was able to go with her to see how she completes the MEDLIFE mission in her daily work. We set out towards Maria Auxiliadora Hospital in San Juan de Miraflores to help the first patient during a doctor's appointment. As we walked through the metal entrance gate, an energetic young teen ran towards us and hugged Beatriz. It was Gaby (*name changed), a patient of another MEDLIFE nurse who had a dental abscess and an external fistula. Beatriz asked her how she was doing and, after a short chat, said goodbye to continue our journey to meet with our first patient of the day. 

We made our way through the long, white hallway, down the winding staircase, and back into the corner designated for surgical and specialty consultations. The waiting space was buzzing with activity. Every seat was filled and the walkways were like the streets of Lima during rush hour. We took two laps through the waiting area but we could not find the first patient. As if she read our minds, Gaby and her family popped up behind us and Beatriz solicited her help in finding our elusive patient. With only a description of the patient, Gaby returned within five minutes with a location! While she was away, her mother expressed concern to Beatriz that Gaby would not get a much needed consultation because she had misplaced her DNI (National Identity Document-similar to a social security card in the United States).

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After Beatriz had worked with the first patient to figure out the next step in her treatment, she set out to help Gaby. Gaby needs jaw surgery soon so it was imperative that she had a consultation within the week. Without the DNI, the hospital was unable to make the appointment for her but Beatriz found another way. She went to a doctor that she had previously worked with and asked if he had any availability. He had an opening for later that day but he first needed her patient history. Beatriz went to the registrar to obtain the history but she was unable to access it without Gaby's DNI. After zig zagging her way around the hospital and filling out various forms, Beatriz found a way to get Gaby a temporary hospital DNI that expired at the end of the day. She went back to the doctor who was then able to access Gaby's medical history and fill out the paperwork necessary to schedule the appointment, much to Gaby's mother's relief. Gaby had the consultation and is now scheduled for her operation next week!

As I watched this all unfold, I realized two things. First, our nurses are dedicated to their patients and the MEDLIFE mission:

Our mission is to help families achieve greater freedom from the constraints of poverty, empowering them to live healthier lives. Our patients did not choose to be poor, but they have chosen to strive toward a better life; MEDLIFE stands beside them in this pursuit.

Beatriz already had a full schedule for the day but when a patient of another nurse came to her for help, she made the time to get her what she needed. Beatriz stood beside Gaby (when she was not busy running around the hospital) to get her the appointment that would enable Gaby to lead a healthier life.

The second thing I realized is that the MEDLIFE mission would be incredibly difficult to fulfill without the knowledge the nurses bring to the team. The medical system in Peru is difficult to maneuver which is why so many people are wary of seeking medical attention. The nurses are talented at getting our patients government aided health insurance, helping them work within the system during the treatment, and keeping the process moving when roadblocks arise. Without the nurses' abilities to work within the system to keep everything moving smoothly, many patients would not be able to get the care that they need.

The best part is, the nurses are motivated to do this work due to their own dedication and joy. Many of the patients live far away from our office in San Borja but there is no distance Beatriz and the other nurses are not willing to cover to bring the patients the aid they need to live healthier lives. Every day I come to work, I am surrounded by an incredibly selfless and dedicated group of people from different places and backgrounds. We have Beatriz, our nurse from Lima; Renato who lived in Honduras most of his life and studies International Business while working in Administration; Sarah from Britain who studies foreign language and European studies and works in communications; and me and my 10 fellow Volunteer Affairs interns who hail from eight different states in America and have varying educational backgrounds. Seeing first-hand the lengths Beatriz was willing to go to in order to help a patient was a great reminder of how fortunate I am to be a part of the MEDLIFE team during my internship.

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October 25, 2016 3:22 PM

Meet Student Advisor Board Part Two

Written by Jake Kincaid

          My name is Alexa Friedman, I am from the University of Connecticut. Working for MEDLIFE this past summer as a Volunteer Affairs Intern was one the most eye-opening and life changing experiences I have ever had. I learned so much about healthcare, global health, and human rights. I will forever be grateful for the experiences I have had thanks to MEDLIFE. I decided to become an SAB because I believe connection and inter-chapter discussions could benefit the members of all chapters and MEDLIFE as a whole. The connections I have made through MEDLIFE will be friendships I will have for the rest of my life. I hope that I can help others feel the way I do.

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         Nidhi Aggarwal is a third-year student at the University of Georgia completing academic focuses in genetics and public health, focusing her experiences on examining the intersectionality between modern medicine and public health. Her involvement in MEDLIFE has allowed a platform for studying the diverse components that influence human health in her local town of Athens, Georgia, USA, as well as abroad on a mobile clinic to Cusco, Peru. Beginning as a Family Head in her university chapter of MEDLIFE, continuing as a member of the Mobilization Committee, and currently serving as a Co-Service Chair, Nidhi is enthusiastic to work with fellow members of the Student Advisory Board to spread awareness of the MEDLIFE Mission and continue to develop the organization. Upholding the fundamental ideals that allow MEDLIFE's operations to be so successful??sustainable, development, provision of healthcare, education and awareness??she is confident that her work alongside this group of bright and motivated students will allow positive contributions to the vast expanses of the MEDLIFE community.

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         My name is Ryan, I am at the University of Iowa, in the Midwest region. I chose to be involved with SAB because I wanted to continue working with MEDLIFE even though I am in graduate school. I think MEDLIFE is a really amazing organization that changes someone's life each and every day. I wanted to continue being involved in the process of helping the lives of those abroad as well as leading students here in the states, to open their horizons to the great work of volunteerism and hopefully steer them in that direction in more than just a one time function.

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         My name is Ellie Sidler and I am a Junior at Miami University in Ohio. I am part of the Northeast division. I love MEDLIFE because it is focused on making a lasting impact on the health of communities throughout the world. I joined the SAB because I hope to start new chapters in order to reach students and spread the MEDLIFE mission.

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          My name is Ramanjia, I am from the University of Toronto. I first heard about MEDLIFE through one of my friends during the first year of my undergrad. Since then, I have been very interested in the work that MEDLIFE does and really admire what MEDLIFE stands for. Not only has MEDLIFE helped me identify my passion for medicine and global health, it has also given me the opportunity to help many families in my community and around the world. By joining the SAB, I hope to continue my work with MEDLIFE and bring awareness to this great cause.

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         My name is Fouad, I am from the University of Michigan-Dearborn in the Midwest . I am the current president and founder of our chapter here and we have been an active chapter for almost a year now. I am a Biological Sciences major and a Psychology minor on a Pre-Med track. I have attended a Mobile Clinic in Lima,Peru and I plan to attend many more in the near future. Since my trip to Lima, Peru my eyes have been opened and I have now seen first hand how MEDLIFE operates. I can say now that I am truly aligned with MEDLIFE's mission. I became a SAB member to further my involvement with MEDLIFE and to get others involved too.

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          My name is Kaavya, I am from the University of Michigan. Why MEDLIFE is important to me: MEDLIFE offers those who would otherwise have minimal to no access to healthcare culturally sensitive and sustainable solutions that attack the root of these issues, which is something I have always aimed to embody as I grow as a young medically-based professional.  MEDLIFE has taught me so much about public health, international work, and the numerous ways we can use whatever privileges we may have to help others and I can't wait to work with MEDLIFE and give back the skills and knowledge MEDLIFE has offered me as a chapter and SAB member.  

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          Hey my name is Kevin and I'm the student advisory board member responsible for Europe. MEDLIFE is currently increasingly expanding and I hope to give my small contribution to communities experiencing poverty worldwide by being part of that expansion right here in Europe, where we are just getting started. My main areas of interest are Governance, Economics and Development (yup, that's also what I'm majoring in); which essentially boils down to a deceptively simple question: what are the current structures of the world  and how can I make an impact? I got interested in MEDLIFE whilst searching for new opportunities to engage with NGOs and also come back to Latin America, experience the culture I was so familiar with yet through new eyes as I had already completed a year of my studies. I spent my summer break in the grey skies of Lima and learnt first-hand the work MEDLIFE does, its sustainable approach and got to personally know the volunteers and community members that are connected through MEDLIFE's mission. I am passionate about the simple ways I have found to counter root issues of poverty and am looking forward to see MEDLIFE as it continuously grows and improves as an organization.

October 25, 2016 3:09 PM

Meet Student Advisory Board Part One

Written by Jake Kincaid

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Hi! My name is Yash and I am currently in my second year of the Health Sciences Program at McMaster University. I was a MEDLIFE Volunteer Affairs Intern for the summer of 2016 and am now participating in MEDLIFE's Student Advisory Board, representing the Midwest region. Over time, MEDLIFE has become a very big part of my life. Spending 2 months in Lima for the VA Internship really allowed me to appreciate the work that MEDLIFE is doing. I was able to see the impact that staircases, sandwich carts, and ramps can have on people's lives. Not only did mobile clinics deliver care to inaccessible communities, but they also inspired volunteers to make a difference in their communities back home. I think that MEDLIFE's sustainability and vision set it apart from other NGO's, and this is why I chose to be a SAB member.  

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My name is Alexi. I graduated from the University of Georgia and am a part of the South region of SAB. MEDLIFE is so close to my heart because of the genuine compassion all the workers and volunteers show to the patients abroad. Providing culturally-sensitive care is increasingly important when in different countries, and the great effort that MEDLIFE puts forth to make that happen is very important. Also, the excitement volunteers show, whether abroad or in the local chapters, is always so palpable when working with MEDLIFE, which makes helping the community so much more exciting and rewarding for ourselves and the people we serve.

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 I'm Alysha, a third-year Medical Sciences student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I'm passionate about sustainable, community-based approaches to addressing global health inequality, and that's why I was so excited when I learned about MEDLIFE's mission and values. MEDLIFE listens to the communities it serves, protects them from voluntourism, and empowers them to address the root causes of their health problems and break cycles of poverty. That's a mission I can get behind.  
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My name is Connie. I am a recent University of Washington alumna and am excited to continue my MEDLIFE experience as a part of the SAB (Western region)! During my college career, MEDLIFE helped me develop a greater passion for healthcare, opening my eyes to a different perspective and more holistic approach to addressing the issues of inequality.
 
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My name is Tatiana, I am a student at University of Florida. MEDLIFE is important to me because we share the same vision. I believe in equality despite social and economic standing in terms of healthcare as well as in all aspects. Working with MEDLIFE this past summer has shown me the difference that a few determined individuals can make and I want to continue making this difference back home.

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My name is Damaris Joubert Miranda from UPR Rio Piedras in Puerto Rico.  MEDLIFE is an organization that has impacted and changed my point of view of seeing life.  Many times we complain about the way we live but around the world there are many people with more needs than us, and yet with the few things they have, are the most happy and grateful people in the world. Helping people both here in Puerto Rico and other countries brings me satisfaction that I cannot express in words, because it is so great. I joined the SAB because I want to impact more people in the same way I was shocked and to recruit people to join MEDLIFE to help all or most of the needs either through medicine, education and/or development to communities with low incomes.

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My name is Jay Wook Jun and I am currently a junior undergraduate at Cornell University. I'm from a small town called Closter in upper New Jersey and am excited to be serving on the MEDLIFE Student Advisory Board as a representative for the Northeast! I'm proud to be a part of MEDLIFE because as volunteers, we are helping improve health care accessibility for everyone. Even when the volunteer trips come to an end, the organization constantly has medical teams working in the field to help poverty-stricken communities. I joined the SAB because I wanted to become deeply involved in working with high schools, university MEDLIFE chapters, and volunteer teams abroad to spread awareness about MEDLIFE's mission. I am always thankful to the organization because being a part of MEDLIFE has not only deepened my interest in global health issues but also inspired me to become a doctor involved in international medicine someday.

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My name is Jordyn and I go to the University of Arizona! I will be working with chapters in the West this year and couldn't be more excited to further promote MEDLIFE through this region. I wanted to be on the SAB because over the past three years working with my own chapter, I have really fallen in love with the MEDLIFE mission and the work we do internationally, as well as the opportunities we have to make a change in our own communities through work with our local chapters. I have been able to see the incredible impact we can make on the lives of families living in poverty and am looking forward to helping to expand and support our chapters in order to reach and impact even more people.

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My name is Nina Bracciano. I am Senior at Florida State University, studying Biological Sciences, aspiring to become a Physician. I am apart of the South SAB region. I have been apart of MEDLIFE FSU-Health for 3 years, and have attended 2 Mobile Clinic trips. MEDLIFE is important to me because it brings like-minded students together to strive to make a difference on campus and abroad on clinic trips by providing the necessary healthcare and education to low income communities. I joined SAB in hopes to expand the MEDLIFE mission to more students in the south. 

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Hi everyone! My name is Alex Hatke, I'm a second year student at The Ohio State University studying Public Health, and I'm an SAB member for the Northeast Region. I joined the SAB because I'm always looking for ways to get involved with MEDLIFE, and after being a Volunteer Affairs intern this past summer, it seemed like a great way to stay involved after returning home. Being a part of MEDLIFE is important to me because I really believe in the organization, that healthcare is a human right, and that each person deserves equality and equity.

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         My name is Nisa, I recently graduated from UPR Cayey Puerto Rico. I decided to join MEDLIFE SAB to continue being a part of their work. I want to help impact more communities and help broaden the organization in Puerto Rico so that we can keep spreading the word, educating and improving our surrounding communities for the better.

 

 

October 25, 2016 9:05 AM

Pompinchu's Staircase

Written by Sarah Bridge
We have been working with former TV comedian Pompinchu for over a year now since he suffered from a car accident which debilitated his movement and rendered him unable to perform.  Pompinchu, formally known as Alfonso Mendoza, had created an appeal show in the hope of raising money to help cover his medical expenses and help with his recovery but unfortunately did not get the support from his fans he was hoping for.  Luckily MEDLIFE also heard Pompinchu's appeal and were able to step in and help.  We have been helping with Pompinchu's medical expenses and more recently decided to fundraise and build a staircase up to his home.  
 IMG 8785The track up to Pompinchu's house before the staircase.
 

Pompinchu's house was located at the top of a slippery dirt track making it very difficult if he ever wanted to leave his house.  Over the past week MEDLIFE, with the help of some community members from the Laderas community, has been constructing the staircase up to Pompinchu's house.  On Friday, a group of interns and nurses went with Carlos Benavides, director of MED Programs Peru, to paint and inaugurate the staircase.

IMG 0271MEDLIFE interns painting the staircase with Pompinchu and his family.

Whilst we were at the project site, we also decided to help Pompinchu with a few other changes he wanted to his house, redoing the paint, replacing the walls to his bathroom and decorating the side of his house with a character who is very important to Pompinchu.  

IMG 0404Pompinchu asked for an image of Pokemon's Pikachu, a key feature of his TV show.

As well as interns and nurses, some of Pompinchu's family members who live near by also came to help us with the final stages of staircase construction, including his young niece who was particularly excited to see all the bright paints we were using to decorate her uncle's house!

IMG 0349Pompinchu with his niece at the inaugeration.

After completing the work on the staircase and other parts of the house, we were lucky enough to partake in a private viewing of Pompinchu's once famous show 'Comicos Ambulates'.  Pompinchu explained "much of the show is based on satirical political humour but as Spanish is not your first language I'm going to stick to something more simple" before showing us a series of slight of hand magic tricks and engaging in some friendly banter with his co star 'monstro'.  

IMG 0420Pompinchu even invited some interns up to join in the show!

We finished the inaugeration with the traditional smashing of a champagne bottle over the staircase and a few speeches.  It was a delight inaugerating this staircase for Pompinchu who was incredibly entertaining all day and had us all joking around with him as we worked.  

IMG 0399MEDLIFE Staff with Pompinchu and his family at the inaugeration.

We will be continuing to work with Pompinchu and support him with his treatment and hope that having this staircase will make accesing his home easier and allow him to get out of the house more to continue entertaining.  

October 20, 2016 10:00 AM

Intern Journal: Sarah Bridge

Written by Sarah Bridge

         Last weekend, we held two volunteer days to help get materials up the 150 steps that lead to the site where we are building a two story home for MEDLIFE patient Soledad and her son José.  A signup sheet was sent around the office and put on Facebook to register for the volunteer days.  As I was looking at the sign up sheet, a friend of mine who has worked here for a year and a half now told me ??these volunteer days are really fun, you should definitely sign up for both!  I loved it last year.?  So I trustingly put my name down to work at 8am on both Saturday and Sunday, only to find out later that my so called ??friend' was actually away the entire weekend.

         That is how I found myself regretting all my life decisions as I hit snooze on my alarm for the fifth time at 7:15am on Saturday morning.  Eventually I managed to drag myself out of bed and head to the bus station to begin the first days work.  To my surprise and delight when I arrived at the meeting point there were over 30 keen volunteers ready in MEDLIFE t- shirts to start the day ahead.  In my time with MEDLIFE, I have ??subired' a fair number of materials up hills but I can safely say, Saturday is the fastest I have ever seen it done.  It was some kind of superhuman effort, we got 500 bricks to the top in less than an hour and at one point I had five men passing me each holding a 50kg bag of cement on their backs.  By midday we had finished and were all sitting around drinking Inka Cola and laughing about possible future careers in construction.

 

14231323 1178251912213849 692982551812709733 oThe MEDLIFE chain passing materials up to Soledad's house.

Following Saturday's success, Sunday morning seemed full of optimism.  As my alarm chirped it's happy little tune, I sprung out of bed, eager to begin the day ahead! (Some artistic license may be being used? after all it was still 7:15am on a Sunday).  However, my optimistic mood came crashing down somewhat when I reached the meeting point that morning and realised there was a grand total of around 10 volunteers? and 1,000 bricks.  I somewhat begrudgingly climbed into the bus, my friends words ??you should definitely sign up for both!? ringing hauntingly in my ears.  

And so we set off again, the empty bus rattling around and echoing eerily from the dramatic lack of people (again, artistic license may be being used). However, before reaching the project, this time we made a detour to the site of another MEDLIFE project.  The bus stopped where Carlos Benavides, director of MED Programs Peru, was waiting for us.  We all got off the bus and he took us to the site of the project.

Quick context note:  I had visited this site a few weeks before.  It was a staircase we were hoping to build for a patient who had suffered an accident which hindered his ability to walk.  However, due to the nature of the community, Carlos was struggling to get enough man power together to build the staircase.  

 

2016 10 18The people of Laderas building a staircase for MEDLIFE patient Pompinchu.

Therefore, it came as a huge surprise to me when I rounded the corner to see around 50 people stood up and down the staircase mixing cement, pouring it into the frame and shouting to pass up more buckets.  I turned to Carlos and asked him how he had managed to convince the community to help.  He told me he didn't.  ??None of these people are from this community,? he explained. ??They are all from Laderas, the community where we were building a staircase a few weeks ago.? I was amazed to realise he was right.  Laderas is about a twenty minute drive from where this project was taking place and yet all these people were the same faces we had been working with just a few weeks earlier.  

Incredibly, there were so many people from the Laderas community working on this project that Carlos was able to solicit about twenty of them to help us with the materials for Soledad's house.  So we all piled back onto the bus, which this time round was packed full, and headed to the site of Soledad's house.  With the help of the reinforcements, we once again managed to pass the bricks up in record timing, forming an efficient chain and getting everything up the hill by lunchtime.  I asked one of the community members why it was that they were so readily keen to help with this project and the staircase they were building, neither of which would affect their community.  He told me ??whenever we have come to Carlos with a problem, he has found a way to solve it for us.  It seems only fair that that works both ways.?

 

IMG 9109The MEDLIFE team working in Laderas.

I have been working with MEDLIFE for nearly five months now and in my time here, the importance of our relationships with the people we work with is the thing that has stood out the most for me.  We invest so much in individuals and communities to make sure that they can trust us and they know they can rely on us.  However, it never occurred to me that they are doing the exact same thing.

Working with MEDLIFE, I have got to know the bravest, strongest and most impressive people I have ever met.  This story of the people of the Laderas community is just one example of that.  These people often have so little and yet will give us so much, not because they want to assure we help them but because they want to assure we have a real relationship with them.  That for me is the most amazing and single most important thing about the work MEDLIFE does and is the reason that I would say to anyone thinking to volunteer next time: ??these volunteer days are really fun, you should definitely sign up for both!  I loved it last year.?       

October 20, 2016 8:47 AM

A Sandwich Cart for Natalie

Written by Sarah Bridge

          In early August of 2016, MEDLIFE was working in Pamplona Alta on one of our final projects of clinic season. We had just finished building a staircase for the community and a ramp for MEDLIFE patient Jorge Sanchez.  We inaugurated both projects with balloons and a delicious meal cooked for us by the community. Just as were were ready to get on the bus and head home, Carlos Benavides, director of MED Programs Peru approached our intern group.  He said there was someone who wanted to talk to us.  A woman stepped forward with her young child and began telling her story to our group.

          Cristian is seven years old and lives with his mum and sister Ciara in a house borrowed from his aunt in Pamplona Alta.  A few years ago Cristian's mum, Natalie, was working selling street food and sugar cane drinks.  In Peru, street vendors often use a machine to crush and juice the sugar cane freshly on the street.  Cristian was playing with the machine whilst Natalie was attending to a customer.  His mother didn't notice until it was too late and she heard her child screaming.  Cristian had managed to get his hand caught in the machine.  Natalie took Cristian to the hospital immediately, but there was too much damage done to save his hand.

13909282 1162134287158945 3663188147760682588 oSome of the summer interns with Crisitan and his mum, Natalie.

          Over the next few months, Natalie and her husband were put under a lot of financial pressure to be able to afford the medication Cristian needed for his treatment.  Natalie lost her machine and her livelihood after the accident, so she took up a job cleaning to help with the medical expenses.  She was out of the house for days, and didn't get back until it was dark. ??I wanted to try to get into the SIS system,? Natalie explained. ??But it was too difficult, I don't have much of an education and I couldn't work out the complexities of it.?  

         In March of this year, her husband left her for another woman; she hasn't received any financial support or even been in contact with him since then.  Natalie is now having to support herself and her two children alone on just the s/ 200 ($60) she earns from cleaning.  She explained to us that it was getting to a point where she didn't know what to do. ??I don't have a home, I barely have an income and it is getting to a point where I don't know how long I'll be able to support my family for.?  She wanted to be able to save up to afford a surgery for her son but was in an impossible situation as she couldn't see anyway to support her children. She didn't have the time to be home and physically care for them, and despite pouring most of her time into work, she was still coming up short financially. 

IMG 0035

          Carlos turned to Natalie and told her we would help.  We would help get her and her children into the healthcare system and from there we would approach the next issues step by step.  This is exactly what we have been doing over the past few months.  A few weeks ago, we decided to fundraise to buy Natalie a sandwich card that would enable her to work closer to home, get a steady income and still be at home to support her family.

          For Natalie, this sandwich cart would be the first step in creating a new life for her and her children.  Natalie told us that after her husband left her, she felt useless and insignificant because she didn't have an education and hadn't done anything with her life.  No one should ever have to feel like that and we want to empower Natalie and show her that being the mother of two amazing, brave children like Cristian and Ciara is in itself a huge achievement.  

 
October 19, 2016 10:06 AM

Meet the Patient: John Caisaguano

Written by Jake Kincaid

IMG 7757

          In the small rural villages of the Andes, lack of access to healthcare is so severe that injuries and illnesses often go untreated for long periods of time and lead to more severe consequences than necessary. John Caisaguano fell and hit his face and eye when he was 3 years old. The wound bled a lot, and his injured eye eventually turned black. But despite his mother's efforts, 10 years later John still hasn't gotten the necessary treatment.

            It's not that his mother didn't try. Their home is in the foothills surrounding Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador. They have a small plot surrounded by fields where they grow the crops that comprise their livelihood. From this remote location it takes almost two hours to reach the nearest health post.

            She tried the health post first; the doctors told her they weren't adequately equipped to handle such a case. Next she tried all the hospitals in the Riobamba area. She got nothing.

          Maybe her relatives in Quito could help her? They went to Quito and checked at the hospital, it would be $3000. At this point she was desperate, John's eye was swollen shut and black. He couldn't see out of it and he was in a lot of pain.

          John's mother told us how hard it was to raise funds; ??We just couldn't pay,? Caisaguano said. ??The hospital said it would cover $100 of that treatment but we still couldn't afford it, even with the help of the rest of my family? So we tried to find a way to raise money.? 

            They sold their animals, the cows, the guinea pigs, everything. They worked more, they got help from their husband's family, but they were still short.

          They heard there was a specialist in Milagro who might be able to help them. They went immediately.
            John's mother told us what happened when she got there:

         ??A woman came to talk to us and told us they wouldn't be able to see us tomorrow and asked where we came from.  I told her we had come from Riobamba and she told us to go back and that they would see us later.  But we had ready spent so much money on traveling, money that we didn't have,? Caisaguano said.

          She persisted, and eventually she was given a price for the operation, $2,500. Desperate, she called up her brother in law and asked him to sell one of his cows to raise money. He did it, but he couldn't get the money in time. The hospital, which they had been staying in waiting to try and raise money, kicked them out.

          ??This meant that we were stuck in Milagros with no operation, no money and no way home. We were stranded,? Caisaguano said. ??I was crying on the street when a woman came up to me and asked what was wrong.  I told her and she gave me $10.  With this help, eventually we managed to get back.  However this meant that we had even less money, there was no way to afford the treatment.?  

            To this day, John still hasn't been able to get treatment. His eye is extremely painful, puts him at risk for future health problems, and makes him the subject of ridicule amongst his peers. The cost of unsuccessfully seeking treatment has left his family worse off than ever.

          ??We have nothing now.  We have no money, we have no animals now as we sold them to try to raise money for the operation,? Caisaguano said.  ??I worked every Saturday and eventually raised enough money for a small operation on his face but it was still painful and was not the full treatment that he needs.?  

            What John needed was a prosthetic eye.

            MEDLIFE met John at a Mobile Clinic we knew we could get it for him. We took him to see the specialist in Quito that his family could not afford to take him to. He was nervous sitting in the chair, waiting to receive the prosthetic eye he had waited years for. The doctor washed his hands and explained what he was going to do. ??Trust me. This is not going to hurt,? he told John, holding the prosthetic eye. The doctor popped it in and told John to look around. The prosthetic swiveled in tandem with his eye, and looked almost natural.  

Screen Shot 2016 10 19 at 10.04.17 AM

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            MEDLIFE nurse Maria went to check in on him a few days after the operation. He was back in school and doing well. His mother thanked MEDLIFE and all of our supporters for making it possible. On the way out of the visit Maria noted ??that was the first time I saw him smile.? 

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