August 27, 2014 4:11 PM

Intern's Journal: Dileep Mandali (2)

Written by Rosali Vela

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One of the reasons why I elected to pursue this internship can be credited to the communities MEDLIFE reaches out to aid. Working in these communities 2-3 years ago taught me about the value of opportunities that I have back at home. I learned that what we take for granted, someone somewhere else is yearning for it. Through this internship, I hoped to further discover about myself and what kind of individual I wish to become in couple of years down the road.

Through this internship, I discovered that despite our best intentions and efforts, we cannot help everyone that are struggling. My first field visit was to a small shelter, which housed around 20 elderly people. I recall there was an article about this on MEDLIFE’s Facebook page few weeks ago. It had “old people’s home” as part of its description, and I clearly remember one of the commenters asking for clarification on the description: “Is it a nursing home or assisted living?” We were not sure how to answer this, because it is neither. I learned that it was a house for the elderly, who have families and relatives yet were abandoned because of their mere age and illness. I also learned that there is a long wait-list, extending to nearly 50-60 (homeless) elderly people, for this shelter.

When I inquired if there is any form of government support for the elderly home, I learned that there is little to none. I was afraid to hear that answer, but I was not surprised. From my journey in Lima, I discovered parks and recreation that attract tourists are further developed while the slums are further ignored in this city. This is precisely why I find MEDLIFE’s work to be crucial. MEDLIFE is not just present in Lima to hand out “free” medical, educational, and developmental care; they are present to bring awareness to the concerning issues of severely underserved areas in Lima to its government. This is their goal in Peru as well in Ecuador and in Tanzania, where there is potential for development but lacks resources and efforts.

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Nonetheless, not every one receives help from MEDLIFE. What sets MEDLIFE apart from other organizations with “similar” goals is that MEDLIFE focuses on helping community individuals that seek out and work for their assistance. As I followed Carlos Benavides, the Director of MEDLIFE Peru, on field, I noticed that some community individuals initially wanted student volunteers and local medical practitioners to just provide their aid and leave. But MEDLIFE’s goal is to provide and continue their sustainable assistance in the underserved communities, and Carlos assured the individuals in these communities that their conditions will only improve and will only be sustained if they too take part in MEDLIFE’s efforts.

 As a result of engaging community individuals in MEDLIFE projects, I also learned that both the community individuals and the student volunteers benefit from their interactions. The community individuals are indeed appalled by how our volunteers travel hundreds of miles just to help a random community of strangers. As a result, they are awed and inspired by the great efforts and help of those from abroad. Likewise, our student volunteers are awed and inspired by the perseverance of the community individuals to continue to support themselves and their families even during poorest conditions.

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As a MEDLIFE student volunteer and intern, I have had the opportunity to help with nearly 5 mobile clinics. Although mobile clinics were unique in their own respective ways, they all shared few commonalities. They all were life-changing to most students. I encountered students on mobile clinics and my members at The Ohio State University chapter who changed their professional track, because they recognized the value of opportunities at home and strived to use these opportunities to better the lives of those struggling to put food on table; I personally know individuals who would eventually go onto attending well renowned medical schools, dental schools, and graduate schools for Public Health because of their experiences on mobile clinics. Then, at the inauguration of MEDLIFE Projects, I realized the type of impact our student volunteers were making on these communities. Just past week, MEDLIFE inaugurated its 107th staircase in Lima, and for this specific inauguration, there were 5 MEDLIFE community leaders present from surrounding areas to share their their heartfelt gratitude for MEDLIFE and its volunteers. Each community leader shared how our student volunteers dramatically changed their lives by providing their communities with medical and educational resources, and infrastructure. Our student volunteers not only made a difference in their lives but their children’s future as well.

Even outside of MEDLIFE Summer Internship, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience in Peru. Despite being 4000 miles away from home and no fluency in spanish, I felt very comfortable living in Peru for these past 2 months and will definitely miss this place. As a foreigner, I encountered some of the friendliest individuals, welcoming me into their homes with open arms. Even as a college student with a budget, I was able to enjoy the excursions Peru had to offer. This past week alone was extremely adventurous. I traveled to Islas Ballestas, saw penguins in very unlikely places of earth, gazed at the mesmerizing Paracas Candelabra, and snapped pictures of sea lions and dolphins in their natural habitats. I then traveled to Huacachina village, the “Oasis of America”, where dune bugging and sand boarding was more exhilarating than the amusement parks in United States. Finally, I ended the weekend with some of the world’s delicious cuisine, including Astrid y Gaston, ranked as the 18th best restaurant in the world, where 2 sets of delicious bread and olives, 2 main meals, and a dessert dish only totaled up to $60 with the tip (inexpensive compared to the same quality of food in United States). Overall, this summer has been the best one yet in my life, and I would relive it again if I could.

August 26, 2014 9:16 AM

MEDLIFE ROLE MODELS: Meet Herminia

Written by Rosali Vela

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She was only 14 when she arrived from Huanuco, Herminia was fleeing an uncertain future. Her mother's words were clear: we have no money for you to study. That was when she decided to use savings to travel to Lima and try to build a future in this chaotic city.

Upon arrival she sought out a distant aunt who gave her a job peeling potatoes at a market. The owner of the place, a gentleman who was very friendly, offered her a small room in his house, but his wife, full of jealousy did everything possible to get Herminia out. Thus, soon enough she was once again alone again and on the street, Herminia bought a box of tomatoes and began selling them, trying to get some money.

She slept on the street for many weeks, until she could buy a patch of cheap land in the hills. There, using some cardboard and old wood, she managed to build a house, good enough to at least stay warm in the cold and wet Lima climate.

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She met the father of her children one afternoon while working in the market. Love was not immediate, but they began to rely on each other in hard times, and grew stronger together. When her son was born, Herminia did not know whether to laugh or mourn. The money was enough for her to barely eat, let alone an to feed an extra mouth. But the value of having their own child won her over and that's when her son was born.

10 years have passed and Herminia remains living in poverty, and she became pregnant once again. But their bond and perseverance to build a better life has meant she stopped being the shy young woman who came from nothing, and Huanuco has became the leader of his community, where six MEDLIFE staircases have been built. He and Herminia have worked day and night to help complete all of them.

Getting electricity in her community had always been a big problem and was not easy. Herminia had to learn the laws that she had never heard of before and rights that she did not even know she had. But by overcoming struggles between her and the system brought electricity and light to an entire community. Incredibly, Herminia achieved this alone.

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Now, Herminia has a newborn baby and faces another problem. Her house is falling apart. Bad weather, moisture and rats, have made their home unlivable, it will soon fall. Therefore, recognizing the work of Herminia, MEDLIFE is looking to the next group of Development Corps to build a home for Herminia, so that she can continue her work as a community leader and to protect their children from the inhospitable climate in the hills of Lima.

Together we will succeed!

August 21, 2014 9:21 AM

Hima Patel's Intern Journal (2)

Written by Hima Patel

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Walking through the pebbly roads of Pamplona Alta, climbing up the rocky hill sides, and waving at the peeping eyes peering from the corners of the ramshackle corrugated metal homes, I have come to learn so much about the lives, families and communities that MEDLIFE reaches out to. When venturing into these towns, seeking the feedback and help of the communities that want a new staircase, a new Wawa Wasi or another new project, I get the chance to hear the oratory skills of Carlos, MEDLIFE’s Director.

Carlos commands the attention of the audience, each set of eyes fixed on his face, his jokes eliciting hearty chuckles and his moving speeches garnering solemn looks. Carlos effectively engages the community- convinces them that a mobile clinic will bring needed medical attention for their families, and that educational sessions will inform the young women about pap smears, self-breast exams and safe sex practices. Watching Carlos interact with community leaders, town residents and even grinning children, you understand how pivotal Carlos’s work is in creating a working relationship with all of the neighboring communities. His work is the foundation that we build MEDLIFE off of- he lays the groundwork with the communities, allowing mobile clinics to come in and aid the communities by building what they need, and providing necessary medical attention. What I find most awe inspiring is that MEDLIFE is able to include the communities in our work; we do not simply go in, have a clinic or build a staircase, and leave. We are able to partner with these families in the communities, their hands diligently working alongside ours.

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The gray skies and chilly days are no match for the bright smiles and warm hearts that greet us when we trek into the communities. It is moving to see that so many people are so thankful for what we do, and are willing to help us make a difference, however large or small, in their communities. Each day that I get the opportunity to venture out into the field, I am rewarded with the smiles, tears and heartfelt hugs from the families we help. Knowing that a simple staircase, or a medical clinic, can improve the lives of so many in such a small, yet profound way, makes the work here at MEDLIFE more meaningful, as cliché as that may sound.

A little more than halfway through my internship, and I have begun to understand the impact that MEDLIFE has on the communities and families we help, outside of the mobile clinics themselves. The work does not end simply because there are no students from abroad coming in for a clinic. MEDLIFE has a constant flow of patient follow up mingled with community development, working with the people we serve to improve their lives in small, yet significant ways. A day in the life of an intern is never stagnant- sometimes I am in the office, sometimes I am out speaking with a patient about his recovery. It is marvelous to realize that MEDLIFE’s work affects so many, and many more will continue to receive help long after I am back in America.

This week's volunteers brought us some surprises! Among all the 50:50 campaigns, over $4500 were raised for the MEDLIFE General Fund! Read below about two of the most outstanding campaigns to learn how they fundraised for the campaign and hear about their experience in Lima so far. Find out more about the 50:50 campaign here.

steph-5050-2014Name: Stephanie Wizner
Amount raised: $3530

What made you decide to do the 50:50 campaign? The campaign gave me a great platform through which I could pay for the volunteer trip, as well as raise some money for the different stair projects in Lima. I sent an e-mail with the staircase pictures showing potential donors how far their money could stretch, and where it was going exactly.

How did you raise the money for your campaign? A lot of it I have to thank my co-workersI'm not in school anymore, which means I'm not hustling poor students for donations. I started working in a corporate environment early this year. Fundraising in an office worked to my advantage since the vast majority of my co-workers were willing to donate to an aid trip across the world. Most of my work colleagues were middle-aged with families. A vast majority of my colleagues were eager to help fund my trip since they were not in the position to implement change physically. However, they could help financially by donating towards the 50:50 campaign as well as sending me out to Lima. My mother was a huge help too!

Why would you recommend that volunteers participate in the 50:50 campaign? When you're asking for donations, it's a lot easier to present a campaign to potential donators where they know where the money is going.

What is your favorite part about the Mobile Clinic so far? Definitely the children! Talking to the kids on clinic has given me an insight into their day-to-day lives. They all have so much hope, and aspire to be doctors, lawyers, veterinarians and chefs. They all had amazing dreams, which gives me real hope for their futures.

What were your impressions of Lima? It´s very diverse, some areas seem very Westernized like New York city; really up and coming. However, there are areas that I've experienced on Mobile Clinic that you would never normally see as a tourist in Lima, which has given me a whole new perspective on this economically diverse city.


martina-5050-2014Name: Martina L'Abbate
aAmount raised: $2565

How did you first hear about MEDLIFE? I heard about MEDLIFE through my sister who studied at Cornell and plans on becoming a doctor, and she heard about the mobile clinic trip while at school.  She went to Ecuador, loved it, and came back with all these awesome stories, and since I want to be a physician assistant, I thought it would be a great life-changing experience, so I chose to go to Peru.

What made you decide to do the 50:50 campaign? If I was going to come to Peru, I figured that I would go all out since MEDLIFE needs the money to fund all of its programs.  Simply asking for five dollars from everyone really raised a lot of money not only for me,but for MEDLIFE as well, and I feel pretty good about that.

How did you raise the money for your campaign? I work at gymnastics gym, so I put up a flyer, and it ended up attracting a lot of the kids who kept showing their parents, "Mom, look what she's going to do!". Most of the money came from family members, my dad's boss, and others through word of mouth.

Why would you recommend that students participate in the 50:50 campaign? In America, we don't realize how good we have it.  My first day here I looked at the conditions that some of these communities are in and I almost was crying because back home I complain about trivial things like slow Wifi. We can donate so much without having to financially drain ourselves, and I think that we should give what we can when we have it.

August 12, 2014 10:03 AM

Laura McClung's Intern Journal

Written by Laura McClung

I fell in love with the mission of Medlife after being heavily involved in our chapter at the University of Southern California throughout my college career. I attended my first clinic in Tena, Ecuador in August 2011, and then traveled to Lima twice before deciding to apply for the internship during my senior year. Everyone I encountered in Medlife, whether it be staff, interns, doctors, or community leaders, was so passionate about the work Medlife does and about making a sustainable difference in the communities Medlife serves. It was an approach to health and wellbeing that I found inspiring--not only does Medlife provide treatment for sickness and disease, but they focus on educating and empowering their patients to fight the underlying causes behind disease. This includes providing workshops on topics such as eating well to prevent high blood pressure and type II diabetes, sexual health and safe sex practices, and even helping community members start their own business or gain legal possession over their land so they may live more comfortably with their families.

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After seeing the passion and dedication behind the work that Medlife does, I knew I wanted to get involved beyond participating in a week-long mobile clinic, and I was thrilled to accept the position to work as a year-long intern here in Lima, Peru. In addition to being able to dedicate myself full-time for a whole year to Medlife’s cause,   I would get to live abroad in a Spanish-speaking country for a year to work on my Spanish, experience a new culture, try new foods, and see new places--a prospect which was exciting after growing up in Leawood, Kansas and not being able to study abroad during college because of my pre-medical curriculum.

An overnight flight from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale, an 11-hour layover in Fort Lauderdale, and another 6 hour flight from Fort Lauderdale to Lima led me to my welcome at the Lima airport by two Peruvian friends I made the last time I was in Lima. It was around 10 pm and having not been given food on the flight from Florida, I was starving, so we dropped my things off at my friends’ apartment and went to TGI Fridays for my first meal in Peru. I chose a buffalo chicken pasta, knowing that I would spend the rest of the year eating all different types of Peruvian foods. I did find it interesting, however, that the menu had a special section dedicated to uniquely Peruvian dishes such as tallarines verdes con lomo and lomo con pasta a la huancaína, two Peruvian pasta dishes.

The next night was my friend’s mother’s birthday, so we took a cab from Miraflores, one of the 43 districts of Lima that borders the ocean, to Chorrillos, a district a bit further south, for her birthday party. I met uncles, aunts, brothers, and nieces, and enjoyed the lively dynamic of joking, eating, and dancing to Peruvian music until two in the morning--a much more boisterous evening than the quiet family birthday dinners I was accustomed to in Kansas. As we rode in the cab along the coast back to Miraflores, I found it interesting that when looking into the distance at the hills surrounding the city, one would see a similar setting to that of Los Angeles--the ocean on the west, and hills in every other direction speckled with tiny lights. However, once daytime arrives the contrast is stark--whereas in Los Angeles the lights come from upscale homes in the hills surrounding the city, in Lima the lights come from the endless squatter settlements covering every mountaintop surrounding Lima, or the pueblos jovenes.

The next morning, my friend and I went on a walk along the beach, and because I had been in Lima the August before, I was prepared for the reversed seasons and the chilly and rainy weather. Although it was still beautiful, I’m excited to see how much more beautiful it is during the “summer” months when the sun is shining and more people come out to enjoy the beaches of the western coast of Peru.  

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With that, my time exploring on my own ended, and I began my first day in the Medlife office and moved into the intern apartment that afternoon. It was exciting to speak to the summer interns who had been involved in their school chapters about their experiences with Medlife and our ideas for other chapters in the future, and everybody I met was very kind and welcoming. Once settled in to the intern apartment just next door to the office, I headed out with a fellow intern to have my first “Peruvian” dinner of pollo a la brasa (a quarter of a chicken and french fries for only about $5.70) around the corner, and to take the bus down the congested street to the grocery store (for only about $0.18). I was surprised by how many amenities Lima shares with the United States--Pizza Hut, Dominoes, Starbucks, KFC, Pinkberry--and how affordable the prices were. It will be a challenge now to not eat at the easily-recognizable American chains but to find the smaller Peruvian gems!

Looking forward, I am excited to dive further into the work of Medlife and head out into the field to see what goes on behind-the-scenes of a mobile clinic--finding communities in need of staircase projects, finding patients in need of services beyond those available at a mobile clinic, providing follow-up care to families in the slums, etc. I would like to gain as much knowledge as I can this year about how to provide sustainable care to communities abroad in need so that I may attend medical school next year with new insights to pursue a career in global medicine and non-profit sustainability.  

 

August 5, 2014 8:22 AM

Meet the Staff: Luis Cartagena

Written by Diana Sotomayor

luis-cartagena-mtsHere at MEDLIFE we are proud to introduce Luis Cartagena, who has been working with MEDLIFE Ecuador for many years. Read more about Luis’ story below:

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Riobamba.  I have always lived here, I love it.

How did you get involved with MEDLIFE?

I had been working as a bus driver for many years before I found out about MEDLIFE. Then, when MEDLIFE first started working in Riobamba I began volunteering as a bus driver for the organization. I knew my way around everywhere, so I offered MEDLIFE my bus and drove the staff and the volunteers wherever they needed to go.  After 3 years MEDLIFE had grown big enough that the position ‘Project Coordinator of Riobamba’ was created to ensure continuous and efficient development of the organization. I was offered the role- as I know the poor communities around the Chimborazo Province I was the ideal candidate for the job.

What is it that you like most about working with MEDLIFE?

I love to work on the Mobile Clinics because this is when we inaugurate most of the projects.  I find it very rewarding when a community is so grateful for what we do for them.  During the Mobile Clinics I enjoy being able to work on the different stations, for example the pharmacy station. I am very versatile and try to help with everything I can.

Can you name a particular patient that has had a strong impact on you?

When we go to the Mobile Clinics we see just about everything, the old patients really impress me.  They walk long distances and work very hard on a daily basis; regardless of their health conditions they always continue smiling.  I want to be like that when I grow up!

What do you do in your free time?

I still love my bus so in my free time I take pleasure in going on trips and driving very long distances.  I like to drive up to Colombia or down to Perú for the “Romerías” –a procession in honor of the Virgin Mary. I am very fond of the religious parade and the spectacular views on the drive there.

July 25, 2014 8:56 AM

Meet the Interns Summer 2014 Part 2

Written by Rosali Vela

Meet our new MEDLIFE Summer Interns 2014 Part 2!

2014-dom-2Name: Dom Grisafe
Hometown: Fontana, California
School: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Major: Biochemistry
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: One of my friends was starting a chapter at my school two years ago. He invited me to an informational meeting describing the mobile clinics in Lima, Peru, and I’ve been hooked on MEDLIFE ever since.
 
What was your first impression of Lima?: I was excited to be in the middle of a thriving metropolis when I came to Lima for the first time two years ago. It was more of a dream-like feeling then. My mobile clinic only lasted a week, and I was disappointed to leave so quickly after arriving. When I returned for the internship this last July, I was once again in awe of Lima, but also invigorated to finally be able to get an in-depth experience in the city.

My favorite part so far: A few days ago I visited an impoverished beachside community with Janet, one of the local nurses that works with MEDLIFE. We delivered bundles of medical test results to local community leaders that volunteered to distribute the results to each individual patient. It was incredible to see the local Peruvian people rally together to take care of their own. I realized that our organization only begins with the nurses, office staff, college students, and doctors. I discovered that MEDLIFE runs deeply through each of the people that live in the communities we serve. 
 

2014-diana-2Name: Diana Isabel Sotomayor
Hometown: Lajas, Puerto Rico
School: University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez
Major: Biology

How I got involved with MEDLIFE: I discovered the organization through friends that participated in Mobile Clinics.  When I read the organization’s mission, I knew this was somewhere I wanted to work in.

Why did you decide to become an intern?: I knew I wanted to contribute to MEDLIFE since I learned about the organization and how it incorporates education and development in its medical clinics.  I could relate immediately because I aspire to contribute towards the improvement of global health by addressing education and development issues (among others) at local and international levels. These three pillars are fundamental to create change in a long-term and sustainable way.  
My favorite part so far: By constantly being exposed to different settings and people with individual needs I have learned to approach issues in a more comprehensive and holistic way while understanding and respecting socio-cultural differences.  In this process I have learned more about myself: interests, weaknesses and strengths.  Also, that I have definitively reassured my professional aspirations to continue working within the public sector towards achieving a healthier society.
July 31, 2014 8:25 AM

Dominic Grisafe's Intern Journal

Written by Rosali Vela

I visited Peru two years ago with my MEDLIFE chapter, so I was ready for the extended plane flight from my home near Los Angeles, California to Lima.

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The MEDLIFE administrative assistant Amparo was waiting for me at the gate with a smile and a sign with my name on it. She was the first person I had met since returning to Peru, and she embodied the friendliness and positive attitude that I would soon learn was characteristic of everyone working at MEDLIFE. We hopped in a taxi and headed for my new home. Amparo was patient with my broken Spanish as she told me about the work she had been doing over the past year. The red, green, and yellow neon lights of the local businesses shone through the taxi windows while we drove through the lively streets of Lima. It finally set in that I would be living in Peru for the next few months.dom3

I didn’t know what to expect when I visited the impoverished communities of Lima two summers ago. It was quite a cultural shock seeing the hillsides scattered with small homes for the first time. The people of Pamplona Alta waved Peruvian flags proudly over the walls of their brightly colored homes. Though many of them get by on very little, they seemed determined to stay positive, raising their children the best they could. Their strength and pride always stuck in my mind, and I knew I wanted to return to understand more about the people of Pamplona.

Working as an intern at MEDLIFE gives me the opportunity to reach towards several of my personal goals while exploring a new culture. I’m currently applying to medical school to build a career practicing abroad as a physician. MEDLIFE will allow me to work with like-minded volunteers and gain a better feel for clinical work in other countries. I’m also spending my down time studying Spanish. I’ve been surrounded by Mexican Spanish all my life while growing up in Southern California, but I’ve never spent a considerable amount of time immersed in the language. I’m hoping to return to the States one step closer to fluency. Most of all, spending the summer working with MEDLIFE is an adventure I’m sure I’ll remember for the rest of my life. So far I’ve only been here a few days. This week is the first time I’ll be heading back to the field, and I’m looking forward to seeing the progress that’s been made in Pamplona over the last two years. But for now I’m getting used to my new home in Lima. 

My second night here I went grocery shopping down the street with Hima and Dileep, two of my fellow MEDLIFE interns. Afterwards we got separated, and I enjoyed the exhilaration of being lost in the bustling streets of a foreign country. There’s nothing quite like traveling 4,000 miles away from home and being alone in a sea of pedestrians, whose language you barely speak, without knowing exactly how to get to your apartment. Thankfully a security guard directed me to a payphone and I was able to get directions from Tim, who ironically holds the position of MEDLIFE director. Now that I’ve learned my neighborhood better, I’m excited to see what thrills Peru holds for me next. I’m pleased to say that if the next two months are going to be anything like my first two days, then this summer will be one of the most memorable of my life.

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MEDLIFE has a very rounded vision of development- we recognise one cannot simply eradicate poverty through one avenue alone, offering solely medical treatment for example. Our mission is focused on offering education, development, and healthcare to help families achieve greater freedom from the constraints of poverty. In addition to the mobile clinics that our volunteers provide a huge amount of support towards, a lot of time and effort is put into organising educational workshops for the communities of Peru.

Educational workshops help prevent illness and ensure more serious conditions are recognised earlier, increasing the chance of treating and curing them before they become detrimental. Last Friday two other interns and I joined Carlos, the director of MEDLIFE Peru, and two MEDLIFE doctors who would be delivering the presentation, on the journey to the community. After a couple of bumpy bus rides and a short climb into the hills, we arrived at our destination. We revisited a community that we had recently begun collaborating with. After confirming with them that a new staircase would be built in their area in late August, we continued to present an educational workshop. One of the women had an area out the back of her home large enough to hold the event; she had arranged rows of chairs for those who could attend.

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Once we arrived, we hesitantly walked through to the back of the house, not knowing exactly what to expect, how many people would come- it was really quite a chilly afternoon and potentially still working hours for some. Though of course, there was nothing to be concerned about as the seats were filled with men, women, and children, wrapped up warm and prepared for the occasion.

The MEDLIFE doctors made do with simple portable materials, including illustrations and some paper they stuck on the wall to write on and help explain health information. The doctors alternated for different sections of the presentation, and the audience sat continually engaged, quiet until the occasional question arose. The children played silently, the camera I was using also offered a great distraction! All the children I had met on the trips into the hills of Lima have been the most beautiful subjects a photographer could ask for, their smiles growing with excitement every time I share the photographs I have taken of them.

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The quality of the public education in Lima, Peru remains unsatisfactory partly due to low teacher wages and lack of school spaces for the ever-growing population. This, combined with the common practice for women to give birth young, means a substantial proportion of Lima’s migrant population won’t receive an adequate education. This exemplifies the necessity for the MEDLIFE educational workshops, which in some cases may save lives.

Before finishing the presentation, one of our summer interns, Alex, bravely stood at the front to share her health experiences with the group- a last minute request from Carlos. It was only in afterthought that it dawned on me why Carlos had really encouraged Alex to do this: health can often be a sometimes sensitive and embarrassing subject, one people don’t like to discuss and share. By Alex demonstrating that it’s okay to talk to others about her health experiences, it may just make it easier for them to do so in the future.

July 21, 2014 9:35 AM

Meet the Patient: Byron Buñay

Written by Diana Sotomayor

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As a summer intern in MEDLIFE at Ecuador I was given the responsibility of giving follow up visits to patients that MEDLIFE doctors had previously seen in mobile clinics. These patients have come from various communities and have been referred to hospitals in Riobamba because they have specific conditions that require seeing a specialist.  One of the patients I was assigned to meet Byron Buñay, a two year old with a cleft palate who MEDLIFE met a year ago. MEDLIFE had found him in a very delicate and malnourished state as he was unable to naturally ingest food due to his condition; his case had once been a matter of life or death. MEDLIFE knew they had to do something to help, so firstly, they paid for his first restorative surgery.

When I first met Byron it was on the day of his medical evaluation in the Riobamba hospital, he smiled at me as if I was his lifelong friend and he offered me a genuine; adult-like handshake immediately after seeing me.  As I introduced myself to his mother, my initial thoughts were that the little guy that I had just met seemed too mature, happy and healthy to be the two year-old cleft palate patient I had been told of. I was sure this couldn’t be Byron, and assumed it was his older brother.

I thought we were waiting for Byron to arrive, so in the meantime I asked this spirited toddler some basic questions one would normally ask a little one like him:  What´s your name? How are you? How old are you? Excited, he answered my questions immediately while making very expressive hand gestures. At first I could not understand him and I figured he was speaking Quichua, like his mom and locals at his community did.  I asked again, in case it was me that was misunderstanding what he was trying to say with so much emotion.  He tried again, this time determined to answer my questions but only sounds came out of his mouth.   Aware of my clear inability to understand what he intended to be explicit and eloquent responses; he finally gave up and smiled sympathetically.  Suddenly I realized that the bold child that had greeted me with such vividness was the cleft palate patient I was waiting for, he had grown and gained weight since his last picture was taken in his first surgery but that was still unable to verbalize words due to his internal oral physiology.

I then joined Byron’s parents Elsa and Raúl in their long wait for the pediatric surgeon’s confirmation that he could be pre-admitted for surgery, the couple narrated the difficulties they have been through with their child’s condition and how desperate they were a year ago to find medical help for him.  As Elsa recalled: “He was very skinny because he could not eat, breast milk used to come out through his nose every time I tried to feed him.  We had to give him iron supplements through a pipette in order to counteract his malnourishment”.  She could not be more grateful for the immediateness of MEDLIFE’s mobilization to help her find and obtain the specialized medical care her baby urgently needed.

She also told me that after MEDLIFE financially supported them in Byron’s first restorative surgery, the baby’s feeding difficulties relieved significantly as he was able to incorporate soft foods such as grains and bland fruits in his limited diet which had allowed him to gain around 30 pounds.  No wonder I could not recognize him when I first met him! Even though he still had a long way to go in terms of achieving a full recuperation that would allow him to eat anything and articulate his first words, she could not have been more relieved that their child had been saved.

Byron´s father Raúl joined his mother and me as we talked just about everything including the land that they farm, the products that they sell in the market to earn a little bit of money on a daily basis and, what I did not expect was that he even asked about Puerto Rican politics!   Encouraged by the non-stop conversation, he casually mentioned a small detail they had not told me before and what he described had been a “complicated morning” … It turns out that a day that should have been naturally emotional for any parent whose child will be soon submitted to surgery, became even more stressful than expected when the front tire of the car in which they were travelling blew up during their 4 hour journey and got them into a minor car accident.  The Police showed up quickly and generously offered the family transportation to the hospital where I met Byron and his mom while his dad went into the ER because of minor bruises in his face and arms.  Thankfully he received immediate medical help and was able to participate in his child’s preparation for surgery.  Talk about a complicated morning!

Byron was successfully submitted to his second restorative surgery on the following day and spent the next 2 days in the hospital at Riobamba under rigorous medical care.  I was given the opportunity to visit him and of course, he received me with a big bright smile.  His strong parents could not find enough words to thank MEDLIFE for the medical and financial support that the organization had given them throughout the past year.

Byron Buñay is now recovering from his surgery in his community in the Alausí Canton, where I plan to visit him in a couple of weeks to track his progress.  MEDLIFE will continue supporting Byron’s family in his follow up medical appointments in Riobamba until their doctor announces that he is ready for the third and hopefully final surgery that will fully close the upper roof of his mouth and allow him to articulate his first words.

I can’t wait to hear what this charismatic child has been waiting to say for so long.  My best wishes for Byron and his beautiful family!

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