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Last week, three members of the MEDVIDA Ecuador team, Martha Chicaiza, Maria Chavez and Luis Cartagena, came to visit our office in Peru and get a taste of fieldwork in the shantytowns outside Lima. For Maria and Luis, it was their first visit to Lima and the first time they experienced in person the work that MEDLIFE does here. What did they think?
"Before my visit, I thought Lima would be nicer," said Luis. "But I was stunned when I saw the amount of poverty in Pamplona, and people who didn't have basic services, in comparison to the city of Lima. I can't stop thinking about the injustice of what I saw."
Though the MEDLIFE office in Riobamba, a rural region of Ecuador, deals with the same issues of poverty and lack of health care, they manifest themselves in different ways. Luis said the most surprising difference for him was the imbalance in living conditions in different social classes in Lima. He says the rural poor that he sees in Ecuador generally have a better quality of life than those in the city. "And if poverty exists in Lima it is because of the land invasions, because where people come to take possession of the land, it's all rocks where nothing can grow, and so living from agriculture is impossible and they go to work in the city," he said. In Ecuador, emigration to large cities for job opportunities has also become a widespread trend, though the cities do not experience the kind of land invasions seen in Lima.
Because the fieldwork in each location of MEDLIFE is built on listening to the needs of the local community, a lot can be learned from sharing experiences and ideas between them. The Ecuador team agreed that the visit to Lima was an educational and memorable experience. "The visit inspired me to work even harder to improve conditions with MEDLIFE," said Luis. "I'll always remember the times I shared with MEDLIFE colleagues and the things I learned thanks to the tour."
Nandini Razdan, a recent graduate of the University of Delaware, joins us in Lima, Peru for an internship this month! Learn more about Nandini and how she got involved with MEDLIFE in the Q&A below:
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I graduated from the University of Delaware (Go Blue Hens!) in Spring 2012 with a degree in Biology and a minor degree in Spanish. I grew up right outside of Philadelphia in good 'ol Wilmington, Delaware. My passions include going out with friends, watching political and social documentaries, eating pizza every day and all day, and dancing. Dancing was a huge part of my collegiate life, as I danced on two different South Asian/Indian dance teams. I aspire to become a bilingual primary care physician working in underserved areas in the States, as well as hopefully becoming involved in global humanitarian work.
How did you get involved with MEDLIFE?
In Winter 2011, I volunteered in a MEDLIFE mobile clinic in Cusco, Peru. I initially signed up for the clinic because I felt that humanitarian aid was something I wanted to become involved with as a future doctor, so I wanted to get a taste of what it actually required. My experience there was absolutely unforgettable. Being able to actually work hands on with patients in a way that you usually can't in the States was a treat, and being able to help intervene in the health of 751 patients in one week was a true gift.
Why did you decide to become an intern?
I applied to be an intern for MEDLIFE because I felt that as a clinic volunteer, I had only scratched the surface for the amount of impact I personally wanted to make on the poor communities and how much I wanted to learn about global health. What stood out to me the most as a clinic volunteer were the reasons that many of the health problems existed and how preventable they were. In Obstetrics, it was shocking to see case after case of pap smears potentially positive for cervical cancer. The high levels of cervical cancer in Latin America are partially attributed to the lack of women's health education, but also ignorance of consequences of promiscuity in relationships. While assisting the doctors, I saw that common gastrointestinal issues were a result of unclean drinking water. Additionally, many patients' painful headaches were often associated with poor dental hygiene. Preventative health education is currently being highlighted in the United States healthcare system, so I think it is important for pre-health professionals to become exposed to that aspect of healthcare. Two things that stood out to me about MEDLIFE were the health education presentations and materials that were handed out during the clinics, and also patient follow-up when the clinic was over. As an intern, I wanted to be involved in researching some of the relevant health problems and hopefully helping to present these to the communities. Also, I wanted to see what happens behind the scenes once the clinic weeks are over through patient-follow up.
What was your first impression of Lima?
Coming back to Lima was like falling in love with South America all over again after having previously travelled to Chile, and Lima and Cusco in Peru. I landed in Lima around midnight and woke up the next morning at 6 am on a summer day (escaping the winter in the USA) to the sound of chirping exotic birds and a fresh glass of juice, and pleasant weather. I was immediately immersed into helping with the clinic. The bus driver blasted salsa and reggaeton music during the commute to the clinic, which was even more effective than a morning coffee. The best thing about Peru in general is that the people here are extremely friendly. The friends that I had made before welcomed me back with open arms, and the new friends I have made both in MEDLIFE and otherwise have made my stay so far amazing.
Tell us an anecdote about your experience with MEDLIFE so far.
I've only been in Peru for a few days now, but every minute still has given me an opportunity to learn something new and to gain appreciation. The clinics in Lima are set up in the "pueblos jovenes," which are densely populated communities built on the outskirts of the city in the hills. Peruvians from rural areas migrate here to take advantage of the opportunities of the city. The final day of last week's clinic, the community whom MEDLIFE volunteers built a staircase for held a small party for us to show their appreciation. The volunteers played a game of soccer with the community on their hand built field which they had toiled for 5 years carving out of the dusty mountain. The community members were very hospitable, offering us snacks and drinks, even though they themselves had to work very hard to afford these things. This experience reminded me of how hard those within limited means work in order to be able to afford the things that we take for granted, yet they are the people with the most generous of hearts. The people were proud of their dusty mountainside soccer field with boulders for stadium seats and they were happy to offer the American volunteers humble snacks of Inka cola and soda crackers.
What do you look forward to about your internship?
I am looking forward to assisting doctors and nurses during patient follow-up because each medical case fascinates me and I appreciate that MEDLIFE takes the time to make sure that the patients get care outside of the clinic. Also, I am looking forward to being involved in preventative health education. Hopefully my experiences will help shape my medical journey to becoming a public-serving physician and hopefully MEDLIFE's audience will gain more perspective on the worldwide issues and be motivated to become involved.
Dr. Jose Luis Rodriguez joined MEDLIFE in 2010 as a general practitioner. He has always demonstrated a keen aptitude for patient care; just a few months after starting with MEDLIFE he began implementing new medical and educational programs for our Mobile Clinics. Now doctor Jose serves full times as our Medical Director, and is in charge of the supervision of all medical aspects of MEDLIFE´s operations. Learn more about Dr. Jose below:
Where are you from?
I am from Lima. I was born in Lima, but my father is from Trujillo and my mother is from the border between Chile and Peru.
How did you get involved with MEDLIFE?
Three years ago a colleague and friend named Iliana Rodriguez, who used to work here, called and asked me to fill in for an absent doctor on one of MEDLIFE's Mobile Clinics. So I agreed to help. This was in December, about three years ago. I came to the clinic and ended up helping for all ﬁve days and loved the experience; luckily, they invited me to come back for the next clinic. I was working as part of the Mobile Clinics for about two months when i ﬁrst met MEDLIFE Director Nick Ellis, and he asked me if I wanted to work in a more permanent way, as a coordinator. I agreed and have been working here permanently since then. And that is how I got into MEDLIFE.
What do you like about working here?
First of all, as a doctor you have the call or duty to serve the community. Sometimes, our jobs don't allow us to help as much as we would like to, but in the Mobile Clinics you can really see how the patients are so grateful. Those kind of experiences make me feel that what I have learned is really useful, and that is very fulﬁlling.
Talking about good experiences, I also enjoy working with the volunteers. The students have their own personalities and they come full of excitement, wanting to help and to learn at the same time. I like watching them interacting with the patients, and I get the sense that they also appreciate the way that I work. Since the feeling is mutual, we generally make a good team.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love dancing! That is definitely one of my favorite things to do. I also love soccer, and that's because I'm 100% a sports person.
Could you name some of the patients who made or make an impression on you?
There is one lady who comes from the sierra and lives in the community of Oasis here in Lima. The ﬁrst time she saw me was the ﬁrst time she ever saw a doctor; she hadn't been treated by a doctor in her entire life until that day. At the Mobile Clinic she was measured and weighed by a nurse; she then saw a dentist and general practitioner. She was very moved by the kindness we showed her and said she felt treated more like family than like a patient. She was so moved and grateful that she started crying, and I was thinking to myself, that i never understood how much we were really doing for our patients. That was a very emotional day.
It's Anna's first day as an intern with the Student Affairs Team here in Lima, Peru! Over the next two months, Anna will be working to support MEDLIFE's field work, as well as helping to raise awareness about MEDLIFE's work across universities in Australia. Learn a bit about Anna here:
Tell us a bit about yourself:
My Name is Anna and Im a student from Sydney, Australia! I'm doing a double degree in liberal arts and majoring in psychology, politics and geography. I'm set to finish studying in mid-2013. When I finish my studies, like many students, I'm not completely sure of what career path I'm going to take, but I am currently looking towards international development and poverty reduction, possibly in an international organization. I have always been interested in this arena, particularly because I feel that there is huge potential to make a great difference in the lives of many. Whenever I have the chance I Love to travel, hang out with friends, take photographs and -- as a typical Australian -- I love the beach!
How did you get involved with MEDLIFE?
I first discovered MEDLIFE through an email I received from the University of Sydney. It advertised internship positions with MEDLIFE where students would have the chance participate in the organization, helping both with their mobile medical clinics and with administration. After some further research about the organization, I was really interested in such a position particularly because of MEDLIFE's culturally sensitive approach to helping low-income communities in Latin America, but also because it mobilizes student groups and makes them aware of their ability to help communities in need.
What was your first impression of Lima?
Although I haven't been here long, I think my first impression of Lima was that it is a very busy, warm and exciting place to be. There aren't as many tourists as I expected and, although its daunting not speaking Spanish, I have found the locals pretty friendly.
What are you most looking forward to during your internship?
Firstly, I'm really looking forward to increasing my awareness of disadvantaged communities, and ways in which they can be helped. I think that was the main reason I chose to apply for the internship and become involved with MEDLIFE. Also, I think it's a really exciting opportunity to live in a foreign, non-English speaking country for two months -- I am hoping to learn some spanish while here! It may be difficult at times, but I think it's really important to step out of your comfort zone, and delve into the unfamiliar. I think immersing yourself in new experiences is the best way to learn.
Tell us an anecdote from your experience with MEDLIFE thus far:
When I first arrived I was greeted at the airport by one of the MEDLIFE staff. Despite Spanish being her mother tongue, she was able to make me feel welcome and at home right away. This experience has been echoed with all the MEDLIFE staff members I have met. Everyone is so welcoming, thoughtful and willing to help out. I know I'm going to have a great time over the next couple of months.
Maria Chavez, 32, has worked for MEDLIFE Ecuador for five years. She treats her role as a Follow-Up Patient Coordinator like she is raising a child. She nurtures her connections, hones her patience, and holds hands wherever she goes.
When I sat down to speak with her about her involvement in the organization, she wore a a navy blue bomber jacket. A MEDLIFE logo patch is sewn onto the left-hand side by her collarbone. As she speaks, she holds her hands palm to palm as if praying. She is petite, a little over five feet tall, and rosy cheeked. A smattering of freckles trail down her tan, slender face and slightly downturned nose. She wears no makeup. Her nails are kept short. On a typical day, her shoes are well-worn chunky, black construction boots.
Maria found out about MEDLIFE in her own rural community, Cebadas, an hour outside of Riobamba. A woman who lived on the outskirts of town was suffering from a thyroid tumor, and when MEDLIFE arrived for a Mobile Clinic, Executive Director Nick Ellis was the first to treat her condition.
"I liked the help that this woman received from the foundation. Before [MEDLIFE] she didn't have any help...The foundation has a really human touch, and so I like the way they work," Maria explained.
In fact, she was impressed enough by the services to ask for a position herself.
After a patient attends a Mobile Clinic in Ecuador, and a doctor determines that further treatment is needed, Maria is the one that stands by his or her side. She attends doctor's appointments and accompanies patients before, during, and after procedures, in addition to answering follow-up questions throughout the entire process. Essentially, Maria plays the role of a family member that we all wish we had during stressful times -- brimming with knowledge and patience.
Growing up in Cebadas with three older brothers, Maria was raised on the peaceful rolling hills and small town lifestyle that dominates the indigenous rural communities of the Chimborazo region. But at only ten years old, tragedy struck. Her father passed away.
Maria sits with her arms crossed as if she is chilled. She suddenly begins to tear up at the memory, wetting her long, black eyelashes and wrinkling her wispy black eyebrows. She says that she does not like to remember the death.
After sniffling, Maria adds that "The support of my mother has been really important for me. Even though she was a widower, she knew how to cope and fight for her children."
Maria sites her mother as a driving inspirational force in her life to support others. Due to her mother's persistence, she was able to attend high school and college in Riobamba. Amidst her studies, she helped her mother farm the land and sell milk to make ends meet.
If anyone knows what patients who seek help from MEDLIFE Ecuador are going through, it's Maria. Living in an isolated community during rough periods, whether emotional or physical, can take a large toll. A majority of MEDLIFE Ecuador's patients hail from indigenous communities hours outside of Riobamba, with little access to hygiene facilities, basic health care, and education.