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The year-long MEDLIFE interns and the members of the community "33B" worked together last week on a new staircase that will benefit more than 300 people. Follow the story below:
The task took hours, hands and clothes got dirty, but they never stopped smiling!
The shelter that awaited us at Seferina’s address has few characteristics that distinguish it from the hillside it slumps on. Camouflaged by the surrounding grass and dirt, the 70-year-old’s tiny cottage is made up of molding hatched sugar can straw and damp cardboard hung from a sparse wooden frame. This has been her home for the past 30 years.
The juxtaposition between Seferina’s dilapidated abode and the two-story, concrete buildings on either side is stark and tragic. Carlos Benavides, MEDLIFE Peru’s Director and our guide for the day, pointed to the neighboring buildings and said, “This is the quality of home we want to give Seferina—she deserves a better life.”
We were greeted with a kiss on the cheek and Seferina's warm, welcoming smile, though she admitted she was feeling “Un poco mal,” —a little bad. Seferina surprised us with her strength and vigor; she hobbled down the steep dirt path to the street at a quick pace despite having a heavy limp on her left side. The feat was even more impressive after my own stumbling on the way up the same path she had navigated with relative ease. Seferina hefted a wooden post and used it to prop up her falling door. We ducked our heads and filed in.
A feeling of overwhelming sadness fell over me upon entering her home. I gazed over her environment in utter disbelief that a woman of her age, let alone anyone, lives in such conditions. Thirty years of accumulated plastic bags, newspaper, boxes and miscellaneous items —trash—fills her home from floor to ceiling, leaving a path only wide enough for one person to pass through. I turned my gaze upwards to observe patches of sunlight that shone through gaping holes in her misshapen roof. She gestured for us to follow her through her dwelling to the back section, her bedroom, which consists of two worn mattresses stacked on top of one another lying beneath a wall of garbage waiting to topple down onto her bed.
"I gazed over her environment in utter disbelief that a woman of her age, let alone anyone, lives in such conditions."
Seferina confessed that she is scared to sleep in such dangerous conditions. She is worried for her safety living in such a poorly constructed home, one that could easily collapse inwards or catch of fire. Every time she turns on the electricity she risks sparking a fire to her house; she flips a circuit switch connected to several exposed and tangled wires that lead to a single light bulb hanging precariously from her roof.
Seferina’s level of poverty, she explained, has become increasingly more difficult to endure. Her home lacks two unquestionable essentials: a bathroom and kitchen. “I like to cook, but this is all I have,” Seferina said as she motioned to a pan and a carton of eggs sitting next to a flat rock she uses to prepare food. To go to the bathroom, she treks to neighboring stores or takes a moto taxi to the market where she sometimes sells little carmelitas and cookies for income. Otherwise, Seferina survives off of a small welfare stipend, which, she admits, is barely enough.
“Yo soy solita" - I am alone, Seferina declared. With no family—no husband or children—to look after her, Seferina is afraid no one knows she is there. Her neighbors, who are fortunate enough to reside in sturdy concrete buildings, do not even acknowledge her. A little while back, Seferina was hit by a car when chasing a cat out of the street. As a result, she walks in very visible pain. If the injury had been more severe, she wouldn’t have had anyone to care for her.
In addition to a leg injury sustained from the accident, Seferina is almost completely blind. Unfortunately, her physical state makes her considerably accident-prone, especially in her unsteady and dangerous house. Moreover, Seferina is often sick, partially because of her age, but mostly due to the cold night air that seeps in through poorly insulated walls, which makes her the entirety of her belongings damp and moldy.
After our interview with Seferina, we said our goodbyes and informed her of our goal to build her a better home. Her face lit up with joy and immense gratitude. “Imagine living in those conditions,” Carlos proposed as we departed Seferina’s residence and reflected on our visit.
MEDLIFE hopes to improve Seferina’s quality of life, but we need your help. You can provide a new beginning.
From a distance, Soledad Roja’s house in Villa Maria Del Triunfo is barely distinguishable from the hill’s natural landscape; it blends in amongst the gray rocks covered with brown and green moss. Her house appears as a small dark smudge of rotting wood and crumpling walls between brightly colored houses with sturdy foundations and roofs.
Carlos Benavides, MEDLIFE Peru’s Director, did not need to say that our mission for Soledad and her son would be to build them a new house. It was obvious upon our arrival that their living conditions are unsuitable and very unsafe. The family of two stood outside as we navigated the jagged and unsteady rocks —their stairs—leading up to meet them. Soledad and her 10-year-old son Jose Manuel have survived a decade in accommodations that do not even qualify as a house, but would be more aptly described as a deteriorating shelter the size of a small bedroom.
They were timid and a bit apprehensive as we introduced ourselves—Soledad’s young face revealed signs of immense sadness and grief for her situation. Despite some hesitation, she opened her half-hinged door and welcomed us inside, the drizzling rain following us in through a gap in the two puckered, tin slats that make up the roof.
Soledad and Jose’s personal items are few. They share a mattress that rests on their dirt floor, a few ramshackle pieces of furniture, and a jumbled array of plastic bags that protect their clothes from imposing elements. Soledad pointed to her kitchen: a small table in the corner. I spotted a few books and a ball, but they don’t have much else. A dim light hung above the covered side of the shelter, illuminating the thin layer of mold that coats the crumpled walls, one of which is simply a tarp.
Many factors forced Soledad and Jose to live in these conditions and have prevented them from affording anything better. During our interview, Soledad began recounting a brief synopsis of her life story by explaining that she was forced into motherhood at a young age after being raped by a male friend. Her godparents, whom she lived with because her mother is schizophrenic, kicked her out when she became pregnant. Soledad never had a father. Surprisingly, her son’s father remains loosely connected to them; she has recently taken him to court to demand some form of child support.
As a single mother, Soledad’s income must not only provide the bare necessities for herself and her son, but also Jose’s private school tuition. Jose has severe ADHD, for which he also goes to therapy. Soledad considers her son’s education a first priority and will do anything within her power to afford him an adequate education. As a result, the majority of her small income is funneled into a school with the educational resources Jose needs. Soledad explained that on top of the regular charge, the school often requires unexplained additional payments that she must make to keep Jose enrolled.
Soledad works doing inventory at a lab and must work ten hours a day, seven days a week to earn enough money to make ends meet. The other day she fell on the rocks and hurt her back, but she couldn’t afford to miss one day of pay, so she still went to work. Her sister lends a hand by picking Jose up from school and watching him in while Soledad is at work—but she then charges Soledad for her help. After paying for Jose’s public school, paying for electricity, paying her sister and paying for food, Soledad has no savings. “My dream is to save money… any money,” she admitted.
Soledad feels alone. Although her sister is within reach, her help comes at a price, leaving Soledad without any supportive family or friends. She explained that her neighbors are not inclined to offer any assistance; they resent that she is absent from the community, but Soledad is always at work and doesn’t even have time for her son. She said a local church gave her aid when Jose was diagnosed with Hepatitis A, but other than that she has no support.
MEDLIFE would like to provide Soledad and her son Jose with a new house. We want to put a functioning roof over their heads, raise sturdy walls to protect them from the weather, and build safe steps leading up to a livable home. If you would like to be the chapter that gives a family in need a new house—a new life—click here to make it happen.
The first time that we went to the San Judas Chico Orphanage, the astonishing noise of the airplanes deafened us for a few seconds. A strong, deafening sound made the whole place shake so hard we felt it in our bones and the same question came to everyone's mind: How was it possible to live next to the take-off runway of an airport without going crazy?
One week later, none of us noticed the thunderous sound that we heard every day during our work shifts. Like they say, man is a creature of habit.
We can get used to a new country, new friends, and even a new family, but where is the boundary between habit and conformity? When is the moment in which we become so used to a specific reality that we stop hoping that new and different things can happen to us?
A year ago, we asked Joanna about her future. The beautiful, barely-11-year-old girl looked at us and without hesitation gave her answer: singer. She wanted to be a famous music singer that would travel all of Peru and around the world. She even had some designs for future dresses. Joanna had been living in the orphanage for less than one week.
Two weeks ago we asked her the same question, but this time she hesitated a little before answering. It seemed like the word just wouldn't leave her mouth, until with a sigh she said, Cosmetology.
Cosmetology is the only technical career that the orphanage can afford to pay for these girls that are never adopted and can't return to their parents.
Joana will soon be 13 years old, and in spite of maintaining her beautiful smile so characteristic of her, she realizes that her age combined with the fact that she has already been in the orphanage for one year, makes her chance of being adopted very slim. She doesn't dream about entering the university either. She knows all to well, just as the rest of the girls do, that when she is 18 years old, she will be forced to leave the orphanage and begin to study cosmetology one way or another because it is all that she will be able to afford. And, in the meantime, there isn't much she can do but wait for that day to come.
We also met Jessica, who in a few months will leave the orphanage behind. She turned 18 faster than she thought she would, but she's not afraid. Since she's the oldest of all the girls, she's the substitute mom on Sundays when the tutors and teachers rest. She wants to study law at the public university in Cusco and while she knows it won't be easy working as a cosmetologist to pay for her dream at least it will be hers. And, she will be able to use her degree to defend the rights of all the girls she saw growing up who were hurt from by people surrounding them.
Dreams, hopes, customs, and resignations intermix in this small place hopelessly located beside the take-off runway in Cusco's main airport. Sad and dark memories are lightened by the warm rays of sunlight that occasionally illuminate this place, a place of refuge where all the abandoned girls end up thanks to social services. Maybe the food isn't the best, or maybe the beds aren't that comfortable, but Joanna knows that her bed now is amazing compared to the one she used to have before.
It's those small things, like a wall well-painted, a new auditorium, a renovated playground, things that remind us that the new and interesting things can keep happening. That one day, someone could give you a new hat, like Judith who never thought she would ever receive a gift like that from a volunteer. Or like Letizia, who fulfilled her dream of having a Korean boy, like her k-pop idols, giving her hugs...small things that bring out smiles when we think of them.
The orphanage shines bright and new today, thanks to the volunteers' work from MEDLIFE. Even the old basketball hoop on the playground shines. Even Aslan, the old dog that just showed up one day and never wanted to leave, seems brighter. The auditorium is almost finished and all the girls will be able to use it soon.
Without letting her arms away from all the good-looking boys who visit the orphanage, Joanna smiles and then starts to braid all the girls' hair. Maybe she will be a cosmetologist, but she'll be the best cosmetologist in Peru and in all the world.
This year we will have gone ten times to the orphanage to construct, paint, repair, and bring happiness to these girls who have stolen all our hearts.
Joanna, Maria, Judith, Letizia, Jessica...These girls have learned that life isn't easy and that sometimes the best family isn't necessarily the one you share blood with, but rather the one that brings you love and warmth. And maybe the San Judas Chico Orphanage isn't the biggest or the best, but the shared dolls are enjoyed more and the second hand clothes provide just as much warmth as new clothes in the cold Cusco weather.
Pamplona Alta is one of the newest “slums” in Lima, and is home to many working mothers; they are striving to secure the welfare of their children in general and above all to provide adequate food. This is a high priority because nutritious food is the key to good development, good health, and thus a life full of opportunities. Given this priority, and in spite of their economic constraints, the women of Pamplona Alta come together to organize food for all: harnessing people power to enurse that each family has enough nutritious food. Mrs. Martha Robles is one of the amazing women who makes this happen.
For many years Martha has worked in what is locally called the comedores populares or "Soup Kitchens". This cafeteria is run by women, mostly mothers, coordinate shifts and responsibilities to prepare lunch at low and affordable prices thanks to government subsidies. Food delivered through the government program, called PRONAA (National Food Assistance Program), includes staples such as flour, rice, sugar, and beans.
Sixteen years have passed since Martha, together with other 70 mothers, founded the 'Faith and Hope' cafeteria, located in the settlement ¨Cumbre¨, where Martha has lived since its foundation. In daily shifts, four or five women voluntarily prepare food purchased with the help from PRONAA, this subsided food is delivered approximately every three or four months.
Consecutive governments have continued to support this incredible work through subsidies. All the work to keep this fantastic service running is done voluntarily by members of the community, and despite the hard work Matha still wants to do more. Lunch feeds approximately 80 people from the local area.
Martha’s dedication to this service led her to participate in a government contest to create a new soup kitchen in her community. Martha’s work at the comedores populares providing great food at an affordable price, was recognised by the judges as well as her friends, neighbours and acquaintances. Winning the contest was a milestone for Martha in what she considers to be the most important work in her life.
In spite of the quality and the love with which the work is done, it is undeniable that the facilities for this service are less than ideal. On arriving to the premises it is immediately obvious that there are many shortcomings. The floor is not properly paved, the walls and ceiling are a set of old, dirty timbers, and the cooking utensils are poor quality. In addition, some of the volunteer mothers have to bring their small children and, given the reduced space, children are put in contact with all areas of the kitchen, thus being exposed to potential health and safety dangers.
MEDLIFE, through it’s network of chapters and students, is seeking to support Martha and all the volunteer mothers. Through fundraising events MEDLIFE is hoping to raise enough money to build a new cafeteria. Providing not only an improved dining room, the planned building would ensure protection against the strong summer sun and heavy rains of winter. It would provide an adequate and fitting space for the invaluable and high-quality work taking place, and would ensure the children who come with their mothers are not in any danger. We are confident that this goal will be met, but we need YOUR help to make it happen!