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Mauricio Parra is a 22-year-old Colombian native who recently came down to do a summer internship for MEDLIFE in Lima, Peru. Here he writes about his first two weeks on the job:
Stepping outside of the Jorge Chavez International airport, I was instantly welcomed with an array of white and red flags. Coming to Lima as a summer intern for only six weeks, I knew that my time here was going to be slightly limited. Nonetheless, I haven't let it bring me down one bit. By keeping a positive outlook, taking things slowly, and focusing on forming meaningful life experiences, I am determined to do as much as I can to help take MEDLIFE to the next level.
During this past week and a half of exploring the beautiful city of Lima, I have seen first-hand why it is knownfor being full of life with its amazing history and strong cultural heritage. However, not too far from the striking heart of Lima lies a different, intriguing story that often goes unmentioned and ignored. Directly across the window of my room, I can see in the distance the sandy, desolate hills of urbanized slums known as Pamplona. It is the first thing I see when I wake up to go to work, and the last thing when I am collecting my thoughts to go to bed, so consequently, I have found myself wondering what deeper story is behind all of this.
My first trip to Pamplona was with Carlos, Director of MEDLIFE Peru, and Tim, a visiting architectural student. Carlos and Tim showed me around Pamplona, especially the parts of the community where MEDLIFE is planning to construct community development projects. I already had a previous idea of the staircase projects that MEDLIFE provides and I understood the notion behind them, but I was instantly caught off guard by the abundance of stairs MEDLIFE has actually built. Moreover, understanding how they can be useful based off a picture, and physically experiencing why they are needed, are two entirely different things. It wasn't until I had to walk up and down the steep and dangerous hillsides, admittedly almost falling several times, that I truly grasped how vital a simple set of stairs really are. Frankly, I feel like I have been taking them for granted my whole life.
My first welcoming from the people of the community came with bright smiles, firm handshakes and soft hugs, and was followed by a glass of the delicious Peruvian soda, Inca Kola. Even after having visited other impoverished parts of the world, it still continues to amaze me how the people who have the least always end up being the most generous.
My most recent visit to Pamplona was to do a patient follow-up visit and to present a nutrition education workshop with Carolyn, another MEDLIFE summer intern, as well as several other staff members. Having already done it in the past, Carolyn felt calm and collected regarding all of our material as well as what to expect. I, on the other hand, spent all morning analyzing every last bit of information and anxiously waiting for the time to head out.
When the time finally came to give our presentation, walking in to the packed room took me completely by surprise. Aside from making it slightly more intimidating, it managed to show me the genuine desire of the locals to come out and learn more; something that I rarely see back home in the US. The doctors spoke about important health-related problems specific to Peru, such as obesity, breast cancer and cervical cancer, and the women seemed very receptive to everything they heard. Soon after, it was my turn. I took a small sip of water, looked up at the audience, and presented everything that I had been reviewing over and over. As it turned out, the presentation went much better than I expected! Looking back, it was silly of me to have been worried at to begin with. I was able to get several laughs out of the audience, and whenever we asked a question, there were always several community members willing to respond. Afterwards, Carolyn and I helped weigh and measure everyone to get their BMI number and give them an idea of how healthy they are. Speaking with the various Peruvian women, I found that our difference in cultures was no barrier to our ability to connect and laugh together. They all kept a cheerful, optimistic spirit while joking around about running up and down the stairs each morning to shed a few pounds. Each and every one thanked me for coming out, and welcomed me to come again for more presentations. It is safe to say that the workshop was a success.
Overall, while my time here in Lima has been somewhat brief, I already feel like I have learned a lot about what MEDLIFE does between Mobile Clinics, and what it takes to be an intern. I am still very curious to learn more about the Peruvian culture, try different foods, meet more people, and visit new places, but most importantly, I am very excited to see what else I can accomplish in the next month. I have realized that the more informed I become and the more passionate I grow, the more hopeful I am that before I leave, I will able to look out and across my bedroom window and feel proud knowing that I have made a difference.
It seems like only yesterday my plane landed at the Jorge Chavez Airport here in Lima but time has been flying by -- I can’t believe it’s been five weeks already!
Returning to Lima after a year of being away at college was more cathartic than anything. I never thought I would miss the hectic traffic jams or the smell of car exhaust. Yet, driving down the highway from Callao with the flashing lights of the casinos surrounded by the colorfully painted combis, I felt like I was back home.
Although Lima wasn’t new to me, working with MEDLIFE was. After a few days of getting acquainted with the office and the staff we started in on three straight weeks of Mobile Clinics -- a tiring, yet very rewarding experience. The Mobile Clinics here in Lima consist of three parts: the clinic itself staffed by local doctors; the stair project; and the tour.
My favorite part of the Mobile Clinic experience has been the tour -- a three- to four-hour hike through Pamplona Alta, an urban slum in Lima where MEDLIFE started its work in Peru. On the tour we visit a police station, schools, and patient homes. Students not only interact with the local community but also get a chance to talk with the patients about their experiences with MEDLIFE. They are also exposed to the challenges residents' face every day just because of where they live. They see what it’s like to live in communities that lack water, electricity, sewage, and proper infrastructure and really begin to grasp the severity and depth of the poverty in Lima.
After the Mobile Clinics came time for office work and patient follow-up. I was really excited about the patient follow-up process because being able to see a patient from the diagnosis through the end of the treatment is what I feel really sets apart the intern experience from the volunteer experience. Like the tour, the follow-up visits are an eye opening experience to the obstacles facing these impoverished communities. Although dealing with the Peruvian public health system was less glamorous than I had thought (and I hadn’t thought it would be all that glamorous to begin with), it is very interesting to see what a patient is up against. However chaotic and frustrating, I do really enjoy the patient follow-up visits. Getting to know the patients and their stories is, in the end, what I want to take away from this internship.
I’m also excited to start work on our nutrition project, but more about that in the weeks to come….