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We're very excited to welcome the brand new chapter at the University of Sydney to the MEDLIFE family! After completing a monthlong internship with MEDLIFE in Lima, Peru, USYD senior Anna Laming decided to spread the word on her campus. Thanks to Anna's hard work this semester, this young chapter now has an executive board in place, and is currently in the process of planning upcoming meetings, fundraisers and community service activities.
Student leaders at the University of Sydney said the new student group meets a growing area of interest on campus. "I knew I wanted to get more involved on campus, but I wanted to guide help to areas most in need," says chapter vice president Marco Leung. "MEDLIFE has mirrored my thoughts exactly. Not only does it have an established network that is growing very quickly at university campuses around the globe, but it also has a structured and friendly operations team to achieve its goals."
Students across Australia now have the chance to volunteer with MEDLIFE Mobile Clinics in South America, plus our future locations in India and Tanzania. For now, the Sydney chapter is focusing on raising awareness at their university and others in Australia in order to grow a national MEDLIFE network. We look forward to working with them!
Student leaders at UGA's MEDLIFE chapter have distinguished themselves with their dedication to community service, not only on their Mobile Clinic trips in South America, but at home in Athens, Georgia as well. This year, they successfully applied the MEDLIFE approach of listening to the community and responding to their needs to complete improvement projects at the Oasis Católico Santa Rafaela Hispanic Community Center.
They started by meeting with the community center's director, Sister Margarita, to determine what the most urgent needs of the center were, and how they could help. She showed them the rotting floors of the trailers where after-school tutoring programs are held, and gave them a prioritized list of projects she would like to see completed. In September 2012, the chapter's executive board applied for a Sustainable Service grant from Volunteer UGA, and were awarded $8,000 to replace floors and create a parking lot. They spent the next several months planning the project and gathering materials and volunteers.
In February, more than 40 volunteers, including undergraduate students, medical students, and a faculty member, worked in shifts throughout the weekend to re-floor and carpet two trailers. Chapter president Sarah Premji says the volunteers' reward was in seeing the finished project and hearing words of thanks from the many community members who stopped by. "The trailers had been developing holes in the floor, and you could see the ground in certain places," she told us. "With the completion of this project, Sister Margarita can rest assured that the children and tutors who participate in the after-school tutoring program will be in a safe, secure environment. There is no longer any danger of anyone falling through the rotting floor." At the end of March, the volunteers came together once again to build a gravel parking lot, to provide a safer place where volunteers can park and monthly food donations can be dropped off.
At a large school like UGA, getting this level of organization and participation in a student group can be a challenge. The UGA MEDLIFE chapter owes its success to a strong 6-person executive board, and an innovative approach. As the chapter grew, they found that member commitment dropped off; said Sarah, "meetings became less personal and members felt less comfortable talking to each other." So this year, they decided to split the chapter up into "family groups" which would foster open discussion and natural relationships within the chapter, and play to the strengths and interests of its individual members. Sarah reports that the new initiative has been a success: "In just one and a half semesters, MEDLIFE at UGA has seen increased member commitment and involvement," she says. The new structure gives all chapter members the opportunity to be leaders within the organization.
UGA has also brought us some of this year's best fundraisers, from the Run For (Your) Life Zombie 5K in the fall, to the upcoming Battle of the Bands happening this month. We can't wait to see what they come up with next!
North Oconee High School in Bogart, Georgia is now home to our first official high school chapter! They first got involved with MEDLIFE last fall, during the One Billion+ Tour, and continue to grow fast. Read the Q&A with chapter president Ivey Tanner to learn more about what they're up to:
How did you hear about MEDLIFE? Why did you decide to start a chapter?
A member of the UGA MEDLIFE chapter contacted our school counselors wondering if we were interested in a presentation being made at our school. Since I am a student council officer, that email was then forwarded to me. I discussed this with a few other student council members, and we decided we were definitely interested. Juan Vanegas then came and spoke at our school, and a group of us were moved by his presentation. From there 5 of my closest friends and fellow students as well as I made it our mission to start a chapter at NOHS.
Describe the process of starting your chapter and planning your meetings and activities.
First, we attended the presentation Juan made. After that, the 6 of us met and decided we wanted to approach our principal and get this idea approved. We then met with our principal who was just as excited as we were, and he gave us permission to begin the NOHS chapter. After that, we formed an executive board of 11 students, and we planned our first meeting. We had over 90 students attend the first meeting! At that meeting we presented some fundraising ideas we had already thought of and we opened up for new ideas. We are now in the process of planning a school wide beach volleyball tournament which will benefit MEDLIFE.
A Unique Celebration
Last week's staircase inauguration ceremony was one of our most exciting yet, as we celebrated the completion of five new staircases in the community of 8 de Diciembre with the usual speeches and champagne bottle-breaking -- plus some special surprises from the community. Three of the staircase projects were sponsored by student chapters from Stanford University, University of Chicago, Ohio State University, San Francisco State University, and University of Georgia, and built by the community. The other two projects were built during last week's Mobile Clinic, with the help of student volunteers from Florida State University, University of Miami, and George Washington University.
Thanks to the remarkable work ethic of community members, 8 de Diciembre now has six staircases, in just over one month. A relatively new community made up of young families, they have worked tirelessly to improve the humble, isolated settlement located near the top of a rocky hill. They are still struggling to get basics like roads, electricity and running water. Even delivering raw materials to build the staircases turned out to be tricky, as few drivers were willing to risk the steep, dusty path to 8 de Diciembre. But MEDLIFE and community members persisted, motivated by cases like 13-year old Thalia, who fell and broke her leg on her way to school a few months ago and has been afraid to walk down the hill ever since.
It was a festive atmosphere at the inauguration thanks to music provided by the municipal band of the district of Villa Maria de Triunfo. In keeping with the mischievous traditions of Carnaval time, local women dressed up our participants by smearing everyone's faces with talcum powder. But the real treat was the yunza, a unique Peruvian tradition where presents are tied to the branches of a large tree. In this celebration, usually observed during Carnaval in the highlands, everyone holds hands and dances around the tree. Eventually, the tree is cut down, bringing the gifts down with it.
Students and community members alike were in high spirits, though exhausted from the week's hard work. The day ended on an emotional note as the community expressed their thanks for the new staircases, and the students said goodbye to new friends. Group leader Marlesa was presented with a special present on behalf of the community: a handmade carving depicting the hills and houses of 8 de Diciembre.
Three Staircase Projects Complete, Thanks to Student Chapter Sponsorships
1. 8 de Diciembre II - Sponsored by UGA
UGA sponsored a staircase project for the community of 8 de Diciembre, where Ítala lives with her young son Greco. When she moved with her family to Lima, Ítala's community lacked basic infrastructure, electricity, and running water. Yet, little by little, residents are working toward several improvements.
"I'm very thankful," said Ítala on the day of the inauguration. She asked us to communicate to the group that even though she never met the students in person, she will always carry them in her heart. She hopes that some day some of the students will be able to come visit.
Stanford University and the University of Chicago teamed up to fund a staircase project for Soledad's family, as well as her fellow neighbors living in 8 de Diciembre.
"The stairs are a relief," says Soledad. "The truth is, I never thought they would be constructed so quickly; I always imagined it would take months or years. Maggie and I are truly grateful for this gift."
On March 18, 2013, members of the community inaugurated this staircase, breaking a bottle of champagne on behalf of volunteers from Stanford and University of Chicago.
Thanks to students at OSU and SFSU, Yoni is just one of the several beneficiaries of a new staircase project in 8 de Diciembre.
Yoni’s house is one of the highest on the hill, and the pathway leading to it is dangerous, especially when it rains. She has fallen several times as she carries Rodrigo on her back to retrieve water. In order to receive medical attention in case of an emergency, they have to travel to the only clinic in the area, located far from their home.
With their new stairs, Yoni and her neighbors can go down the rocky hill to get food and water without fear of falling. Thanks to the MEDLIFE chapters at OSU and SFSU for your support!
Melanie Askari started a MEDLIFE chapter at the University of Michigan just last year, and so far they've already completed successful fundraisers last semester, and their first Mobile Clinic in Lima last week! We spoke to chapter president Melanie about her experience with MEDLIFE and the secrets to her chapter's success:
Why did you decide to start a MEDLIFE chapter at your school?
I was in MEDLIFE at the University of Vermont before I transferred, and I had a great experience with it there and went on a Mobile Clinic to Ecuador. I really wanted to spread the MEDLIFE mission to U of M because we didn't have a chapter.
How did you go about starting the chapter?
First I picked an exec board, and pulled from people that I knew from different areas, different majors and different backgrounds. That was at the end of second semester last year, and we actually got going September of this year, when we became an official club through the university. We held mass meetings, trying to pull in as many people as we can, tell them about MEDLIFE, and get everyone involved.
What kind of events and activities has your chapter done so far?
We've been trying to do a lot of coordinated events with other groups on campus, so last semester we did a 5k run with a community service fraternity, and we've partnered with them on some other events this semester, just to bring in other people that want to volunteer and help out. This semester, we had a bowling fundraiser where part of the proceeds went to MEDLIFE, and it was good bonding for the group. Some people went that are on the trip now, so they got to meet each other before coming to Peru. We also had a silent auction at the bowling alley, and we do bake sales and tabling and stuff like that. This semester we're focusing more on awareness and education, and getting as many people on trips as possible. We're also planning to go on a trip to Ecuador in May.
What challenges did you face in getting the chapter off the ground?
Distinguishing ourselves from other global health groups was a little difficult at first, just because there's a ton of different groups and people think they do the same thing. But we've tried to market it to people of all majors, not just science backgrounds, people interested in community service, and getting that hands-on healthcare experience.
What advice would you give to other people trying to start chapters at their schools?
Basically, if you're excited about it, it spreads like a domino effect, and other people will be excited about it. Just being enthusiastic. If you've been on a trip it really helps because you can talk about that and people are always excited to go on trips, and then you come back from the trips and people want to get more involved on campus.
I would say reach out to as many different networks as possible, don't try to pull from all just one major, but get people from different backgrounds. And coordinate with other groups on campus, get the name out there, use their resources, and you will both benefit.
What are your impressions so far of Lima and the Mobile Clinic here?
Everything has been going great so far, people seem really excited. I know everyone was looking forward to this trip for a while. It's a very different experience for some people, maybe a third of our group doesn't speak any Spanish, so learning how to communicate in a city where you don't know the native language is always difficult. It's a beautiful place, it's different from anywhere I've ever been, and we're having a great trip so far.
What are you hoping to get out of the trip?
I'm hoping that with our group as a whole, everyone will come back and be really excited for fundraising more for the MEDLIFE fund, and doing all that we can to help out on campus.
For me, getting more experience talking to the patients and communicating about things in a real way, even with the language barrier, is a great experience. Just getting to know the local people.
The Spring 2013 Mobile Clinic season kicked off yesterday with a Mobile Clinic in Villa El Salvador, Lima, Peru, staffed by enthusiastic volunteers from schools including University of Michigan, University of Florida, and Dominican University. Check out some photo highlights below, and stay tuned for more updates from the clinics happening this week in Lima and Esmeraldas, Ecuador!
Ashley attended a Mobile Clinic in Lima, Peru last month, and raised $2,345 through the 50:50 Campaign -- enough to cover her Mobile Clinic expenses AND sponsor a community development project! Learn more about how she did it in the interview below:
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm a junior at the University of Delaware majoring in neuroscience and psychology.
How did you hear about MEDLIFE?
There's a chapter on my campus; I also heard about it from friends who had gone and recommended it to me.
What made you decide to do the 50:50 Campaign?
The trip was expensive, between the flight and the trip fee. I have a lot of friends and family that want to participate and help me with my goal of becoming a doctor, so I thought it would be a good way for me to get to come here, and for them to be involved.
How did you do it?
I wrote a little information on the campaign page, and basically sent it to everyone I knew. Slowly, people started sending me money and sending me emails saying "Congratulations, this is going to be a great trip and we just donated to your campaign." It was really nice to see how many people wanted to help me out.
What would you recommend to other people doing the 50:50 Campaign?
I would just send it to anyone you know. I sent emails to my family and friends, and put a link on my Facebook, and a lot of people clicked on it and donated through there. Some people might not be able to donate, but you may as well try, and even if they can't, I think that people would like to see what you're doing and read about MEDLIFE. It'lll just give everyone a little more information about the organization.
Now that you're here in Lima, what are your impressions so far?
It's good! I wasn't sure what to expect, but it's great so far. The people here are very nice, everyone's been really helpful.
What's been your favorite part of the Mobile Clinic?
I think the tour was my favorite part, because in the clinics you only see a small area, but in the tour you get to see so much and learn so much about the communities. It was really interesting when we saw the first MEDLIFE water project, and I was amazed that the money I raised could be enough to provide clean water for an entire community.
Post republished from the MEDLIFE McGill blog.
Today was our first day as a group working together. For some of us arriving into Ecuador at around 3:00 a.m. this morning, getting up to go on the bus seemed like a pretty strenuous task. However, our eyes were opened when we made our way to the rural town where we would participate in our first Mobile Clinic.
As we were split up in groups and set up our tents and specific areas, we couldn’t help but notice the beautiful agricultural landscape we were in. As time went by, small children with their parents started to arrive. At first, it was a bit surprising to see their faces. Most of the children had scars from heat and wind exposure, and their parents suffered from poor oral hygiene. It became evident how serious of a health problem dental hygiene was in this area, and it was up to us to help the children learn proper techniques to maintain good oral health, which they can apply in the future.
At first, it was a bit difficult to communicate with the children and elders – who spoke Spanish – when most of the MEDLIFE students could not. However, it became easier when we used simple phrases and using hand gestures to communicate tasks, to the children especially.
I think every member of MEDLIFE learned a great deal from both the children and the elders of the community today, who sacrifice a great deal to support their families through farming while also taking the time to come into the clinic for medical care.
The group that was involved in the development project also reinforced how important it was for the area to create working washrooms in order to promote better hygiene. Everyone working together and putting their efforts today went a long way. When they thanked us before leaving, we could only say thank you back; little did they know, their smiles from receiving proper treatments and toothbrushes was probably the highlight of our day and the best thanks we could have received. We can only hope that they will cherish the information we gave them in the future, and continue to work on developing the washroom in their community. Now we are off to explore more of Riobamba as a group. Ciao for now!
A third year at Ohio State University, Neha Nidhi likes a challenge. Despite a busy schedule balancing premed classes, a double major in Spanish and biology, and working as an RA, she decided to take on her own 50:50 campaign in order to spend her winter break in Lima, Peru volunteering on a Mobile Clinic. "It was a chance for me to see if I could do it on my own," she told us. In the end, she raised $1200, enough to cover almost her entire participation fee, and contribute towards a community development project.
"It was a long process," she says, "but I'm really proud of myself."
Our first Mobile Clinic of the season marked another first for MEDLIFE -- a clinic made up entirely of high school student volunteers! Over Thanksgiving week, 50 students and six parents from Dana Hills High School in Orange County, California joined us to volunteer in Lima. They may be young, but these students worked with endless enthusiasm and energy throughout their Mobile Clinic experience.
They didn't let the language barrier stop them; when they took a break from working, you could always find the Dana Hills students playing with local kids. They especially had fun at the toothbrushing station, where they bonded with small children and came up with a song and dance to remind them of proper dental hygiene. The parents got involved too, some even using their own medical expertise to exchange ideas with the Peruvian doctors and help out at the clinic.
The Dana Hills students and parents also got their hands dirty building staircases in the Villa Maria de Triunfo district. Throughout the week, they worked on one stair project in Virgen de Cocharcas, and on Sunday they teamed up with community members from Laderas Nueva Esperanza to plant 80 trees at four different staircases.
When they finished, it was time to celebrate! MEDLIFE volunteers were guests of honor at an inauguration ceremony marking the completion of the staircase projects, as well as electricity legally coming to the community for the first time. The mayor of the Villa Maria district, Silvia Barrera, stopped by to check out the Mobile Clinic and preside over the inauguration ceremony. This was a huge event for the community, which had previously gone unrecognized by the municipal government. They marked the occasion with a band, speeches, traditional dances and of course, breaking bottles of champagne. The parents got to do the honors, together with the mayor. After meeting at the inauguration, the mayor invited MEDLIFE staff to her office later that week, where she expressed her interest in working together on projects in the future.
Looking back on their experience as the week came to a close, many of the students agreed that they were most impacted by the unexpected moments of connection that they experienced working with community members. Since they returned to the US, both students and parents have been planning ways to support future MEDLIFE community development projects.
Thanks to Dana Hills High for an exciting start to what's sure to be another great Mobile Clinic season!
For more photos, check out the Facebook album.