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Earlier this year, we visited community 15 A-1 in Villa María del Triunfo and met Nelly, a community member who fell down a steep hillside while she was pregnant with her now 2-year-old son, Christian. After hearing her story, we knew we had to do something to help this community.
Thanks to the sponsorship of the University of Puerto Rico -- Río Piedras (UPR-RP), we’ve now begun construction to build a staircase in this community that will prevent future falling!
Over the past few days, our year-long interns have made several visits to 15 A-1 in order to work with community members to construct the staircase. They’ve worked hard digging, mixing cement, and hauling bags of sand -- all while getting to know community members.
“Not only has it been incredibly rewarding to know your exhaustion at the end of the day is helping build the staircase more quickly, it has been so great to chat with the community members as we work,” said year-long intern Jennifer Clay. “I have learned a lot about some people who live there, and it is so fun to practice Spanish and laugh through the language barrier.”
For the folks at UPR-RP, it is rewarding for them to see that their sponsorship is actually coming to life.
“We are very grateful to be able to help this community and give Nelly and Christian some stairs,” they said.
Though the chapter did not have a large collection of money to give, they still wanted to help out a community in South America. Through a series of bake sales, movie nights, and other similar fundraising events, the chapter was able to raise enough money to sponsor this staircase. Although UPR-RPhas sent volunteers to Lima, Tena and Cusco, they have yet to visit this particular community of 15 A-1, and hope to visit one day soon once the staircase project is complete.
“We hope to be able to see the smiles of joy on the community members’ faces once they have these staircases,” the chapter said.
The project is slated to be completed next week. Thanks to everyone for all of your support!
As a summer intern for MEDLIFE, I've had the opportunity to participate in development projects on each of the 3 clinics I have worked on: two staircase projects in the Buena Vista community of Pamplona Alta in Lima, and MEDLIFE's 100th project in Ecuador, a daycare center bathroom. Coming into this internship as a student interested in studying medicine, I did not anticipate that I would enjoy the development work as much as I do. However, at each project I was struck by the positive attitudes of the community members we worked with and how welcoming they were to all our volunteers. Even though we usually proved to be much less competent builders than they were -Mixing cement by hand? Not as easy as it looks!- the community members treated us like family and were so grateful for our help. Project days have become one of my favorite parts of the clinic week, so I was very excited for our intern development work.
Tim Zeitler, currently studying for his MA in architecture at Harvard, came to Lima last summer to help MEDLIFE out with our growing community development program, which aims to treat the root causes of disease by improving infrastructure. Here in Peru, he's put that academic training to good use, surveying future project sites with MEDLIFE and making plans for a variety of important public spaces. Last summer, he created the architectural layout for the now under-construction Wawa Wasi daycare project. Now he's back, working on some exciting new projects, including a ramp for Dixon. Find out more about Tim and his work:
What was your first experience here like? Was there anything in particular that surprised you?
My first experience with MEDLIFE was during a week of mobile clinics. I had more interest in the ongoing development project that week which was the construction of a concrete staircase in one of the communities. To make the staircase possible in a place beyond where any vehicle could travel, it was necessary to lift the sand, water, and cement uphill, one bucketful at a time. This was tremendously hard work, and yet it was accomplished so joyfully by the community members.
One thing that surprised me was the extent to which the communities were self-organized. For their days of community service, they made sure that every family had a representative there to share in the work that would ultimately benefit the community as a whole.
Why are you back?
I am back here in Lima because there is much more yet to do. As a designer, I see so many opportunities to work with the communities that MEDLIFE serves. The projects I am involved in are wide-ranging in scale and complexity, and each one teaches me so much about architecture and construction. The practical construction experience is something that will always draw me into projects like this. It has complemented my education at Harvard in a way that is essential for my development as an architect.
What projects are you working on this summer here? How are they progressing so far?
My colleague Parisa and I are working on the design of an extensive ramp and community space in Nueva Esperanza, a community in Villa Maria del Triunfo. The project is unique in that it involves the opportunity to create a shared community asset in an unbuilt portion of the existing densely packed residential community. There exists a great opportunity for the community to rally around the new circulation path and green space. We have an upcoming meeting to present our design and discuss it with the community next week. We will get to see how it is received and what the community has to say about how we've worked within the constraints of the site.
How is being an architect here different from in the US? What are the challenges in working here from your perspective as an architect?
Being an architect here seems to be very similar to the US. Parisa and I have been meeting with and networking with as many local architects here as we can. Their firms seem to function similarly to firms in the US. The constraints that architects operate under are somewhat universal. In the US and in Peru, we are seek to incrementally improve the safety, functionality, and beauty of the built environment through the implementation of building codes, local construction best practices, and by working with project stakeholders to design and program meaningful projects.
For me, the challenges of working in Peru have revolved around climate and materials. I tend to approach an architectural project by first designing for climate and by immersing myself in the material possibilities of a project throughout the schematic design phase. The climate of Lima is so different from New England, and so the constraints of designing for climate are completely different. For an architect, these new constraints can be disorienting, but at the same time the loss of certain constraints that dominate architectural practice in the US can be quite liberating.
What has been your favorite part of traveling to Peru?
Peru is a very beautiful country in many different ways. My wife and I took a short vacation out to Cuzco and Arequipa last summer. We got to see the majestic Colca Canyon and Machu Picchu. Part of Peru's richness manifests itself through its historical and cultural layering. I particularly love to bear witness to this layering when it plays out in the realm of architecture.
Last week, MEDLIFE inaugurated our 100th community development project: a sanitary restroom for a preschool in San Sebastian de Wayrayaku, Muyuna, Tena, Ecuador. The school is a Centro Infantil de Buen Vivir (CIBV), part of a national program aiming to improve conditions in the country by caring for children under the age of 5 living in extreme poverty. At centers like this one, located mostly in poor rural regions, children are provided with meals, recreation and full-day care from teachers trained in child development.
In communities where many parents are working during the day or have emigrated to cities in search of better opportunities, many families are unable to afford the nutrition and sanitation young children need, and these new centers provide a vital service. Unfortunately, many don't yet have the necessary resources and infrastructure.
Together with local authorities, MEDLIFE selected the center in San Sebastian de Wayrayaku, which means "wind of the water," as the site for our 100th project. The existing toilet was not enough for 42 children ages 1-5 and the four teachers in the center. MEDLIFE volunteers and community members constructed a new bathroom with two toilets, a urinal, sink and shower so that the children could wash if they need to. The parents worked through the night to get the project done so as not to miss work during the day.
On Friday, the completed bathroom was inaugurated with representatives of the provincial government, parents, teachers and MEDLIFE volunteers. The children and teachers sang and danced to traditional music from the region, and shared their customs with the student volunteers.
"It feels great to have completed project 100. It shows us that we can really help, we can make dreams come true, we can make hundreds of people happier and that we have to continue fighting for them," said MEDLIFE Director of Ecuador Martha Chicaiza. "Every project, no matter how small, matters because it helps someone who really needs it."
The MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic was back in Cusco last week, and in addition to providing medical care to rural communities, volunteers all lent a hand to a community development project there. This week, that meant continuing the work of a previous MEDLIFE group, which had built the foundation for a brand new auditorium at the San Judas Chico girls' home.
The enthusiastic volunteers made up a diverse group of students and grads, including a large group from the UC Davis MEDLIFE chapter. They worked hard all week, digging, mixing and pouring cement to finish the five columns that the structure needed. They also created a small vegetable garden nearby, and planted the first seeds.
When they weren't busy working, the volunteers got to know the girls who live at the orphanage. With the girls practicing their braiding techniques, the volunteers arrived at the hotel each day with a new hairstyle. The young residents of the home, big fans of K-pop, were especially excited to find out that one volunteer, Justin, was Korean, and insisted on getting his autograph and photos.
At the end of the week, it was time to celebrate the completion of their hard work. Volunteers broke a bottle of champagne, and the girls got together to show their thanks with a special singing performance. Then it was time to say an emotional goodbye, with the girls asking when we would be back to see them.
The next Cusco clinic group, in August, will be helping to construct a roof for the auditorium.
For more photos, check out the Facebook album.