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MEDLIFE have been working in the community of Laderas for nearly five years now. As well as running educational workshops and mobile clinics in this community, we have also been heavily involved in constructing projects here. Over the past year, we have been working on a project to constuct five staircases in this community which is located on a steep hillside. We completed the majority of these staircases with the help of volunteers from our mobile clinics but the last staircase, which we finished last week, was left to staff and interns. Here are a few photos from the week:
We look forward to continuing to work with Laderas in the future and have already started making plans for potential future projects in this community!
Clinics in Esmeraldas were packed in March of 2016. We had worked closely with the Municipal Government to organize the clinics, and it had paid off. The government had spread the word for us, and had even organized a queue. When we arrived there were about fifty people already lined up.
After seeing dozens of patients with malnutrition, parasites, infections and chronic diseases, municipality officials told us there were some people who couldn't make it to clinic, but that we had to take the time to visit. For almost a year, the community had been pitching in to care for some kids whose parents had been orphaned by a tragic accident, and their current living situation wasn't sustainable. The community was doing all it could to support them, but in a subsistence farming community in Esmeraldas, where according to government statistics 78% of the population lives in poverty, there are not a lot of extra resources to go around.
We piled into a car and set off with a municipality official to go visit the kids. After a hot and bumpy ride we finally saw a wooden shack tucked into the forest on a cleared plot of land. It had been elevated several feet off of the ground with stakes stuck into the mud. The municipality encouraged everyone to build this way so that their homes were not destroyed during periodic floods. When we asked, the popular consensus was that it “sometimes” worked.
When the municipality called up to the house three kids shuffled down the steps to greet us. All five of them lived in this small 2-room shack with their grandfather. The eldest girl Letia, 15, succinctly explained their situation: “Our parents died. And we have nowhere else- to be.” What else was there to say?
The bed the 5 of them shared was on the right as we entered their home. Light split the large gaps between the wooden boards that made up the walls, illuminating a message scrawled in neat black lettering: “Dios es Amor,” or “God is Love.”
In April of 2015 their parents were riding a motorcycle back from a wake at the community church when their bike stalled; a truck rounded a curb and hit them. They flew off the bike and slammed into the pavement. Both of them were found dead.
The kids have been getting by with their grandfather, who works on an informal basis on other people's farms to support them. The work was inconsistent, and at his age (the kids were unsure how old he was but thought it was around 75) he couldn't do too much hard labour. The local government helped too, with school supplies and food. They even threw the eldest girl a quinceañera when she turned 15, just a few months after her parents died. The community coordinator told us the community was doing what they could, but they were coming up short.
For one, the kid's housing situation was inadequate. The house was not safe. The walls let lots of water through during rainstorms soaking the 5 children who got very cold despite being huddled together in a single bed. When the wind howled, the home shook “like a hammock.”
The family was barely maintaining this dismal standard of living with the support of the community. Municipal officials lamented that although their grandfather and the community were doing their best to support the kids, it could not continue indefinitely.
As we left that visit, MEDLIFE Ecuador Director Martha Chicaiza told everyone present that we needed to fundraise so we could do a project for these kids. For her, it was a moral imperative.
A powerful earthquake devastated the Ecuadorian coast just weeks after our visit. The house that shook like a hammock in the wind collapsed entiredly during the powerful tremors. Thankfully, the kids were unharmed. But now, there is even less government support available and the need for outside support is even greater. The five kids and their grandfather have moved in with their aunt into another even smaller space.
We are fundraising to build the Bravo kids a home on their grandfather's land. Help MEDLIFE give them a place to be.
There is a custom in Peru to keep a human skull in the home as a way of protecting the family and warding off evil. On Wednesday 28th September, MEDLIFE patient Delia Martín brought out the skull which had been protecting her home and presented it to a group of MEDLIFE staff and interns. She told us that she wanted us to take it as she felt she had reached a stage where she no longer needed the protection.
Delia has been suffering from Caroli syndrome since she was a young girl. This is a rare congenital disorder of the intrahepatic bile ducts that can lead to high blood pressure and, in severe cases, liver failure. Delia is a mother of five and her symptoms have left her unable to hold down a stable job. Her husband works long hours running a workshop from the house. However, this means Delia is left to care for the children alone and has no way to get money in to support her family.
Over the past few years, MEDLIFE have been supporting Delia though her treatment and helping to make sure she has access to all the medication she needs. Recently, the MED Programs department started a project to fundraise to bring a sandwich cart to Delia to help her to have a more stable employment. Thanks to the money raised by North Oconee High School we were able to go to Delia's house to deliver the cart on Wednesday 28th September.
A group of MEDLIFE staff and interns got in a truck with the cart decorated in balloons and drove it up to Delia's house. Delia was so grateful for the cart and explained to us how it felt. “First (MEDLIFE nurse) Ruth arrived telling me to come outside, saying ‘we have a surprise for you'. So I went outside and suddenly out in the street I saw the car with everyone in it and the sandwich cart. In that moment I was so excited, I don't know how to describe it. It was a very strong feeling.”
Delia welcomed us all into her house and started using her new cart immediately. We were lucky enough to be her first ever customers, receiving delicious hamburgers stuffed with lettuce, cheese and chips! Before we all left, Delia addressed us as a group, she said “I don't know how to thank you all for what you have done for me. I want to thank everyone from the NGO MEDLIFE from the bottom of my heart for helping me through every stage of my illness. I have no other words except that I am so grateful to everyone that has helped me and I hope that you all continue to help people like me.”
MEDLIFE was introduced to the community of Union Santa Fe in 2012 by the leader of a neighboring community, located in the heart of Pamplona Alta, one of the most impoverished areas of Lima. Union Santa Fe may not have any public spaces, road, electricity nor water access, but they did have one very important thing, the desire to work together to move forward as a community. As soon as Director of Projects Carlos Benavides saw this, he immediately began working with them on a staircase in 2012.
“Before having the staircases, pregnant women, the elderly and children of the community struggled to walk up the dusty hill which became especially dangerous in the rain,” Casani said, a Union Santa Fe community leader. This first project was the beginning of a close and productive relationship between MEDLIFE and Union Santa Fe.
Four years later in September of 2016, we have completed 15 projects with them, and brought two Mobile Clinics and two educational workshops to the community. We are currently planning a project that the community has long needed; road access to the community.
The road will take these sections of road and pathway, turn them into driveable roads, and connect them to another road that leads to the bottom of the hills.
The new road will be connected to the road seen in the bottom of this photo, and allow easy access to main roads nearby.
The benefits of a road go far beyond the obvious; the ability to drive or take public transit to your home. Many of the shanty towns like Union Santa Fe are not recognized as legitimate communities by the local government, and are thus cut out of access to public utilies. If the community is accessible by road, then Luz Sur, the public utility that provides electricity in that area of Lima, will be obligated to install electricity as well as public lighting in the streets of the community. This will also make the electricity in their homes cheaper. Sedepal, another public utility, will also obligated to install a drainage system that will drain excell water runoff and can be used to install plumbing.
In this part of Lima, many communities get their water from privatized water trucks that drive around and sell water. With the new road, the trucks will drive into Union Santa Fe up in the hills, and residents will no longer have to walk down the hill and climb back up with heavy jugs of water.
Like many of Lima's informal shantytowns, getting and keeping land titles has been extremely difficult for Union Santa Fe. “15 years ago everything was just dirt paths, a few houses and the pig farm,” Carlos said. “The people here built all of this in fainas (community work days.)” As urban areas became increasingly crowded, the people who now live in Union Santa Fe and other settlements like it throughout Lima, decided to climb the hills and stake out a plot of land to build a home of their own on.
However just because someone built a home doesn't mean they own the land its on. Entire communities sprang up on land for which they lacked land titles. There was a legal process to aquire land titles, but for that the community needed infrastructure.
The staircases had helped move Union Santa Fe closer to their goal of getting land titles, but it wasn't enough. When Casani, a community leader in Pamplona Alta, asked MEDLIFE founder and CEO Nick Ellis for a road, Ellis quickly agreed because the community signed a document promising to finish construction by the end of the month and because of the dedication and commitment he had seen from Casani and the whole community in the past.
Once the road is constructed community of Union Santa Fe will have land titles, access to electricity, plumbing, and easy access to their homes. Perhaps most importantly, all future projects will be much cheaper and easier to complete because construction materials and equipment can be easily transported to the construction site by motorized vehicles.
Casani and the people of Union Santa Fe were very grateful, “ [MEDLIFE] is the only organization that we have encountered that consistently brings rapid and immediate social help,” said Casani.
On Friday 9th September, we held our first PAP smear educational workshop. MEDLIFE has been carrying out PAP smears to test for cervical cancer since some of our earliest clinics. However, recently our nurses have noticed that many women have not been benefiting from these results as they have never been educated on how to read them correctly. Women who were being given normal results were worrying that they had cancer as they didn't know what a positive or a negative smear looked like on paper.
Therefore, the MEDLIFE nurses have been collaborating with obstetrician Zaida Lara to design a workshop that goes hand in hand with giving out the results of the tests. The first of these workshops took place in the community of Kawashi, Villa María del Triunfo where Zaida, along with MEDLIFE nurses Ruth and Carmen, talked the women present through reading their results. Zaida explained to the group what a positive result would look like compared to a negative result and what the different types of abnormality could be. For example, she explained how a result that showed up as being ‘abnormal' could be anything from a yeast infection to an early onset cancer.
The woman who attended the workshop were clearly pleased to hear this news; “as soon as I opened my result I began panicking, having someone to talk through it with me and explain every step made it that much easier,” one woman told us. The workshop also meant that the women were able to talk to the nurses about their individual results and what the next steps would be. For the first time, they were able to act immediately if there was something wrong with their results and know the exact course of action to take. Furthermore, it allowed us to quickly and efficiently get the patients who need more help into our follow up program.
So far, MEDLIFE has treated hundreds of patients who have been diagnosed with abnormal PAP results and helped with 20 cancer diagnosis'. Hopefully, with this new way of delivering information, we will be able to help even more patients to get the treatment they need.