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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.
We recently wrote to you here about the artistic addition to a new staircase project in Buena Vista contributed by a community member, Ernesto. Last week, we were back to build another staircase nearby, but this time, we brought more paint! Ernesto created a brand-new mural depicting community life, and added some color to the previous week's painting. Check out the finished product below:
From a distance, this MEDLIFE staircase high in the hills of Pamplona looks much like all the others. But take a closer look and you'll see this one has something special: a mural depicting the construction process, the original artwork of one of the community members who spent the week building the stairs.
Ernesto Liendo, 25, an art student who has been living in Buena Vista for just less than a year, says he was glad to contribute to the project, which he sees as an important step in the advancement of his community. "I wanted to represent the process, the hard work and the spirit of solidarity that we experienced this week," he told us.
Indeed, the team spirit of this week's group was undeniable. Ernesto, along with many of his neighbors, worked hard in the weeks before the project to get this staircase finished in record time. During breaks in the construction process, he sketched out a design, using the student volunteers as models, and once the staircase was complete on Friday morning, he painted the life-size figures onto the retaining wall of the staircase, above the MEDLIFE logo. When the student volunteers arrived to inaugurate the staircase on Friday afternoon, they were thrilled to see the painting immortalizing their experience this week. After much cheering and prodding, they managed to convince Ernesto to say a few words, and he proved to be a natural politician, reminding everyone of the need to continue fighting to improve their living conditions.
For Ernesto, who came to Lima to follow his dream of going to art school, the drive to create art and the struggle to overcome poverty come together naturally. "Art accuses, art is an expression of the people that generates consciousness, creates a change in ideas and in structures," he says. In a single conversation, he goes from talking about Picasso's Guernica, to the contemporary art scene, to Peruvian public policy. He sometimes struggled in art school, he says, because he preferred to depict the realities of living in poverty rather than the more conceptual or abstract work favored by his professors.
Ernesto studied at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Lima, a prestigious institute that attracts talent from all over the country, and says that his time there gave him valuable studio experience and the chance to share ideas with artists from other parts of Peru. Unfortunately, he had to leave school before he finished his degree, because he could no longer afford tuition and rent in Lima. That's why he moved to Buena Vista, where he says, the rocky land is nearly uninhabitable, but at least it's his. "What I spent there I could invest here and keep for myself, to be able to make my own studio," he says. "Right now I just have my whole life in a tiny room with no electricity. But I have this vision."
"I think one always dreams of a better world," he continues. "But you also dream by doing. Just look at this staircase." Before, it took half the day to walk up to his tiny home, and now he says, he runs up and down the stairs. "It gives me a lot of joy because it's something the people have done," he says. "And well-being is achieved little by little, with small steps." For him, the staircase represents more than a path to reach his home; it's another battle won in the people's fight for a decent standard of living. Neighbors stop by now as they pass the stairs to marvel at the change it makes in the landscape. Ernesto says it gives them hope that if they organize and unite, they too can make a difference in their communities.
Jose, the president of the community, thanked student volunteers and told them that they were welcome to come back to Buena Vista any time. The staircase was inaugurated with festive dances and snacks from the various regions of Peru represented in Buena Vista. Community members and student volunteers alike cried when it was time to say goodbye. As for Ernesto, we haven't seen the last of him; he and his neighbors are already laying the groundwork for the next set of stairs, as well as a new community meeting space.
Written by Rosali Vela and translated by Rachel Goldberg
This week, MEDLIFE student volunteers are helping out with the construction of an auditorium at an orphanage in Cusco, Peru. Learn more about the girls benefiting from this project in the blog post below, written by Rosali Vela and translated by Rachel Goldberg.
Jessica has a shy smile, but when she starts talking no one can stop her. Living in the San Judas girls' home wasn't easy at first, especially when her mother left her there at the age of 9 in the care of the nuns that governed the institution at the time. It was hard to find a moment alone there, even in the bathroom, which is shared with more than 20 other girls. But in spite of it all, she says now she's never been happier.
Jessica looks at me doubtfully when I ask her if she is able or willing to tell me the reason why she lives in the orphanage. "My mom left me here because she couldn't take care of me, and her partner- her partner didn't want me," she tells me, her eyes misting. "I'm fine here, the mamis take care of us, they teach us to take care of ourselves, and especially to protect ourselves." The "mamis" are what the girls call the women who run the orphanage.
When I asked her what the girls needed protection from, she looked at me like the answer was obvious. "To protect us from people who want to hurt us," she says.
At 15 years old, Jessica is one of the oldest girls in the home. Her dream is to finish high school. Now she studies cosmetology in a government-subsidized institute and takes high school classes at night. "I want to be a lawyer," she tells me when I ask about her plans, and then she seems lost in thought for a moment, as if reflecting on what she wants to tell me. Finally, she adds, "I have two younger sisters who live with my mom and with him." She doesn't need to say more.
Like Jessica, almost all of the girls in the home were rescued from violent homes, where relatives abused them or abandoned them to seek a better future elsewhere. But not all of the cases are the same.
"Take my photo," says one small girl in the accent that is particular to the Cusco region of Peru. "I'm going to be famous," she says confidently. "I already have a band, and I'm the singer." Johana, 9, has lived in the San Judas home since 2012 with her younger sister. Their mother couldn't afford to take care of them after her husband left her for another woman, and couldn't find help in her small community. Now she is working in a market in Puno. She visits her daughters every other Sunday without fail.
The orphanage is currently administered by the government of Cusco, with Señora Maruja in charge of running the day-to-day operations. "We're always looking for support for the girls," she tells me. "Our dream has always been to have a big auditorium where the girls could exercise, visit with their parents on the weekends, or have classes and performances." Maruja is a strong woman who seems full of energy, and disposed to do everything she can for her girls. "We may be poor," she says, "but if I've learned anything, it's that the most valuable thing isn't money, but education and love."
One curious thing that caught my eye was the Barbie doll carefully placed in a glass case in a living room. With her long hair and pink dress, she seems to watch over the place from her perch high up on the top of a dresser. Rosacarmen finally gave me the answer to what I had been wondering. "The mamis put her there to remind us that we are all ladies," she told me. It seemed to me an apt analogy; these girls are all princesses.