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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.
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!