February 13, 2018 2:44 pm

The First of Many

Written by Chris Cutrali

I can hardly remember my walk out of the airport in Lima, Peru just after our landing.  I needed to find someone in a Medlife shirt, and follow them.  Simple.  The last thing I'd expect was continuing to follow Medlife after I'd gotten home.  On behalf of my great experience with the organization, I'm proud to share how it changed my life.

My first impression of Lima was given to me through a bus window at 2am.  I watched the streets transform between the airport and the heart of Miraflores, the coast of Peru's capital.  After bunking with four others, sleeping through a rooster's wake-up call, and showering in my socks, I made it to breakfast the next morning with three hours of sleep under my belt.  The food was plain, and the awkwardness was obvious.  However, before long we were playing cards with one another, and later traveling amongst friends to tour the city.

IMG 9578Chris on location in Lima

The next day I went with my group leaders through a Reality Tour, a pivotal moment in understanding our purpose in Lima.  We packed into the buses outside our hostel early in the morning, eager to see what awaited us.  What came next surprised us all.  The terrain completely changed as we drove up the mountains on Lima's outskirts.  The air became thinner, the sun grew hotter, and the ground was dryer.  It felt as though we were breathing dust as we kicked through rocks and trash to scale the mountain.  

My leader Rafa and I were stopped by a middle aged woman in one of the communities we passed through.  She asked for our help – something so simple – to lift a bucket of water.  It was clear that the object was too heavy for her, so we didn't hesitate to grab the handles.  Walking through the hole that posed as her front door made the gravity of the situation crash down on my shoulders.  The house was all but one room, barely fitting a burner, a sink, a table, cabinets, and an inch of dust on the floor.  It felt good to help someone, no matter how long my assistance was needed.  Yet, for some reason I wasn't satisfied.  I realized what made this place different was that my help wasn't just appreciated, but it was remembered.  The kind woman turned on the burner to begin boiling the water, cleansing it from whatever germs temperature could kill.  After what felt like an hour, I left the small home with Rafa, and joined my group which had gathered on the edge of the hill.

Sarah debriefed us on the week's mission - our responsibility here - and answered the limitless questions we had about their lifestyle.  She explained the self-built houses, the lack of purified water and garbage disposal, among many other difficulties.  What stood out to me most was a lottery process used for giving the poor  medical attention.  Only the first patients to arrive to the clinic and line up are given the help they needed, and for the rest – they had come back the next day or make do without medical services.  Those who did get attention still had to find a way to support themselves with extremely limited resources.  However, no matter what trials the communities faced, they continued to work toward a better standard of living.  Even though I arrived without many expectations, I never would've imagined that these people, who have so little, could be so cheerful and welcoming.  We weren't volunteering our time to make a change for them, but rather to make a change with them.  What we accomplished down there wouldn't have been possible without the communities' willingness and perseverance to help themselves.  

I started participating in the mobile clinics Tuesday, and stopped Friday with the exception of one “project day,” in which we built a staircase.  However, the work will never truly be finished.  Throughout the week I stood alongside Doctors, Dentists, amongst other health professionals and was introduced to their role in Medlife.  The stations that required volunteers were as followed: Triage, Toothbrushing, OB, Dental, Doctor, Education, and Pharmacy.  My job changed throughout the week but I was able to experience Triage, Toothbrushing, Dental, Education, and Doctor.  Every role offered at the health clinics is vital to the process.  Our goal being; to help all members of the community as efficiently as possible.  The day ended once everyone in line had gotten the attention they needed.

IMG 9368 2Doctor Station, Mobile Clinic

Working triage consisted of recording blood pressure, height, weight, and temperature.  When at toothbrushing, we taught children how to brush their teeth and we applied fluoride for them afterwards.  The Dental station called for managing the equipment for the Dentist and giving the patient water when needed.  For education, we handed out information pamphlets about specific concepts in health and medicine.  When working with the Doctor, we helped him communicate with patients and examined them so that we can appropriately prescribe their medication. Working in the clinics opened my eyes.  So many people were dealing with inevitable health problems, most of which they had no control over (such as problems caused by environmental factors).

At the end of my last day on clinic, I remember overlooking Peru's capital, wondering how many others will settle in the communities on the mountains.  Or how many more people will face similar difficulties.  As Medlife grows, we are given the chance to offer our services in different areas.  But without the willingness of communities, we'd hardly be scratching the surface.  My experience in Peru gave me the confidence that I can truly make a difference.  I have no plan to stop my involvement with Medlife, and excitedly await my return to Lima. 

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January 16, 2018 3:05 pm

MEET THE PATIENT: GERALDINE FLORES

Written by Rosali Vela

It was Geraldine's aunt who first reached out to MEDLIFE. Her niece was still struggling with a rectal prolapse she had endured from the young age of three months old. Upon discovering Geraldine was now hospitalized from the worsening condition, she began to seek help

Geraldine was living with her mother in Piura at the time, approximately 717 miles away from Peru's capital of Lima. Meanwhile her aunt was desperately searching for a way to bring her sister and niece to Lima, where doctors specializing in gastroenterology would be able to provide quality treatment. The aunt found Carlos Benavides, MEDLIFE's director of MED Programs in Lima, and urgently arrived to his doorstep. She explained what brought her to his home and Carlos reassured her that he would do everything he could to help improve Geraldine's circumstances.

Carlos and the MED Programs team got Geraldine a tomography to verify she needed treatment in Lima and assisted with her transfer from Piura. At two years old, Geraldine is currently too young to undergo the surgery and instead, has been completing an alternative treatment for the past three months, which could potentially take up to three years. MEDLIFE is currently assisting Geraldine and her family with the medicine; thankfully she is showing great signs of improvement.

Thanks to our MED Programs team and the continued support from Chapters and donors across the world, MEDLIFE is able to assist those that would otherwise lack access to vital services in health care, education and development.

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IMG 6126Geraldine with her mother.

Last week, our first group of MEDLIFE volunteers for the winter season helped to host a Chocolatada at the community of Secsencalla, located in the district of Andahuaylillas outside of Cusco. Before the event, the volunteers had been leading a Healthy Homes project in the community to improve 4 homes of families with children at risk of malnutrition. 

A Chocolatada is a traditional Christmas celebration in Peru but dates all the way back to the Spanish conquests of the Americas when the conquistadors spread their method of preparing hot chocolate throughout their expansion. Hot Chocolate later became a staple at Christmas time, and thus a tradition was born. 

The modern Chocolatada celebration has its roots in charity, however - as Christmas approaches, private businesses, organizations, or even individual groups of friends will use their resources to organize a Chocolatada event to benefit rural, impoverished communities.  Children from all corners of the community descend upon the Chocolatada, eager to receive the typical cup of hot chocolate, traditional Peruvian panettone (sweet) bread, and a small present. 

Last week, 91 children also received a present donated by the mobile clinic volunteers and from the travel agency Good Life Expeditions, who also sponsored the celebration. It was an amazing evening where children were able to break 3 piñatas, share a delicious meal with the volunteers, and also meet Santa Claus!

This is the second year we are able to hold a Chocolatada in Peru and we hope to continue doing it in the following years! 

Check out the photo blog below to find out more!

IMG 2120Children from the community shared a dance together while waiting for the piñatas to be ready.

IMG 2121The tradition stipulates that every child should have an opportunity to try to break the piñata, but these children were very strong and almost break it at the beginning!

IMG 2126To keep the order, our Director of MEDLIFE Cusco, Heidy Aspilcueta helped break the piñata. The children were really excited!

IMG 2131Another piñata was opened for more children and finally one last for the little ones.

IMG 2135The arrival of Santa Claus was one of the most anticipated moments!

IMG 2155The children did not hesitate to come and say hello while they enjoyed their hot chocolate and their sweet bread.

IMG 2157Finally, we distributed the gifts and 91 children from Secsencalla had a Merry Christmas thanks to our volunteers and Good Life Expeditions!

 

Secsencalla, a small town of around 300 inhabitants, sits one hour outside the main city of Cusco. Like many communities outside the tourist capital, Secsencalla relies on corn as the main source of income. As community members wait for the February harvest, they'll also work side jobs in construction, cleaning, or drive mototaxis - small two-seater vehicles pulled along by a motorcycle.

As we walk the unpaved streets of Secsencalla, I can't help but notice how nice all the homes look; natural finishings, quaint balconies, tidy gardens. However, I also notice that Secsencalla has no plazas or public spaces, only one small building that doubles as both a small school and a community center - where MEDLIFE recently held a meeting to discuss the Healthy Homes project, an initiative which will work with 10 homes in the community that have children under the age of five and are at risk of malnutrition.

 IMG 1656A main street in Secsencalla. In the background you can see the green schoolhouse

Mercedes Olave, the head of MED Programs in Cusco, understands the importance of working within the framework and goals of the local governments and communities which MEDLIFE partners with. Prior to the start of mobile clinic season, she has already held several meetings with municipal workers in the district of Andahuaylillas, where Secsencalla is located, in order to learn what they consider their needs and desires to be. “The most serious problems facing communities is what happens after NGOs leave without even telling us their plans. They have their own objectives, sometimes very different from our own, and with the best of intentions end up making our job more difficult. They can waste months preparing a project and once it has been built, it's not even where the community really needs it” explains a municipal worker of Andahuaylillas as we meet to propose our plan. MEDLIFE avoids this through interactive meetings with communities to identify their greatest needs together - and for this clinic season both they and MEDLIFE agree that we should focus on children with malnutrition.

IMG 1694Many of the houses look nice from the outside, but on the inside lack many basic necessities.

The first house is made of cement and and looks nice from the outside but as we walk inside, I realize they don't have a kitchen. “Come here and look” Mercedes says to me while we walk to the house´s backyard. “This is the stove” - located out in the open exposed to the elements, but for a small covering overtop.

During February and March, families have money from the corn harvest and often will use it for home improvements. Things such as repainting homes or redoing finishings are cheap. What's more expensive is improving the inside or saving up for larger projects, which can be very difficult to save for when the profits from corn farming usually do not exceed 3000 Peruvian soles (around 700 dollars) a year.

The “stove” is just an open flame without ventilation, and has turned the kitchen wall behind it completely black. There's food stored all around it, disorganized and exposed - obviously not a safe way to prepare food. “It doesn't sting anymore” the homeowner tells with a smile. “You get used to the smoke.” It's incredible how much damage smoke can do - the hacking cough of the homeowner is a reminder that even if members of the communtiy become accustomed to the discomfort, the health effects over time are profound.

IMG 1677In this kitchen not only can you see the blackened wall behind the stove but also the cuy's (guinea pig's) cage and food right next to it.

The other homes in Secsencalla are very similar. Some are bigger than others, or have an additional room or two, but all lack a proper stove. While some have a small gas stove, families typically run out of money to buy gas for the entire year and eventually go back to the open flame even though they're aware of the health risks associated with it.

 Cooking over an open flame is the main method employed by people in rural parts of Peru largely because firewood is cheap and easily accessible. However, cooking over an open flame is very dangerous and can cause serious health problems, most commonly respiratory diseases. This is why MEDLIFE builds improved stoves in Cusco, or stoves that do not rely on open flame and have proper ventilation. Smoke often contains carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide formaldehyde and polyaromatic hydrocarbons such as benzo (a) pyrine. Families often suffer serious consequences due to exposure such as cataracts, blindness, increased risk of infections, chronic pulmonary obstruction, anemia and lung cancer. Smoke can also have serious effects on pregnant women.

collage secsenAnother stove we saw. The smoke coming out of it was so suffocating that we could only stay in the kitchen a minute.

This winter clinic season as part of the Healthy Home project, we will build fuel-efficient stoves for 10 families in Secsencalla that include ventilation through the ceiling of the home in order to eliminate prolonged smoke inhalation.

But apart from the great benefits that improved kitchens will have on the families of Secsencalla, the Healthy Homes program also has a bedroom improvement aspect.

In another of the houses we visited we found many clothes accumulated on the floor and on the bed, and in others, on the contrary, there was not a single piece of furniture. "It's that the girls like to sleep with us," one of the parents tells us when we ask them where their daughters are sleeping.

"The problem is that often they view it as innocent or a non-issue. But no boy or girl over 6 years old should sleep with their parents. First of all because it interrupts the marital life of the parents. There are things that children should not see, not because it is not natural, but because it is not the right age for them to see or hear those things, "Mercedes explains to the man. "And on the other hand, a young girl must have her own room or environment, separate from the men of the house whether they are the father or the brothers, because otherwise she is exposed to danger" Mercedes explains.

The Healthy Homes stove initiative provides the perfect opportunity to reform other aspects of the families home lives as well: MEDLIFE provides paints and shelves to organize their clothes, advice on personal and family hygiene, and ultimately we hold conversations to advise separating the environments and thus ensure that each son or daughter has their own space, a need that has a much deeper background.

IMG 1675This is the children's bedroom (2 girls and 1 baby boy) in one of the houses we visited and will work in this Winter. The gentleman tells us that he has not yet implemented it because his children prefer to sleep with them in the parent's bedroom. Mercedes explains the importance of separating living arrangements so that everyone has their own space as much as possible.

According to the WHO, in 2013 Peru ranked third in prevalancy of rape and sexual violence worldwide after Bangladesh and Ethiopia. In 2016, according to the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations in Peru (MIMP), girls and adolescent women represented 65% of cases of family violence and 70% of victims of sexual violence.

“It's unacceptable that many of our follow-up patients have suffered from gender-related violence… And much of the time it's because they have to sleep in the same bedroom as their father or brothers,” Mercedes tells me. “Once, many years ago in another job, I asked a man why he had raped his daughter. He just told me that he could, if she changed her clothes in front of him because they slept in the same room.”

IMG 1680Both girls live in one of the homes where we will be leading our Healthy Homes program this Winter.

Cases like that were the ones that inspired Mercedes to include the improvement of bedrooms within the Healthy Homes program that MEDLIFE is implementing in Cusco. "This program is an opportunity not only to improve the infrastructure and hygiene of each home, but to ensure the physical and mental well-being of children who may be at risk. It is a program that allows us to really know each family and make a real change. House by house "says Heidy Aspilcueta, Director of MEDLIFE Cusco.

 "I just moved here to Secsencalla about two years ago with my wife and daughter, and I attended Mrs. Mercedes' talk in the community. She spoke to us about the importance of separating the bedrooms and improving the kitchen. I am already building, little by little, and I hope that after the corn harvesting season I can get the kitchen ready to build my stove. Little by little it's improving" says one of the parents who will have her kitchen put together by the third group of volunteers arriving in the beginning of March (Sign up here).

Here at MEDLIFE Cusco, we are very excited to start this program in the community of Secsencalla, where we have been amazed by the organization and the desire of this community to work with MEDLIFE. If you are a volunteer or a member of a chapter, please consider a Service Learning Trip to Cusco to help us implement our Healthy Homes program in some of the 100 homes that make up Secsencalla, so that come February it won't only be the abundance of corn bringing good fortune to the village, but also our volunteers helping to create sustainable change and brighter futures for the families.

As part of our post-clinic activities, our staff last week went to visit four patients in Lima who we met during our mobile clinics. Luckily, these patients are already being treated in the Peruvian health system SIS. Although they did not require economic support from MEDLIFE, they did however, require tools to be able to access their treatment and therefore access a better quality of life.

Another one of our visits was to a PRONOEI (public kindergarten) located in Villa Maria del Triunfo. Said kindergarten informed us that they needed a new roof since the one they currently have was very dangerous for the children.

October 19, 2017 4:24 pm

Introducing MEDLIFE's first MED Center!

Written by Rosali Vela

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At MEDLIFE, we focus on providing comprehensive services and healthcare to the communities we partner with. In this, chapter fundraising supports our capacity to provide essential services to community members in need. This year's goal is for each chapter to fundraise $2000 per academic year. These funds will go towards our first MED Center which will be located in Union Santa Fe, Pamplona, Lima, Peru.

September 12, 2017 10:55 am

Meet the Patient: Caroline (Moshi, Tanzania)

Written by Rosali Vela

Caroline is a six year old girl from Kilema-Moshi. We met Caroline in May 2017, while a MEDLIFE mobile clinic at her community.

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Five months ago Peru was hit with historic rains, resulting in flash floods and mudslides known as "huaicos". The destruction of essential infrastructure such as bridges and homes severely damaged the communities we partner with. Support and donations from our global network of MEDLIFE Chapters and volunteers allowed us to begin immediate aid in the form of water, clothing and medical care when the disaster hit. During initial efforts to provide relief, MEDLIFE met a concerned mother from a local school, Colegio Inmaculada in Naña, who informed us that the school was lacking a hygienic kitchen and cafeteria, known here as a comedor, to provide food to students.

On July 20th and 21st, MEDLIFE hosted its first mobile clinic at the Santa Monica Women's Penitentiary in Lima, Peru. We returned last week to host both an educational workshop and to provide follow up care to the patients.

MEDLIFE delivered pap smear results and provided treatment and medication, including ultrasounds where necessary, to the 120 women that we saw in July.

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Five months ago, Peru was hit with historic rains, flash floods and mudslides, known here as huaycos. During our initial efforts to provide relief, MEDLIFE met a mother from a local school, Colegio Inmaculada in Naña. She informed MEDLIFE that the school was lacking a proper sanitary area for the children to eat, also known as a comedor. Without this comedor, the school is at risk of losing access to the government program Qali Warma (Healthy Child in Quechua), which provides free meals to students in low-income communities.
MEDLIFE is in the early stages of building a new comedor with the community. This project will ensure the continuation of the Qali Warma program, providing 160 students with nutritious food at school.

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