July 11, 2011 10:01 am

Addressing Malnutrition in Rural Ecuador

Written by JP Gorham

Our summer interns in Ecuador have been working to reduce malnutrition in Andean communities. JP Gorham, Dartmouth '11, can fill you in on what they've accomplished so far:

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After returning from my first MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic in Cebadas, Ecuador three years ago, I was restless. MEDLIFE's commitment to sustainable health had inspired me, but I couldn't help but think that we could be doing more. I wanted to help the communities on the ground, but as a student, what could I do?

Before our internship in Riobamba began, Rachel and I spent time researching the problem of malnutrition in Ecuador. We found that in spite of a huge monetary commitment, the government's preventative approach to eradicating child malnutrition had largely failed to improve the situation. In a 2004 survey, 23% of Ecuadorian children under the age of 5 are chronically malnourished. This number jumps to 40% in the Andean region, where we're living this summer. We wanted to help in the Ecuadorian governments efforts to bring those numbers down.

 

July 7, 2011 4:24 pm

Meet the Interns: Oana

Written by Tommy Flint

Oana Butnareanu is serving as a MEDLIFE summer intern in Lima, Peru. How did she end up in Latin America?  She puts it in her own words:

9-1Where are you from?

I was born in Romania and I grew up in Hollywood, California, but I'm totally Latin American at heart.  I just wrapped up my junior year at Stanford, where I am double majoring in Biology and Iberian and Latin American Cultures.


Why did you decide to be a MEDLIFE intern?

I love Spanish, people, medicine and adventure! I have always wanted to work with underprivileged communities in Latin America, especially in a medical setting, and this seemed like the perfect place to start.

What was your first impression of Lima?

I dubbed Lima “the city of contrasts.” It's absolutely astonishing that places of extreme poverty like Pamplona Alta and areas of relative wealth (by Peruvian standards) like Miraflores and Jockey Plaza can exist within a few kilometers of one another. The people are also pretty amazing; they're some of the most warm and welcoming inpiduals I have ever met!

What do you look forward to most this summer?

Peruvian telenovelas (soap operas)! Also trying the amazing local cuisine and hanging out with all the Peruvian staff here in the office – they're awesome!

Oana's fluency in Spanish has come in handy so far – she has served as the group's translator on a number of occasions. We look forward to having Oana assist with a number of educational initiatives MEDLIFE is launching this summer. Check back here to see the results of her work!

Whenever a MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic encounters a patient with a medical problem we can't immediately address at the Clinic, we record their contact information so that our local staff can get in touch the following week. From there, MEDLIFE will do whatever it takes to help the patient receive adequate medical treatment. We have no restrictions on the types of follow-up work we engage in, meaning that we are able to assist individuals and families with any and all medical problems they face.

Our team of interns in Lima recently had the opportunity to visit one of our follow-up patients to talk about her experiences since we first encountered her on a Mobile Clinic. Here's her story, as written by summer intern Minnie Dasgupta:

8-1Meet Elka – a 23 year old woman living in a small green house in the rocky hills of Pamplona Alta, miles outside of Lima's metropolitan center. She shares her two-room home with her grandmother, grandfather, mother, and two young children. As is often the case in communities such as Pamplona Alta, Elka's family has not received a great deal of support from the father of her children.

For three long years after the birth of her first child, she ignored a number of vaginal symptoms and convinced herself that nothing was wrong. But when she heard about the chance to receive a free Pap smear, she took action and visited a MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic in September 2010. (though the local Ministry of Health medical posts also provide a limited number of Pap smears, Elka did not have the government-sponsored insurance plan at this time).

MEDLIFE has been working in Pamplona Alta since March 2010.  The majority of Mobile Clinics and MEDLIFE Fund projects in Peru serve the communities of Pamplona Alta.  Zenobia Gonsalves, our media intern in Lima, captured the shots below.
 
Located in the hills surrounding Lima, Pamplona Alta is a shantytown or Pueblo Joven characterized by conditions of extreme poverty and a lack of infrastructural development.  Now housing more than 20,000 residents, it was first populated in the 1990's when massive numbers of Peruvians immigrated to Lima from the rural countryside -- either displaced by the Shining Path terrorism that marked this decade, or looking for better opportunity in Peru's capital city.
 
Dirt paths crisscross the valley walls, reaching the families who reside at the top -- a long climb from the main avenue below.  Can you spot the 3 MEDLIFE staircases?
 
Prior to this flood of immigration, Pamplona Alta was occupied by other residents -- pigs.  Pig farming remains to be one of the primary industries of the region.  Currently the small ranches, or chancherias, occupy the most expensive real estate on the valley floor, while the human population resides higher on the valley walls, with entire communities resting on steep, rocky slopes.  Typically owned by Peruvians living outside of Pamplona Alta, the chancherias contribute both an unpleasant odor and large amounts of waste to the valley.  Above, a pig rests in his shelter.
 
The pig pens of the chancherias mix with the housing for local families.
 
Though they may more closely resemble tool sheds than houses, entire families (and in some houses, multiple families) reside in these small shacks.  As evidence above, most houses rest on makeshift walls of loose rock -- or worse, discarded car tires.  The potential earthquake damage instills great fear among residents, and as such the Peruvian government is attempting to add retention walls to Pamplona Alta's steepest slopes.
 
Water and sewage lines haven't yet reached the vast majority of the valley's communities.  Water trucks, run by private companies, deliver water on a daily basis.  This system is marked both by its high expense (water costs 10 times as much as it does in areas where lines exist), and the possibility of contamination, both from the trucks themselves and the dirty containers in which it is stored.  Families who don't live by the roads accessed by the water trucks must haul water to their home, bucket by bucket.
 
The lack of sewage lines means that residents use outhouses -- holes in the ground that sometimes are left unsealed.  The seepage of this sewage into the ground leads to high rates of parasitic infections, particularly among children who often spend their free time playing in the dirt.
 
 
A rooster surveys the valley floor.  Many families raise hens to supplement their diet, or sell at market.
 
The community of Minas 2000 received MEDLIFE's first-ever stair project.  Why? When six months pregnant, the woman residing on the green house on the left fell on the rocky slope outside of her home, prompting an extremely premature birth.  MEDLIFE has sought proper treatment for the child, who is now a healthy 2 year old, but wanted to do more to prevent future accidents.  The first project was greeted by strong enthusiasm by Minas 2000 and neighboring communities, and MEDLIFE hasn't stopped building stairs since!
 
 
A recently completed staircase sports a MEDVIDA logo.
 
 
A private (though free to attend) high school sits in stark contrast to the painted houses below it.  The school was built and is partly run by a Catholic aid organization, but currently half of the classrooms remain empty because the government is unable to supply a full teaching staff.
 
 
A government-sponsored nursery adds color to the hillside.
 
 
 
The valley floor of Pamplona Altra stretches towards the more developed center of Lima.  Government services and infrastructural projects such as paved roads, retention walls, water and sewage lines, and electrical grids are slowly creeping into the valley.  Hopefully, the families of Pamplona Alta will soon be receiving the services and structural development that their neighboring city-dwellers enjoy.
 
All photos Zenobia Gonsalves.  Text by Tommy Flint.

MEDLIFE has been working in Pamplona Alta since March 2010.  The majority of Mobile Clinics and MEDLIFE Fund projects in Peru serve the communities of Pamplona Alta.  Zenobia Gonsalves, our media intern in Lima, captured the shots below.

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Located in the hills surrounding Lima, Pamplona Alta is a shantytown, or pueblo joven, characterized by conditions of extreme poverty and a lack of infrastructural development.  Now housing more than 20,000 residents, it was first populated in the 1990's when massive numbers of Peruvians immigrated to Lima from the rural countryside -- either displaced by the Shining Path terrorism that marked this decade, or looking for better opportunity in Peru's capital city.


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Dirt paths crisscross the valley walls, reaching the families who reside at the top -- a long climb from the main avenue below.  Can you spot the three MEDLIFE staircases?

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Meeting with community members of Buena Vista to coordinate an upcoming community development project, of course! Here's why:

5-1Running a successful MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic takes more work than just showing up to a community with a bus full of doctors, medicine, and excited student volunteers -- you have to make sure that the locals know you're coming! Just ask Carlos Benavides, MEDLIFE's Director of MEDLIFE Fund projects in Peru, and our all-around community contact for projects and Clinics in Lima.

Embracing MEDLIFE's mantra of "Listening to the Poor", Carlos seeks to involve local families and individuals in every community development projects MEDLIFE engages in (Carlos dedication to our communities and patients is legendary -- he has been known to stay in Pamplona until 1am speaking with community leaders, only to show up at 6am to a local hospital the following day to accompany a patient through a medical exam).

June 24, 2011 1:52 pm

Meet the Interns: Rachel

Written by Tommy Flint

Rachel Eggleston is a valuable member of MEDLIFE's Student Advisory Board. She will be serving in Ecuador this summer with fellow interns JP and Meredith. Rachel is currently developing a child nutrition program along with JP, under the guidance of our Director of Operations in Ecuador, Martha Chicaiza.

4-1Where are you from?

I grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland, but I currently live in Hanover, New Hampshire. I will be a senior at Dartmouth College in the fall. I love studying Neuroscience and Spanish!

Why did you apply for the MEDLIFE internship?

I have been involved in the Dartmouth chapter of MEDLIFE since my freshman year. I bonded with other Medlifers over scarf and grilled cheese sales, and they quickly became my best friends! I first traveled to Ecuador for a MEDLIFE mobile clinic two years ago, and applied for the MEDLIFE internship because I was interested in spending a longer amount of time here. I've served on the SAB for the past year, and can't wait to contribute to MEDLIFE's operations here in South America. I'm so excited to meet all of the students participating in mobile clinics this summer!

Tell us more about this malnutrition project JP mentioned?

Each intern is asked to work on a specific project this summer, and JP and I decided to focus on chronic malnutrition, or "stunting." In May, the government released a new assistance program for pregnant women and children under 5. We met with regional Ministry of Health officials this morning, and are currently in the process of determining how we can most be of help. Meredith is also going to use her media expertise to help us make some educational videos.

What have you enjoyed most about living in Riobamba so far?

Bonding with JP, Meredith, and Martha, of course! Our apartment doubles as our office, so we're always together! Can't get enough. We're hard at work in the communities or in the apartment during the day, and unwind at night by playing Bananagrams or watching Justin Bieber documentaries with Martha. I've had a lot of fun exploring Riobamba as well, and I've fallen in love with the enchiladas at Pizzería San Valentin! Thanks for the tip, Tommy.

Glad you're enjoying those enchiladas, Rachel! We'll be on the lookout for updates from your nutrition project in the coming weeks. Good luck!

June 24, 2011 1:44 pm

Meet the Interns: Minnie

Written by Administrator
Introducing Minnie Dasgupta, one of MEDLIFE's summer interns in Lima, Peru.  Minnie is a star MEDLIFE student member -- she created the MEDLIFE UC Berkeley Chapter 2 years ago and has quickly turned it into one of our most successful student chapters nationwide!  This summer, Minnie will be lending a hand in all sorts of MEDLIFE activities, such as working with our Patient Follow-up Coordinators, leading student volunteers on MEDLIFE Mobile Clinics, and designing new programs for MEDLIFE student chapters for the coming year.
 
Where are you from?
I'm originally from Scottsdale, Arizona, but I live in Berkeley, California during most of the year. I'm going to be a senior at UC Berkeley this fall, double majoring in Developmental Genetics and South Asian Studies.
 
 
Seriously, how awesome are the vests?
 
What is your favorite MEDLIFE memory?
My best MEDLIFE memories are from last summer, when I attended my first two-week Mobile Clinic in Riobamba. I loved talking with all the kids, and one day I remember a few of them asked me how to say all the different colors in English.  They laughed hysterically when I told them we have a word called “purple,” and then promptly ran away to tell the rest of their friends.
What has surprised you the most about Lima?
Probably the fact that there are so many levels of wealth within such close proximity of each other – it's a 20-30 minute bus ride from a really extravagant casino to the most barren and impoverished communities. Also, I've seen at least 3 KFC's here which totally caught me off guard.
What do you like about being an intern?
Learning more about MEDLIFE's goals, exploring a new and exciting culture, and our awesome MEDLIFE vests (not necessarily in that order).
Are you really, really good at the board game Taboo™?
Why yes, yes I am*.
 
Thanks, Minnie.  We're looking forward to hearing more about your work in the coming weeks!
*Statement not yet verified -- we are still waiting to bring some board games to the MEDLIFE office in Lima!

Introducing Minnie Dasgupta, one of MEDLIFE's summer interns in Lima, Peru.  Minnie is a star MEDLIFE student member -- she created the MEDLIFE UC Berkeley Chapter 2 years ago and has quickly turned it into one of our most successful student chapters nationwide!  This summer, Minnie will be lending a hand in all sorts of MEDLIFE activities, such as working with our Patient Follow-up Coordinators, leading student volunteers on MEDLIFE Mobile Clinics, and designing new programs for MEDLIFE student chapters for the coming year.

3-1Where are you from?

I'm originally from Scottsdale, Arizona, but I live in Berkeley, California during most of the year. I'm going to be a senior at UC Berkeley this fall, double majoring in Developmental Genetics and South Asian Studies. 

What is your favorite MEDLIFE memory?

My best MEDLIFE memories are from last summer, when I attended my first two-week Mobile Clinic in Riobamba. I loved talking with all the kids, and one day I remember a few of them asked me how to say all the different colors in English.  They laughed hysterically when I told them we have a word called “purple,” and then promptly ran away to tell the rest of their friends.

What has surprised you the most about Lima?

Probably the fact that there are so many levels of wealth within such close proximity of each other – it's a 20-30 minute bus ride from a really extravagant casino to the most barren and impoverished communities. Also, I've seen at least three KFC's here which totally caught me off guard.

What do you like about being an intern?

Learning more about MEDLIFE's goals, exploring a new and exciting culture, and our awesome MEDLIFE vests (not necessarily in that order)

.Are you really, really good at the board game Taboo™?

Why yes, yes I am*

Thanks, Minnie.  We're looking forward to hearing more about your work in the coming weeks!

*Statement not yet verified -- we are still waiting to bring some board games to the MEDLIFE office in Lima!

Because this is what elementary school kids in Cebadas are using right now:

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MEDLIFE students from Brown and the University of Delaware, alongside local community members, consructed a new bathroom on this site during a Mobile Clinic in March 2011.

When MEDLIFE first started in 2005, our goal was to deliver medical care to those without access in Latin America. As we spent more time in the communities we visited on our Mobile Clinics, we learned more about the myriad problems constraining their residents' livelihoods and preventing them from leading healthy lives. We realized that delivery of healthcare services wasn't the only way that we could help individuals and families in need, so we decided to broaden our work to encompass community development projects. These projects' overall aim is to improve the health and living conditions of individual communities. Always working in collaboration with community leaders and residents, we have since built classrooms, bathrooms, and washrooms in rural and urban elementary schools, and stairways and retention walls for hillside villages. Funding for many of these projects now comes from the MEDLIFE Fund. All public donations and fundraising for MEDLIFE goes 100% to our community development projects.

Rachel Eggleston is a MEDLIFE summer intern in Ecuador. Here's her perspective on a community development project in Chimborazo:

1-1Today, fellow interns JP, Meredith, and I traveled to the rural village of Pull Manuel Laso, Chimborazo, deep in the Ecuadorian Andes mountain range, to check on the progress of a MEDLIFE-sponsored bathroom construction project. We woke up around 7 am and hopped in a taxi, which took us to the bus station. One bus and one government vehicle later, we arrived in Pull Manuel Laso. Francisca Paguay, the director of the community's school, greeted us immediately. Sra. Paguay led us down a trail to the bathroom project, which overlooks the vast agricultural and mountainous landscape typical of many communities in rural Chimborazo. When we arrived, several community members stopped their whitewashing to greet us. They were eager to show us what they had accomplished since Martha (Director of Operations, MEDLIFE Ecuador) last visited.

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