As a medical student going on a MEDLIFE internship, I most looked forward to the chance to see the mobile medical clinics in action and help to provide medical care to families in need. We were encouraged to read about the issues surrounding aid provision and health inequalities, and in doing so we encountered quotes such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s:

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhumane.”

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With these famous words still resounding, I arrived in the communities ready to help in whatever way I could. I was humbled to find that my help could only make a difference thanks to the communities themselves who came out in full force to help us build a staircase in the hills.

Despite having 20 students from the UK working together to pass cement, paint the walls, and clear debris – the community members outnumbered us. Some helped with the manual labor while others fetched drinks to reinvigorate us under the Peruvian sun. 

The trust that these people had in MEDLIFE was clear as they brought out their children to meet us, let us play with their dogs, and joined in and laughed as we sang a range of well-known songs from the UK to keep spirits up while we worked.

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Vital to this is the role played by local community leaders who are employed by MEDLIFE. They understand the communities and help to foster trust. This really struck me after an educational meeting about women’s health, when a crowd of 30 or so people stayed late to speak to one of these local leaders and explain their different needs.

It is through these discussions that we begin to recognize the different problems that each community faces, and allows us to personalize the help we provide. It was through these discussions that the idea to build staircases first arose - a simple idea that would never have occurred to me living in the UK, but clearly made a huge difference to the lives of the people we met and helped to create a safer place to live. I am very grateful to have been a part of MEDLIFE’s work, and look forward to being involved again in the future, and continuing to put the community at the heart of it all. 

April 30, 2018 3:40 pm

MEDLIFE UK Intern: Arka Banerjee

Written by Arka Banerjee

The MEDLIFE Internship in Lima, Peru was a fulfilling and highly enjoyable experience. I appreciated the opportunity to work with like-minded individuals and a movement that is passionate about making a positive difference and improving the living standards of the disadvantaged in the world.
As a medical student, I have a keen interest in working to ensure access to good healthcare for all globally. Working with local doctors, dentists and nurses in the mobile clinics gave me the opportunity to work towards this goal.

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Along with the mobile clinics, being involved in a variety of projects ranging from building infrastructure to education highlighted MEDLIFE’s holistic approach to development and helping the disadvantaged escape poverty. I was excited to be involved in the various development projects, and enjoyed meeting and working with new friends, both from the UK and Peru. The internship also provided the opportunity to learn more about the struggles and individual stories of the disadvantaged in Lima. Through the sharing’s, I gained insights into the nature of the problems that those in poverty face, as well as how we can work together with the disadvantaged to alleviate these problems.

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I learned that poverty and its associated challenges, although often having many common elements, is a heterogeneous phenomenon with every person having a different story and set of needs. One-size-fits-all policies and programmes, especially those carried out without consulting the disadvantaged, may be less effective. Personally speaking, I believe the internship has changed my thoughts and perceptions of poverty and development for the better. I feel I have a more holistic understanding and perspective on what can be done to increase standards of living worldwide, and I am looking forward to implementing these in future projects with MEDLIFE and in my University in future. All in all, I would say it was an eye-opening and highly enriching experience and I am incredibly thankful to have had the opportunity to be involved in it.

- Arka Banerjee, 1 st Year Medic, University of Cambridge

I’m a biology major. My classes involve a lot of walking through the woods, measuring the circumference of trees, and counting bugs. So, you’d be correct to assume that my friends had quite a few questions when I decided to pick up and move 3,199 miles (5148 km for anyone who’s wondering) away for three months to do an internship that consists mostly of taking pictures, writing blogs, and posting on the MEDLIFE facebook page. The answer is pretty simple; I am trying to see the world through a different lens.
“Why are you helping abroad and not back at home?” 
 
This question haunted me throughout the summer, but I knew it would follow me the rest of my life since I have a desire to live and work in another country after graduation. It was hard for me to answer, but interning with MEDLIFE for a summer helped me find clarity.
 
I devoted three months of my life to uncertainty. I had never been away from home this long, never been to Lima, Peru, and never met the thirteen other interns I would be living and working with. It was definitely scary, but it's through these moments of uncertainty that I learned more about who I am and about the needs of the world, specifically Peru.
14 12 2323The view from Mercedes's house.
 
Through this internship, I have had many opportunities to reflect on privilege in ways I have never conceptualized before. One day, I accompanied Janet, a MEDLIFE nurse, to a follow up appointment with Mercedes, who lives high up in the community of 15A1, Nueva Esperanza. While MEDLIFE has worked with 15A1 to build many staircases in the community, the final portion of the path leading to Mercedes’s house, when I visited, remained undeveloped, steep, and dusty. Excitingly, MEDLIFE already has a plan in place to build a staircase on the path to Mercedes's house. 
        
14 12 48MEDLIFE Nurse, Carmen, and Mercedes stand on the path to Mercedes's house, where a MEDLIFE staircase will be built.
 
After watching several women go up the path they traverse everyday with buckets of water and other materials in hand, I somehow stumbled up to Mercedes’s house on all fours, refusing to look behind me until I reached the top. Then, after we finished speaking to Mercedes and her children, we had to go back down. To me, this was definitely scarier than going up. So when Mercedes recommended a different path around the back of her house, I was relieved. However, the "safer path" meant narrowly walking along a wall built of seemingly unstable rocks.
 
14 12 2346Two of Mercedes's daughters play outside of her house.
 
I was only able to take a few steps along the rocks until my feet did not want to move further. I knew I had come to Lima specifically to work with impoverished communities, and I did not want to let fear of heights stop me. However, as much I told myself about the reasons I wanted to move forward, my feet did not seem to agree. Then, a little girl, maybe eight years old at most, ran down from the house above to offer to hold my hand. I was simultaneously embarrassed as the other MEDLIFE workers waited on the other side and amazed as this young girl tried to instill confidence in me. For the first time, I realized that even my fear of heights was a privilege. The people of 15A1 did not get to exercise the same fear. Even if the mothers, fathers, and children of 15A1 falter in the face of dusty slopes, they traverse them everyday to access basic resources. The young girl’s unhesitating kindness, while facing the same height that had my heart racing and palms sweating, taught me that my fear was entirely mental. If the girl could unwaveringly run down just to help me, I could at least take baby steps to continue to work in her community. I am grateful for the opportunity to support families during my time in Peru, and I am excited to continue to reflect on my own life along the way. 
 
14 12 8700Noor works on painting a staircase like the one that will benefit Mercedes and her family.

Noor Chadha is the co-president of the MEDLIFE at UC Berkeley Chapter and a 2017 MEDLIFE Summer Intern.

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