Creating Partnerships in New Communities

nightmeetingCommunity members gathered at a nighttime meeting in Villa Maria del Triunfo.
Photo by Benjamin Ostrander

The number of communities in need of staircases and other infrastructure projects in the shantytowns of Lima can be overwhelming. In order to decide where to work next, the main factor that MEDLIFE Peru Director Carlos Benavides considers is community organization. When the community can rally around a strong leadership, we know that they will be up to the challenge of building and maintaining a project with us.

It’s not unusual to see settlements that are more than 15 years old, where though they may have cement and brick houses, water, electricity and other basic services, residents are still exposed to the risk of falling down a steep hillside because they do not have safe paths and staircases. These larger-scale projects, which require more collaboration and planning, are what can truly change the face of an invasion settlement and create a safer community.

But through MEDLIFE, I’ve been proud to meet a group of people who are motivated to improve their lives and the lives of others. Not only do they organize projects near their own homes, but they also become bridges to help other communities benefit in the same the way that they have benefited.

Last year we met Raul Flores, the leader or dirigente of the “8 de Diciembre” community, and he never stopped calling and reminding us of the need in his community. In March, he joined his neighbors and MEDLIFE volunteers to construct 6 new staircases. Though they were few, they worked hard and finished all 6 in one month. Just down the hill we met Maria Diaz, the dirigente of “Virgen de Cocharcas,” where we’ve now build 6 staircases, all completed in less than two months.

In June, Raul and Maria decided to help form an association with more than 30 dirigentes from different communities in the region to organize and help each other benefit from the services of both the government and NGOs like MEDLIFE. Last week, they invited us to a nighttime meeting with this new association to talk about developing new projects together. What we learned there was surprising.

The National System for Disaster Risk Management (better known as “defensa civil”) has announced a rule that all staircases must have handrails, or communities would be fined. Many communities constructed their staircases by hand because they lacked other resources and had never thought of building handrails. They asked for help from the government, but they were told that there was no room in the budget to help them.

Stuck in this dilemma, the dirigentes of more than 30 communities aired their concerns in the meeting with Carlos. “We’ll evaluate the stairs in your communities and add the railings to the ones that are in good shape,” he told them. “And for the others, we’ll build again from scratch.”

Raul and Maria have helped MEDLIFE by opening a door to new communities with new challenges and opportunities to help. “Every community is a different world,” says Carlos, “and now we have some big projects coming for our next group of volunteers.”

We’re all looking forward to these new challenges here at MEDLIFE. And we’re inspired by the attitude of people like Raul and Maria, who after receiving help themselves, seek to give to others.


Hear it From MEDLIFErs

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Reya Seby
Western University

This trip motivated me more to pursue a career in the healthcare field so that I can use my resources to help those who need it the most, similar to MEDLIFE’s mission.

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Victoria DiCanio
University of Connecticut

It was most enjoyable to finish the hard work and see how big a difference a group of individuals can make. It was such an amazing experience.

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Anita Woo
University of Toronto

I enjoyed the mobile clinics the most, especially the dental and triage portions. I would definitely recommend a MEDLIFE trip, it was a great experience.

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David Saff
Maclay High School

The most enjoyable part of my trip was hanging out with the amazing group of kids I was with. I would highly recommend a MEDLIFE volunteer trip to others.

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Sydney Sansone
Nova Southeastern University

This trip made everything that I was learning in my public health courses come to life and immersed me in a new culture while also learning about medicine.

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Abygail Youmans
College of Charleston

Being involved with MEDLIFE is not like joining another club - its bigger than that. It is about joining a movement that seeks to help change people’s quality of life for forever.

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Emi Hofmann
University of Central Florida

Not only was I able to participate in a week long Mobile Clinic, shadowing doctors of all types of specialties including pharmacy, dentistry, gynecology, and more, but I was also able to learn about the culture and visit incredible places.

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Julian Takagi-Stewart
University of Toronto

One thing that I really loved about this trip was that MEDLIFE made sure that the volunteers got an understanding of the complexity of issues that lead to underprivileged people in communities outside of the main city

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Hannah Van Hofwegen
University of Ottawa

Whether it was basketball with the local kids, assisting the doctors, talking with families, building washrooms, holding babies, or spending time with the people who were on the SLT with me, this was an amazing opportunity that I would do over and over again.

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Isabelle Holt
Cornell University

I loved learning about the patients MEDLIFE has followed and how they offer real help to people with chronic/urgent conditions. It is amazing how the organization formed real connections with the communities.

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Valerie Lindeborg

Our family had the privilege of participating in multiple trips with Nick [founder] and his amazing staff. Their expertise made the trips unforgettable while instilling in my boys the fundamentals of good character: selflessness, compassion, and empathy.

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Harry Vildibill
University of Georgia

As an aspiring physician, MEDLIFE motivated me to further continue my goal of becoming a doctor. In fact, I enjoyed the Tanzania Service Learning Trip so much that I decided to go on another trip to Cusco, Peru.