Our 50th staircase project in Lima, Peru is a special one for a number of reasons. Like our very first staircase project, this one came directly out of the relationship developed between a patient and MEDLIFE staff members after a Mobile Clinic. And although the initial idea that sparked these stairs came from one small boy, the project will benefit many families for years to come.
Virgen de Cocharcas is a community located in the hills of the Villa MarÃa de Triunfo district. With seventeen years of settlement, it’s a relatively established community, having recently gained recognition from the local government in the form of electricity and water. But as the community continues to creep higher into the hills, it still lacks accessible roads and stairs. The community is built on a sandy slope, and branching off of it are steep hills composed of loosely piled rocks that lead to small wooden houses that about 350 people call home.
One of them is eight-year old Eloy Britto, who came to Lima just months ago with his mother and younger siblings from the jungle region of Peru, and is now living with a relative in Virgen de Cocharcas. Eloy was born with Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart condition that results in low oxygenation of the blood. In the US, it is usually corrected with an operation within a year from birth. But Eloy had been living without any medical treatment until his mother brought him to a Mobile Clinic in their community last summer.
The terrain leading to Eloy’s house would be dangerous for anyone, but going on home visits over the next few months, MEDLIFE’s patient follow-up team was especially affected by the sight of Eloy making his way up and down the hill. Every few steps, he had to stop to catch his breath and then start up again.
The process of building these stairs was not an easy one. Though the students who come on weeklong Mobile Clinics work together with locals to help get stair projects built, the groundwork is laid weeks in advance at late-night meetings with the community. MEDLIFE provides building materials but requires a commitment of labor from the community before construction begins to ensure that the project will be carried out. Director Carlos Benavides says that this community was a more difficult case because most of the able-bodied adults were busy working far from home and had to be convinced of the necessity of building these staircases to benefit the community as a whole.
Yet, once the community finally came together to clear the site and begin construction, the staircase progressed rapidly. In just two weeks, residents of Virgen de Cocharcas and students and parents from Dana Hills High School laid the foundations, poured cement, painted and even planted trees. At the end of the week, the formerly barren, rocky ground was almost unrecognizable. To inaugurate the project, Eloy’s mother and a mother from the Dana Hills group broke the champagne bottle together, and the community treated everyone to a dance performance and some typical Peruvian appetizers.
Having seen the change from just this one project, Carlos is sure that nearby families will soon begin requesting stairs of their own. And sure enough, the next project planned for our first Mobile Clinic in December is a second staircase for Virgen de Cocharcas, a few blocks from Eloy’s house.