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.
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.
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.