As I looked around the room lined with community members, a young girl smiled and caught my eye as she waved. This was 13-year-old Jennifer, a curious and friendly girl who lives in the community of La Florida. She came over and excitedly confirmed that yes, us interns would be coming to help build staircases with them, and yes, I had a cell phone number I could exchange with her. That community, along with the neighboring 27 de Diciembre, were meeting on a Friday night with MEDLIFE to discuss the beginning steps of working with us to get workshops, mobile clinics, and staircases in their community.
I met some residents of La Florida during my first full week in Lima, when a couple of students on a mobile clinic and I went with MEDLIFE Peru’s Director Carlos to meet the community for the first time. Despite the fact that the houses have been there from 8 to 20 plus years, the best groomed paths I could see were only crumbling rock “stairs.” The kids have no way to play as a normal kid should, and going anywhere away from their home in the hillside meant endless opportunities for serious injury. The women also mentioned frequently dropping the large jugs of drinking water, costing them money they don’t have. As Carlos explained MEDLIFE’s mission and work process, women produced cups of Coke for us to drink with them to inaugurate the occasion.
I was struck by how lucky I was to be there. Carlos made sure I had a chance to talk with the women. I explained to them that I, along with Carlos and the other year-long MEDLIFE interns, would work side by side with the community throughout the entire year on various projects. This includes conducting health education workshops and discussions, and continuously evaluating the community’s needs. Even with my bad Spanish the women did not stop smiling or wanting to talk, and seemed genuinely enthusiastic at the prospect of working with a random young American women who did not even speak their language fluently.
As we left, a women named Angelique who knits clothes for a living gave me a bright red hat as a gift.
It was on my second visit to the community that I had met Jennifer. Another intern Hannah and I quickly became friends with her, and before she left she handed over a small book as a gift. That visit was to see the drawn plans of the communities, measure future staircases, and record preliminary data. It was also during this visit that Hannah and I had warm and friendly conversation with a couple women living there, both the same age as us.
As Carlos emphasized the importance of unity and cooperation to the group of assembled community members that Friday night, I thought about the potential reasons behind a community’s motivation. The list is endless, but participation and dedication of all community members can still be difficult. I am looking forward to getting to know the communities better, and to seeing this process of community mobilization and development continue.