I’m a summer intern for MEDLIFE, a nonprofit organization that aims to support the poor in three ways: Medicine, Education, and Development (M.E.D.â€“life). They carry out their name by organizing medical clinics staffed by local health professionals and building stairs in impoverished communities. The outskirts of Lima climb into the rocky hillsides and provide homes for the many immigrants that move to the capital city in search of work. Last Thursday I was able to follow around Carlos, the Director of MEDLIFE Peru, who liaises with the communities we serve.
We started the day by delivering medical supplies to a geriatrics ward a doctor was running out of her house. She explained that 20 patients lived there because they had no one else to help them with their daily lives, which had become impossible for them to complete on their own in their old age. I couldn’t understand every word of her Spanish, but I could tell this physician was fulfilling her life’s work from the passion with which she spoke. She told us that the government only provides elderly citizens an equivalent of 100 US dollars a month to live on, which is far from sufficient living standards, even for Peru. The home offered a peaceful bubble for the elderly in an otherwise chaotic city.
After a brief ride in a small cart of a bus, we visited Nueva Esperanza. We arrived on a dusty road and walked through side streets until they turned into dirt paths. We climbed until we came to a group of local people who greeted us, and then turned to Carlos.
This was his second time visiting Nueva Esperanza, and he seemed excited that the people had cleared many large rocks from 100-meter stretch of hill that led up to an enormous white cross. Carlos was here to assess the people’s willingness to work with MEDLIFE to build a staircase. The people explained that they had worked in the evenings and on the weekends to clear the path for the stairs, but that they could not continue to work and do manual labor in their spare time. Carlos never hesitated. He explained that volunteer students in America and England would come to help build the stairs with them, and that it was to be a combined effort of the volunteers and local community.
A silver haired woman sat up from a large rock she had been resting on and walked to Carlos. I noticed the tears that were streaming down her face as she explained that she had lived in Nueva Esperanza for many years. She climbed the hill to pray at the cross time and time again, despite enduring the occasional fall. She explained that she wanted nothing more than to be able to walk up the hill safely to pray. Between the woman’s passion and Carlos’s inspiration, the community agreed they would work with MEDLIFE to build the staircases. The people provided us with a yellow soda called Inca Kola to celebrate the occasion, and everyone thanked each other as we headed down the slope back towards home.
I asked Carlos if what the old lady had said, that she fell often, was common in the hills of Lima. As I was speaking, a mother with her five-year-old daughter walked past on their way back from school. Carlos greeted them and turned my question onto the mother. She said she had fallen three times while she was pregnant with her daughter, and she still falls from time to time. I had helped build stairs with MEDLIFE two years ago. Back then I could tell the local people were excited and appreciative of our help at the time, but I hadn’t really understood how much a safe walk way can truly mean. The mother and her daughter reaffirmed that social infrastructure is just as necessary as healthcare and education.