My first experience in Lima, Peru did not begin with the MEDLIFE internship, but with a study abroad program during the summer of 2013. After taking many of the Spanish classes offered at my university, I decided the next step was full immersion in a Spanish speaking culture to become fluent.
I experienced culture shock from the minute I landed at the airport Lima. Beginning with a sea of unfamiliar faces and swarming “taxistas” wanting to offer me their services, I had a feeling my time in Peru would be challenging, but interesting to say the least.
With freedom to explore Lima and Peruvian culture as I studied, it soon became apparent how much poverty truly exists and how much of a need there is for help. With this realization, my perspective of Lima and my study abroad experience shifted from an opportunity for cultural exploration, to a desire to help combat social issues that came into my view.
When I searched for internships the following year, I came across MEDLIFE and knew I had to get involved in some way. The internship appealed to me for many reasons. The MEDIFE mission statement sealed the deal for me, as it resonated with my personal beliefs and the values: health is a basic human right, and it can be achieved through medicine, education, and development. The internship also allowed me to live abroad for a period much longer than the short term of my study abroad program, while also gaining relevant experience for my career. It was a no-brainer.
Though my second trip to Peru with a completely different purpose, the arrival in August of 2014 was just as exhilarating as the first time in 2013. Although I had no prior experience with MEDLIFE before applying for the internship, I was eager to learn and experience everything MEDLIFE has to offer and do the same in return.
In my first four months here, I have collected many humbling experiences and learned a lot from being out in the field. My experiences meeting follow-up patients, building staircases, speaking with an entire community about potential projects and clinics, and communicating with student participants who are just as dedicated and passionate about the mission as I am has been incredibly uplifting.
One exceptional experience that has stood out to me was constructing a staircase with the group of MEDLIFE interns and the community members of 33B, located within Villa Maria del Trifuno. Staircase constructions do not generally emerge in peoples’ minds as useful projects that will benefit an entire community; I know it didn’t for me. However, when interns go into the field—whether it’s for a patient follow-up or to deliver Pap smear results from mobile clinics—Carlos and the nurses never fail to acknowledge the real danger of the steep hills many communities rest on. Carlos and the nurses point out the many red staircases MEDLIFE has built to combat this prevalent issue over the years, and it is a inspiring reminder of MEDLIFE’s progress working in these communities.
I never truly realized the importance of the staircases and the immense relief it provides in communities we work with until I heard testimonials of the people living there and the desperation in their voices during the nighttime meetings with them. People said they fear for the safety of the women, children and the elderly. Often times, the people of the community risk their lives many times a day just climbing up the hills to their homes. Women carry groceries or their children, and children face danger every day just in order to go to school. They do this in any and all weather conditions, health, and subject themselves to threatening falls in order to survive. They do this not because they want to, but because they do not have a choice, and they shouldn’t have to live their lives this way.
Having fallen a few times myself, I know my minor slips are nothing compared to the treacherous journey of the community members. It’s not an easy hike for many of the families in the hills and the dangerous conditions would not be suitable for anyone.
Participating in my first MEDLIFE staircase project was a rewarding and unique experience. It was gratifying to see progress from the start of a path of stones to a finished, chiseled, newly-paved staircase. I was thoroughly impressed with the teamwork and the comradery between MEDLIFE and the community members. We worked hand in hand, helping each other carry buckets of cement to fill the stairs then tossing the empty buckets back up uniformly. Before we knew it, we were finished and enjoying each other’s company while we painted, planted trees, and enjoyed Inka Cola. All our hard work was celebrated in the inauguration of the staircase, the community and MEDLIFE full of smiles.
Although these staircase projects among many MEDLIFE projects and clinics do not provide complete healing and safety, it is a step forward and is a means of alleviating the transportation dangers that comes with living in the slums of Lima. It’s not a significant project but makes all the difference to the 300 habitants of 33B. As we left the hills that afternoon, we could see the vibrant red that shone through the slope, a sign of all our collaborative hard work, and we know there will be many more similar sights to come. This is only the beginning, and MEDLIFE’s work carries on.