Intern Journal: Aly Lange

I distinctly remember the first time I was told that MEDLIFE builds staircases.

Why staircases? To me, that seemed odd. Why do we invest so much time and money into building staircases, of all things?


7 months later, I was on my first mobile clinic with MEDLIFE in Lima, Peru. I and dozens of other volunteers were hiking up a mountain in Pamplona, one of many shantytown communities where millions of people experience poverty. Suddenly, my perspective shifted entirely. Up in these mountains, there is very little footing. The ground crumbles under your feet as you walk, and it’s extremely steep. I’ll never forget being up at the top of that mountain, huffing and puffing in exhaustion. I couldn’t see anything but rocky hills and metal shacks. It was desolate poverty, as far as my eyes could see.

368-2Community members who live here- elderly, disabled, children, pregnant mothers- must trek up these mountains multiple times a day. In order to get to work, school, or even to the nearest water source, one has to brave the dangerous terrain. Directly because of these conditions, it’s not uncommon for pregnant mothers to fall and miscarry or deliver prematurely. People fall and sustain multiple injuries such as broken limbs, wounds that become infected, etc.  When a MEDLIFE staircase is built, it alleviates many of these issues.

But in my opinion, the most incredible aspect of MEDLIFE’s work with staircases is that the affects don’t end there.  

In these shantytowns of Lima, the government owns the land people’s houses are built on until the community establishes “land rights”. This is difficult to do, and requires jumping through many governmental hoops. However, without land rights, people cannot easily establish permanent water sources or electricity, get a bank loan, start a business, or anything that one would need a permanent address for. However, when MEDLIFE builds a staircase, they’re moving an entire community closer to achieving these land rights by providing a “safe exit” from the community, which is one of the government’s stipulations. With a staircase, these amenities are closer to becoming possible. Contrary to my opinion as a college freshman, building a staircase is the most sustainable, root-cause addressing aid MEDLIFE can give to many of these communities.

On Wednesday, I was given the opportunity to go on Project Day to build a staircase in Nueva Esperanza. When we started to work on the staircase, I saw how sincere these people were, and how grateful they were to be having their needs met. One elderly woman, in perhaps her 70s, returned from hiking up the mountain to fetch water as we were working. She immediately started handing buckets up the assembly line with us, throwing herself into the hardest work possible. Later on, Frida, a young woman with epilepsy who has fallen down the hills twice now, badly tweaked her finger in the assembly line. She was in a lot of pain, but kept going despite barely being able to move her finger. We repeatedly asked her to take a break and tried to take over her job, but she refused to stop. We had people of all ages and abilities pouring their blood, sweat and tears into making this staircase. 

These people persevere constantly, even in the most trying, stressful circumstances. Many of them sleep 4 hours a night and work all day, and keep going despite being sick, tired, malnourished, or injured. A thing as simple and cheap as a staircase alleviates so much of their needless suffering.

368-3(At Frida’s house at the top of the mountain. Frida (second from right), who suffers from epilepsy, has fallen halfway down the side of the mountain twice now.)

They’re struggling, right now.

And we have the resources to help them.

Right now.


Hear it From MEDLIFErs

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Reya Seby
Western University

This trip motivated me more to pursue a career in the healthcare field so that I can use my resources to help those who need it the most, similar to MEDLIFE’s mission.

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Victoria DiCanio
University of Connecticut

It was most enjoyable to finish the hard work and see how big a difference a group of individuals can make. It was such an amazing experience.

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Anita Woo
University of Toronto

I enjoyed the mobile clinics the most, especially the dental and triage portions. I would definitely recommend a MEDLIFE trip, it was a great experience.

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David Saff
Maclay High School

The most enjoyable part of my trip was hanging out with the amazing group of kids I was with. I would highly recommend a MEDLIFE volunteer trip to others.

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Sydney Sansone
Nova Southeastern University

This trip made everything that I was learning in my public health courses come to life and immersed me in a new culture while also learning about medicine.

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Abygail Youmans
College of Charleston

Being involved with MEDLIFE is not like joining another club - its bigger than that. It is about joining a movement that seeks to help change people’s quality of life for forever.

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Emi Hofmann
University of Central Florida

Not only was I able to participate in a week long Mobile Clinic, shadowing doctors of all types of specialties including pharmacy, dentistry, gynecology, and more, but I was also able to learn about the culture and visit incredible places.

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Julian Takagi-Stewart
University of Toronto

One thing that I really loved about this trip was that MEDLIFE made sure that the volunteers got an understanding of the complexity of issues that lead to underprivileged people in communities outside of the main city

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Hannah Van Hofwegen
University of Ottawa

Whether it was basketball with the local kids, assisting the doctors, talking with families, building washrooms, holding babies, or spending time with the people who were on the SLT with me, this was an amazing opportunity that I would do over and over again.

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Isabelle Holt
Cornell University

I loved learning about the patients MEDLIFE has followed and how they offer real help to people with chronic/urgent conditions. It is amazing how the organization formed real connections with the communities.

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Valerie Lindeborg

Our family had the privilege of participating in multiple trips with Nick [founder] and his amazing staff. Their expertise made the trips unforgettable while instilling in my boys the fundamentals of good character: selflessness, compassion, and empathy.

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Harry Vildibill
University of Georgia

As an aspiring physician, MEDLIFE motivated me to further continue my goal of becoming a doctor. In fact, I enjoyed the Tanzania Service Learning Trip so much that I decided to go on another trip to Cusco, Peru.