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.
Community 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.
They’re struggling, right now.
And we have the resources to help them.