From the start, MEDLIFE has had a profound effect on my college career. Before traveling on my first mobile clinic to Lima three years ago, I had been struggling with Organic Chemistry and seriously considered giving up on medicine. However, after attending the clinic, my life goals were reaffirmed; I realized that I could not see myself being anything but a doctor who served underserved populations. When I returned home from Lima, I could not forget about the people I had met and those whose work our efforts supported. I wanted to continue supporting MEDLIFE’s mission.
I became involved with MEDLIFE during my freshman year at the University of Georgia. Through the UGA Chapter, I became the Internal Affairs Chair, served as the Co-President for the past two years, and led two more clinics to Esmeraldas, Ecuador, and Cusco, Peru. I also served on the Student Advisory Board this past year and assisted in MEDLIFE’s expansion efforts.
Being selected as a Volunteer Affairs Intern this summer has truly been a dream. I vividly remember jumping for joy when I received my acceptance email from Tim Anson, the Director of Volunteer Affairs and Communication. I am honored and blessed to get more involved on the ground level and increase my exposure to global health before starting medical school in the fall. I hope to improve my understanding of cultural competency and learn the essentials of running a successful non-profit organization.
These past few weeks in Lima have flown by, and I know the adventures ahead will be just as impactful. From exploring Miraflores and Barranco to having Disney movie marathons, our apartment now feels like home, as fourteen college students from all over the world (but actually just the USA, Canada, and England) have grown into a well-oiled ‘internos’ squad. Our favorite hangouts have recently become La Lucha (the best sandwich place with delicious dipping sauces), Manolo’s (their churros are to die for), and Burrito Bar (which we all think is better and fresher than Chipotle).
My favorite memory in the field was attending our first community meeting two weeks ago. All the interns had the opportunity to accompany Carlos Benavides, the Director of MEDLIFE Peru, on a community meeting in Villa Maria Del Triunfo, a district located within Lima. Following work on Friday, we all got onto a crowded city bus and made our way to the community. After getting off in Nueva Esperanza, we walked about four blocks to take a moto taxi up the hills of this district. The blaring sirens and fast pace adrenaline made the taxi ride feel like a good ol’ fashioned NASCAR race.
MEDLIFE is hoping to forge a partnership with these local communities in order to raise public health awareness and improve its overall infrastructure. After weeks of planning and discussion of the community’s needs, Carlos was able to set up this meeting with the entire assembly. When our taxis finally reached the top of the hill, we got off and saw Lima at its finest. The entire sky had been taken over by darkness, but the homes settled on the rocky cliff side had shining lights emitting from them. These lights provided a beacon and guided us to the meeting building. We followed Carlos in a single file line and met an enormous assembly of men, women, and children. As we gathered against the wall, everyone stopped their side conversations and stared right at us, ready to hear our case.
The community leader said a few words and introduced Carlos to the assembly. Carlos began the meeting by introducing MEDLIFE and its mission in Peru. Afterwards, he asked the community members to share their stories with the assembly and discuss how MEDLIFE’s future involvement could benefit them. Everyone began their testimonials by expressing gratitude to us for attending their assembly and then described their everyday hardships. Several local women stepped forward and advocated for the construction of a staircase. The first woman testified that the staircase would make a sustainable impact on the community by providing safe passage to everyone traveling to and from the city, especially to mothers carrying groceries in hand and/or children on their backs. Another woman wanted the staircase to allow her children and all future generations to get to school cleanly. In Lima, the local schools will send students home if their uniforms are dirty. The administration does not usually understand that the rocky terrain that the children take to get to school. The community applauded for one other after their stories and the synchronous head nodding showed that everyone was in consensus.
Listening to these stories truly touched my heart and demonstrated how MEDLIFE could truly impact so many lives. Everyone (including myself) has been guilty of taking basic things for granted and not appreciating what they actually have. Yes, we may not all live lavish lives, but it should not take away from what truly matters — living life to the fullest and enjoying the time we have with friends and family. A staircase, which may not mean much to a typical American, goes a long way here in Peru. It serves as a symbol of hope and delivers a direct and positive change to the community. With a staircase, the elderly can leave their homes safely. Single mothers can bring groceries home faster and pregnant mothers can avoid potential falls.
The future construction of a staircase will be a tremendous triumph, but it’s important that strong relationships are forged with the local community. Several NGOs tend to use the band-aid approach to solving global health problems. They usually donate extravagant schools or provide weeklong mission trips. These events are ineffective because the local communities are not able to sustain themselves after the foreigners leave, aka ripping off a “bandaid.” In order to create a more long-term solution, an NGO needs to provide both the resources and the proper education. This allows the people to learn, think for themselves and lead healthier lives. MEDLIFE strives itself on creating sustainable practices and continues to head in the positive direction towards community development and viability. I am proud to play a role in this global movement and hope to inspire others to get involved and take the first step in making a difference.