I look across the bustling city of Lima, Peru to the distant lights shining on the steep hillsides, which are crowded with small, tin-roof-covered houses. The imagery of the green light from the novel The Great Gatsby and the faint sound of salsa music from a radio in a nearby house coalesce into a moment standing atop a hill in Pamplona Alta.
I distinctly remember my first visit to Pamplona Alta, one of the communities on the outskirts of Lima where thousands live in a reality of no formal property rights, no easy access to clean water or quality health care, and extremely few financial resources. MEDLIFE was hosting a mobile clinic, and I had the opportunity to observe a physician that day. I noted the differences in his communication style compared to the physicians I had shadowed prior. It was clear that he invested extraordinarily in the wellbeing of each patient, making sure to explain his thought processes and detail preventative measures going forward. There is always a tendency to rush through patients, but he was pleased to take the time to answer all the questions each patient had. We may have stayed an hour or two later that day, but he realized that his time was a small price to pay for the health of another. I have shadowed numerous physicians in the U.S. and abroad, and the genuine concern that he possessed for his patients stands out to this day.
This theme is reaffirmed and apparent each day I work as an intern. Whether he or she is a community health promoter, director of MED Programs, Volunteer Affairs Coordinator, operations specialist, or fellow Volunteer Affairs intern, every person I have met who works with MEDLIFE is truly empowered to proactively make a difference. Here at MEDLIFE, this means furthering the mission of partnering with communities to provide improved access to medicine, education, and community development to low-income families across the globe.
The magic of MEDLIFE is in the organization’s ability to empower the individuals with which it interacts. It is empowering students in MEDLIFE chapters across the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico to organize mobile clinic trips and learn more about the root causes of the inequalities in health that exist. It is empowering others to realize that their opinion matters and that they can make a difference, in their recognition that there are many people in this world that need organizations like MEDLIFE to keep working to help them. By attending a community meeting last week, I learned that one of MEDLIFE’s greatest achievements is empowering the communities with which it works.
A community meeting is an essential meeting that occurs several times before beginning any work on a development project and before mobile clinic logistics are solidified. The other interns and I, along with Sr. Carlos Benavides, MEDLIFE’s Director of MED Programs in Peru, walked into a meeting where 50 to 60 community members had already gathered, some sitting and some standing, to listen to us speak about MEDLIFE.
We had come to outline a proposal regarding a partnership and staircase project with that particular community. As with any MEDLIFE staircase project, we would provide the construction supplies if the community members agreed to work together and alongside us by preparing the site for several weeks before students arrived to cement and decorate the staircase. One must look closely at the consequences of this decision. Imagine a (common) situation of subsistence living, where each day’s wage is solely used to purchase food for that person’s family for that day, a situation that is especially difficult for single parents. By participating in the project work, individuals forgo their income for an entire day or two.
After Carlos spoke, he asked the community to explain why they wanted staircases. Several men and women stood up and articulated that the steep hillsides were dangerous for the old, the sick, the pregnant, and the young. Each person, without fail, mentioned that these projects were not for them; the projects were for the future wellbeing of the community.
After successfully organizing one project in unison with MEDLIFE, the community and its leaders are better equipped to address other projects that will perpetuate the wellbeing of their community.
The selflessness clearly portrayed that night, and many other instances throughout my experiences as a MEDLIFE mobile clinic participant and intern, continue to empower me. I am inspired to become a competent, empathetic, and effective physician based on my experiences with the people in Lima and Tena. I have learned that each person, no matter his or her cultural, political, or socioeconomic background, has a fascinating life story to tell, and one must simply ask the right questions in many cases.