En route to Nueva Esperanza this foggy morning, I’m filled with a feeling of anticipation: I get to see Soledad and her son today. Looking out the bus window on our morning commute, I watch people heading off to work. I see children with brightly colored backpacks skipping on the sidewalks with small lunch boxes waving in the air with every swing of their arms. I see street vendors cooking an assortment of quail egg dishes and various styles of chicken sandwiches. Although I only get the most infinitesimal glimpse into all of their lives, I feel like I’m a part of it.
When we visit communities and speak with the people, the word I hear the most is â€˜apoyar,’ which means to support. This morning, I spent time thinking about what that means. Apoyar is an action where anyone can participate. In Spanish, this is its infinitive form, allowing it to be conjugated to reflect who is conducting it. The word is both flexible and inclusive. After spending a moment impressed by how much Spanish I actually do remember from high school, I think about all the support MEDLIFE has brought to our patient, Soledad. A woman that has experienced so much adversity still manages to smile when we arrived the last time our group came to visit. Several nights before, Carlos brought us to see Soledad’s home. I remember being overwhelmed with sadness seeing how she lived with her son in this home constructed of plywood and I wondered how this building was still even standing. Carlos then told our group that MEDLIFE had agreed to build her a new home and the following month, we were to build it. Oh boy.
At first, I was scared. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to lift concrete, or throw these unassumingly heavy bricks several meters in the air, let alone catch one being hurled right at me. In those early mornings, Carlos believed in us and said â€˜!Eres fuerte!’ along with Janet shouting in the background â€˜!SÃ, se puede!’ Halfway through, I was so exhausted. I felt like my body had been pushed to its limit and there would be no way I could continue. During our water break, a young boy sat next to me and asked what my name was. I found out he was Soledad’s son, JosÃ©. We spoke about everything. Minutes felt like hours as we shared our lives and the things we had seen, the Spanish phrases we both knew, even the jokes we thought were funny. For a brief moment, I forgot all the physical pain I had felt earlier and was captivated by our conversation. On that day, I gained a new friend.
When our bus reached its final stop, we disembarked and continued to walk up to Soledad’s house. I was anxious because it had been a few weeks since I’d seen Soledad and Jose and I was eager to continue the conversations we had last time.
I knew that I’d learn a lot on this internship, but it’s impossible to describe in words the compassion and empathy felt when working on projects or conducting follow-up patient visits. At some point, you realize that everyone is a person trying to do the best they can with the resources they have, to make a better future for themselves and their family. I feel that being a MEDLIFE intern has given me the opportunity to work alongside others and learn how to truly serve, so I can be a better source of apoyo (support) for my friends and loved ones back home.
Finally, we reached the base of the staircase to Soledad’s project site. Bricks lay at the base of where her new, two-story home will be built in the coming weeks. I’m incredibly happy seeing how much progress has been made and am eager to continue working on it. I look over my shoulder and I see Soledad and Jose with smiles on their face as if they were seeing old friends again. At this moment, I think: somos vecinos.