October 13, 2016 8:41 am

Intern Journal: Emily Gardner

Written by Emily Gardner

          Any of my close friends and family can tell you that the months leading up to my departure for Lima were characterized by multiple mini-existential crises; although I'm a fairly spontaneous person, the more I thought about it, the crazier it seemed to pick up my life and move to another country on my own for a year.  Everyone around me was incredibly supportive, but always with an air of skepticism–was this really what I should be doing with my life at this point?

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          At the same time, I knew there would be a moment in which all of the worry and anxiety became worth it, a moment in which I was certain that I had made the right decision in moving to Peru.  Luckily, that realization occurred much quicker than I had anticipated.  

          Before we started our internship, we had a weeklong training period with all of the staff in which we learned about the MEDLIFE mission and how each facet of the organization contributes to the overall picture.  Although I was involved with my MEDLIFE chapter in college, I was amazed by everything I was learning.  While we were listening to our founder Nick Ellis speak, I paused and looked around the room.  The audience, the driving force behind MEDLIFE, consisted of individuals from all over the world with diverse backgrounds, interests, and skill sets.  Seeing all these incredible people gathered in one place for one purpose, I immediately felt that I was a part of something bigger than myself, a feeling that is both intimidating and comforting.  All my previous worries “se fue” and I dived in head first into my year with MEDLIFE.

          Even though I came here by myself, I've never felt alone.  I have found that friendship emerges easily between people who share a passion (even if you also share a kitchen).  It is really incredible to be able to stand alongside my housemates and friends, the same people I eat breakfast with every morning, and accomplish amazing things together.  This picture was taken at the end of a long day spent tossing bricks up a hillside to begin construction on a house for Soledad, one of our patients, and her son José.  They were both there alongside us the entire day, giving us water and Inka Cola, chatting with us during breaks, and constantly expressing their gratitude.     

          There is still a lot to accomplish before the big inauguration and move-in.  Although I wish we could simply snap our fingers and finish the project, part of me muses that every home should be constructed this way–piece by piece.  True ownership springs from physical investment in a project and active presence each step of the way.  At the end of the day, even though I was just a link in a long chain of MEDLIFE staff, interns, and community members, I have never felt so accomplished and, again, part of something bigger.  I strive to apply this same mentality to my internship with MEDLIFE as a whole; no task is minute, no role is insignificant.  

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October 10, 2016 8:19 am

Intern Journal: Shayna Hamburg

Written by Shayna Hamburg

I was climbing down a steep hill-side of slippery rocks when I paused to catch my breath. It was my first week in Lima, and I was participating in our Reality Tour. Carlos, the Director of MED Programs Peru, was leading us through the communities on the outskirts of Lima to help us better understand the challenges they face everyday. “Ya, chicos, bajamos,” Carlos tells us to hurry down as we're supposed to meet with the community members from Wilbert Basurto. Fearful I might fall, I crouched down and placed both hands on the rocks beside me for support as I lowered myself down.

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          Once I planted both feet on solid ground, I looked back at the precarious path I had just descended. There were two young children scrambling down the rocks, followed by a woman wearing flip-flops and carrying her baby in a poncho on her back. Shortly after, another woman approximately 7 months pregnant, Herlita, slowly made her way down to greet us. I couldn't believe my eyes. Here I was properly equipped with good health, youth and sturdy hiking boots, yet struggling to safely reach the bottom. How were these individuals supposed to do the same without stable shoes? What would they do if it were raining or dark out? It was that moment I realized the gravity of the situation. They need a safe passageway; specifically, a staircase.

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          Less than two months later, I found myself sitting in that same location next to Herlita, except this time she was holding a happy, healthy baby, just 20 days old. We shared traditional foods, cachanga and cebada, from the region Huancavelica, where most of the community members had migrated from. As we enjoyed this meal, the community members of Wilbert Basurto discussed their plans with Carlos to begin the process of building their first staircase. The community was ready and inspired. They had just witnessed the inauguration of two new staircases in a nearby community Laderas de Nueva Esperanza, a location where we have been working for five years and have completed 11 staircases. The community members of Wilbert Basurto were able to see the success of their neighbors' efforts first-hand, turning a seemingly unattainable idea into a more tangible goal.  

          Wilbert Basurto is a much smaller community. They only have 21 families in comparison to the 93 families that make up Laderas de Nueva Esperanza, but Carlos assured the community members that it can be done. He emphasized the importance of commitment to the project and suggested that they ask to rent the wooden molds for their staircases from Laderas de Nueva Esperanza. As the community members came to an agreement with Carlos, I turned to Herlita by my side and smiled. She, her baby, and countless neighbors would soon have a staircase, providing safe access to and from their home.  

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          It was that moment that I realized the true magnitude of MEDLIFE's impact. We have built staircases, individual relationships and collaborative partnerships. We have empowered communities to organize and create positive change for themselves, but what I find to be the most meaningful is how communities have started to collaborate and learn from each other. To me, this is the truest essence of empowerment, and this is how the MEDLIFE mission will continue to grow. 

September 26, 2016 1:21 pm

Intern Journal: David Jetha

Written by David Jetha

          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.

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          When we visit communities and speak with the people, the word I hear the most is ‘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.

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          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 ‘!Eres fuerte!' along with Janet shouting in the background ‘!Sí, 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, José. 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.

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          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.

September 2, 2016 8:19 am

Intern Journal: Alison Bradley

Written by Alison Bradley

Two years ago I volunteered at a MEDLIFE mobile clinic, hauling cement with sixty other University of Michigan students, to help build a staircase in the community of 22 de Junio. I never imagined I would be standing on those stairs again, but this time as a MEDprograms intern.

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After my experience working with MEDLIFE in 2014, I knew that I wanted to improve my Spanish and continue learning more about health disparities in medically underserved communities. I went back to school and declared as a Spanish major immediately. When I was getting ready to graduate, I was looking for more opportunities to continue to educate myself—to learn more about the world around me, and what I could do to serve others. Once again, MEDLIFE seemed like the perfect fit for me.

However, leaving the country for a week and leaving for a year are two very different experiences. I had been on a mobile clinic, and I had thoroughly researched the values of MEDLIFE, but you don't really know what you're getting into until you're here. We spent our entire first week training (with Nick Ellis himself!): learning about MEDLIFE's goals, how it is different from medical missions, and what factors contribute to Lima's health and development disparities. It was such an amazing experience to be surrounded by people passionate about educating themselves on these issues and working to eliminate them.

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The next step was to put it all into practice. I was able to spend an entire week in the field with the nurses and Carlos, our director for MEDprograms Peru. I visited communities and got to speak to them about addressing their needs, whether it was water projects, educational workshops, or staircases. I was able to sit down with patients and understand how our processes work to remove the barriers that separate them from accessing quality health care. I even rode in a mototaxi, which was honestly a little terrifying, but I did live to tell the tale.

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The first couple weeks in Lima have been a whirlwind, but I keep finding myself thinking about returning to those stairs in 22 de Junio. After two years, I am so thankful for this opportunity to be back in Lima to continue learning about and serving these communities. 

May 11, 2016 3:34 pm

Thank You 2015-16 Interns!

Written by Jake Kincaid

The 2015-2016 year long internship has ended, a huge thank you to all of our interns for your hard work this year! A lot was accomplished this year, and we couldn't have done it without you. MEDLIFE is having a record breaking year, we have already brought over 3000 volunteers on Mobile Clinics. In addition to helping MEDLIFE achieve growth on core goals like volunteer participation, interns brought a host of new projects and ideas including: medicinal community gardens, nutrition workshops, family planning talk and condom donations, fuel efficient stoves, sustainable water filters for families in Tanzania and more. They also collectively took on an ambitious group project and fundraised for several development projects in the community of Urucancha. Several interns have stayed with MEDLIFE as full-time staff. Those who have left will be missed. The lasting contributions to MEDLIFE as an organization and to the communities we work in from this group of interns is greatly appreciated. 

2Cristina Negron.

1April Gulloti.

leighLeigh Ann Cohen.

2 Jessica Danker.

4Kristine Paiste.

11Sneha Kolla

12Jordan Mchugh.

13Roxanne Garibay.

annaAnna Folz. 

14Nicholas Bettencourt.

chelseyChelsea Barth.

 

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