October 16, 2015 2:47 pm

Intern Journal: Leigh Cohen

Written by Leigh Cohen

Six months and five days ago, I was sitting in the study room of the University of Michigan's Union with my best friend.  Aside from studying for the last final exam of my undergraduate career, the morning could not have been more ordinary; the weather was beautiful and I was well equipped with my computer and white chocolate mocha coffee to ace the quickly approaching exam.  My biggest concerns included whether I wanted No Thai! or Frita Batidos for lunch, what I was going to wear to Skeeps (Michigan's infamous sports bar) that night, and how – in one short month, I was expected to live without the nine crazy girls with whom I shared my house, closet and dreams.  Then, I opened an email from Tim Anson.  “Dear Leigh, MEDLIFE would like to present you the opportunity to take part in our Year Long Internship for 2015/16.  Your internship will begin the week of August 3rd.”  Six months and five days ago, this seemingly ordinary day quickly became one of the most monumental days of my life.

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Though I have a lot of experience with travel and have even lived abroad for four months with Semester at Sea, I don't think anything could have prepared me for what was coming.  Graduating from Michigan was a huge change in and of itself, which made moving to Lima, Peru in just four months nearly ungraspable.  Of course, there were a handful of times when I was ready to pick up and go, but most of the time, I felt almost numb to its realization.  In all honesty, I had not packed a single article of clothing until the Sunday before my Tuesday flight.  In a way, that procrastination may have been a manifestation of my fear of leaving unfinished business behind – part of that unfinished business being my gradual entrance into the “adult world.”  However, in the weeks leading up to my departure date, I began to realize that no one is ever truly ready to make that leap – it just happens.  One day, you are sitting in the same library you have spent countless days at, and the next, you are booking a one-way ticket to Peru.  Life just happens, and that is a beautiful and exciting thing.

Since arriving in Lima, I have learned to call a large white house of thirteen interns “home” – a term I thought could not be coined in such a short amount of time.  I have roamed the lively streets of Miraflores and listened to the tunes of a trumpeter in Plaza de Barranco.  I have also hiked the high hills of Lima's communities living in immense poverty and formed great friendships with several women and children of Los Jardines de Pamplona.  I have visited six follow-up care patients and alleviated the stresses of a community's dangerous trek by creation of a staircase.  I have held the hand of a woman, Ana, who thanked me for leaving my country for hers, and I have laughed contagiously with two little girls, Anyeli and Adriana, as they climbed on the back of a dog and told me of a time when they ripped their pants while climbing a nearby tree.  It is experiences like these that make what happened six months and five days ago one of the best days of my life.

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There is a very common, almost cliché quote from Confucius that reads, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”  For me, working for MEDLIFE embodies this idea entirely.  I believe there are very few work environments in which the entire office is driven by a seemingly untreatable desire to help.  There are also very few work environments in which the driving force behind those desires is just a few miles away in the hills of Lima.  Pairing these aspects of MEDLIFE together allows all of us to turn our dreams of creating sustainable and positive change into reality.  In two short months, my life has been filled with abounding joy and determination, and I owe all of that to MEDLIFE.  Six months and five days ago, I began an emotional embarkation on an experience that would soon become very real and very tangible.  Six months and five days ago, life just happened, and it is a life I could not be more proud and more excited to lead.

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October 9, 2015 11:38 am

Intern Journal: Jordan McHugh

Written by Jordan McHugh

Turn on the news, listen to NPR, skim through ‘The Vice,' catch up on an uplifting documentary such as “Blackfish” and you may easily become overwhelmed with problems around the world that immediately need to be addressed. I sit in a room of ten other interns with eclectic educations and backgrounds. Not one of us sharing the same major, but each of us sharing a key identity-the compulsive need to help.

Because of this principal characteristic, I have perpetually struggled to find a path that allows me to assuage this need to help. With the insurmountable problems around the world, it is difficult to choose just one, for you are then consciously choosing to ignore numerous others. Although the lot of us are just individuals, we all have this tiny goal of curing the world. However, regardless of our history we all saw a common opportunity to make some sort of a difference using MEDLIFE as our beacon.

MEDLIFE gives you the opportunity to attack goals that appear insurmountable. Working in Lima, you can become easily overwhelmed by the extraordinary need to address every problem around you. When there are so many issues in the world, MEDLIFE gives you the chance to successfully address a specific sector, thus making the achievement of significant tasks not so unobtainable.

Although an idealistic (and true) mantra, this preceding statement is something that has been very difficult to keep in mind and to take to heart. Walking through the hills of Pamplona I feel as if I am being pulled in every direction. This community needs a staircase, this community needs electricity, everybody needs water sanitation, why is this 6-year-old selling candy on the street, shouldn't she be in school? Our field visits are eye opening to say the least, and I continuously combi (Peruvian taxi) home with knots in my stomach and lists in my head.

When 5 O'clock hits, our workdays are far from over. Living with these 10 other like-minded interns, it is impossible to escape the reoccurring conversation: I encountered a problem that needs immediate attention today, what is the most effective and efficient way to fix it? This matter is hard to solve working for an NGO that has been in place for many years and has already created quite a hefty list of areas that require the same immediate attention. It becomes an issue of stress over which project we attend to first. In fact, nighttime pillow talk with my roommates consists of potential projects, heartbreaking family health issues, and foreseeable roadblocks in our planning. These weighted bedtime stories inevitably leave us with an extra 45 minutes of wide-eyed planning, which then inescapably carries into our dreams.

Each one of the interns I work with is inspirational. It is extraordinary to see the amount of passion that accompanies our roundtable discussions or our yearlong intern project planning sessions. As a team not only do we collaborate and learn from each other, but we are able accomplish these insuperable tasks, step-by-crazy-discussion-filled-step. I am honored to be a member of this lofty-goaled team. I am just one piece of the large picture this NGO aims to accomplish. I have to understand that this internship requires me to be okay with not fixing every problem. But, I hope that any small step I can make in the grand scheme will be invaluable.

419 image00Day in the field (Photo Cred. Ed)

419 image01A home for Ceverina

October 2, 2015 2:57 pm

Intern Journal: Sneha Kolla

Written by Rosali Vela


Getting off the phone with my almost 15 year old sister and hearing her get excited about her first homecoming dance and her experiences as a freshman in high school only reminds me of how fast time flies. It was merely eight years ago I was in her position and who would have known that I would be picking up my bags and moving to Peru back then. Yet, here I am enjoying a café con leche in Lima and thinking about how to fit the numerous wonderful and eye-opening experiences I've had so far working with MEDLIFE and living in Lima into this blog post.

To begin, MEDLIFE is something I came across through a Facebook friend who posted pictures from a clinic trip. With the intentions of signing up for a trip myself, I went on their website and learned that I could start a chapter at my university. With the desire to do something substantial and helpful for my college community before graduation, I started the MEDLIFE chapter at Rowan University and this has by far been the most enlightening experience both professionally and personally.  


Developing the chapter at Rowan and simultaneously learning about Paul Farmer's work in my medical anthropology class only enhanced my interest in the field of global health. It motivated me to do more with MEDLIFE's mission so I applied for their internship and literally jumped to joy when I came to know I got it. It was something I knew I genuinely wanted to do and felt privileged to have the opportunity to do the kind of work the organization does. So I came to Lima in August with great compassion and integrity, which was greatly questioned during one of the night community meetings all the interns attended.

San Cristobal de Hurocancha is a community that MEDLIFE is recently partnering with. As an establishment in the hills of San Juan de Miraflores, this community has no access to electricity or a road. So when we hiked in the pitch dark for an hour and half to reach them, it's no surprise to say that we struggled. There were many instances during this hike where I found myself not having the sense of compassion I came to Lima with. All I could think of was how much my legs hurt and how tired I was. I simply wanted to do go home, take a shower, and eat. I truly felt guilty for thinking like this but I believe it was indeed this guilt that made me push myself to continue the hike.


Once we finally arrived, the MEDLIFE staff along with the community members huddled in a circle. Carlos started talking to the community members to get an idea as to what their main concerns were and I couldn't help but get lost in a train of thought when I saw the pregnant woman who was standing right across from me.

What was merely a one-time hike for me was one this woman has made multiple times during her time living here. I started imaging the several plausible risks she and her child faced living in conditions like these where there is no electricity, access to water is a hassle, and the susceptibility for a fall is extremely high due to the steep hillside this community was located in. I myself fell a couple times walking the same paths as this woman and imaging the toll this fall would have on her and her child was something that I found simply terrifying and devastating. It was hard to come to terms with the fact that this was their reality every single day – not just a couple of hours like it was for me.

I wanted to fix everything I saw wrong with this community. I wanted to help them in any way possible to make their reality better.  But if there is one thing I have learned from my experience working with MEDLIFE, it is that helping individuals is more complicated than what it is actually portrayed out to be.

Their non-profit efforts do not merely aim to help people. The organization tries to build relationships with communities, ensure that the help they are providing is sustainable, and emphasize on community development initiatives so the current struggles people are facing in terms of healthcare, education, and development could be prevented permanently for generations to come. In this way, the several projects the organization executes are ones that are stepping stones towards making progressive change - something I have learned takes time and patience.  

The great complexity in this kind of work is something that came as a surprise to me. When I realize the many steps and precautions that need to be taken to make a viable difference, I find myself losing the sense of integrity I had coming to Lima. Yet, every time I talk to my sister, I feel optimistic. Thinking about how much the past eight years of my life has changed and how content I am with my reality right now only makes me feel hopeful about the next eight years as well. I believe that my experiences here working with MELDIFE and living in Lima are ones that are not only testing my capabilities but also expanding them. I feel more educated about the field of global health as well as about helping individuals in the ways I want to. I am certain that my current experiences as an intern are ones that will most definitely play a transformative and pivotal role in my future endeavors and I could not be more thankful for this opportunity.


September 25, 2015 11:41 am

Intern Journal: Chelsea Barth

Written by Chelsea Barth

It's already been about 2 months since I arrived in Lima and I have no idea where the time has gone. I am experiencing so much everyday that weeks go by so extremely fast.  My first couple of weeks here were filled with getting acclimated to the area and learning a little bit more about the organization. I was not affiliated with a MEDLIFE chapter at Boston University because we didn't have one (that is hopefully changing this year!). I spent my first week here asking a million questions about MEDLIFE and trying to hop on any opportunity to go out into the field to learn more about the communities we are helping here in Lima. Fortunately, there were many opportunities!

My most recent field experience was also one that made me realize just how different the health care is here in Peru from in the US. I went with one of our MEDLIFE nurses and our MEDLIFE doctor to visit a patient that was having a very complicated liver surgery.  When I walked up to this hospital, one of the first things I noticed was the overwhelming amount of people waiting outside in the clinic and emergency care areas. Juan Pablo, our doctor, could tell this sight shocked me and told me: “This is nothing. You should see this place at 8am in the morning when they first open. There are twice as many people here. Maybe more.” I just couldn't imagine that. The lines must take over the streets at that point. Once we entered the building, we walked around looking for the outpatient rooms. There were people standing everywhere and even stray dogs running up and down the stairs. I knew that the copious amounts of dogs in Peru were an issue based on our visits to the communities. I never thought that it would be to the point were stray dogs would be running around hospitals.

We continued our search for the patient and found out that she was still in surgery. We then proceeded to the waiting room where we found the patient's brother and husband.  As we were sitting there looking over the receipts of the patient's multiple prescriptions, I took a second to look around the waiting room. Growing up my dad was an Oncologist and my mom was an RN- so I was basically raised in a hospital and sitting in waiting rooms was nothing new to me.  But everything that I was looking at was different than any hospital I had been in back home in the States. Everything seemed more worn down: the walls, the chairs, and the even the people. There was no speaker system in place so when a patient was done with surgery a nurse or secretary (I couldn't tell who it was from far way) would hang over the banister from the second floor and shout patients names so family members could go back.  To the right of where I was sitting was the radiology section of the hospital, which I was very family with since my dad also had a radiology center in the same building as his practice. But I didn't see any warning signs that I was used to seeing at the entrance to the center. I thought this was slightly strange but then I also thought that maybe I just couldn't see the signs from where I was sitting.

We sat there for about 45 minutes and talking to the patient's family about what they were suppose to do with the equipment and bandages that the doctor had given them to help with outpatient treatment. We soon left with the prescription receipts in hand and still hadn't seen the patient come out of the surgery. I asked Juan Pablo about this and he seemed shocked too that it was four hours later and our patient still wasn't out. Yet he knew exactly why: our patient had been through two other surgeries for the same liver disease and this one was extremely complicated due to the fragile state of the patient. It was heart breaking to think that this young woman of just 41 years old was going through surgery after surgery and suffering with such a complicated disease.

413 1Hipolito Unanue Hospital in Lima, Peru - Photo Credit: Photo Credit

413 2Picture of Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, CA- Photo Credit 








I did go on a more uplifting field visit with the communications team just the week before. One of the areas of public health that I am hoping to study more is global health communication and education. More specifically, I am really interested on how people portray disparity and health issues from one population to another. From my studies it seems that communication in health seems to be a reoccurring problem. Whether it is from one organization to another or from one population to the government, it seems that people have trouble listening to what the health problem is and working together to fix that problem. So many times NGO's will come in and give the communities what the organization thinks the community needs instead of talking to the people and really listening to their problems. These messages end up going back to government officials in different countries and they provide the communities with supplies and tools that they really don't need or even know how to use. I think that while educating communities about health is vitally important, I also think that health officials and NGOs need to be educated on how to communicate with locals in impoverished or at risk communities to be able to figure out what the real problem is. 

413 3Visit in Union Santa Fe- Photo Credit: Edward Doherty

I believe this is just one area of global health that MEDLIFE does an amazing job with. We work hand in hand with the community members and really listen to what their problems and needs are before we come in with any type of help. We talk to them and earn their trust and never promise them something we can't deliver. We know how to communicate with them. Because of this, I think it makes us better able to communicate their needs to the rest of our chapters and supporters. On my field experiences with the communications team I was helping them get footage for our most recent project. We are currently working with a community called Union Santa Fe to get legal and safe electricity for their residents. It was so interesting to see the types of questions that the communications team was asking the members during the interviews and to hear the reasoning behind why these people need this electricity. We then walked around and went into many homes to see just what the electrical situation was. The team was taking pictures of everything including light fixtures, the families' electrical connection set up, and the unstable community posts that hold the wires up. They made sure to capture everything going on and show just how unsafe the electrical situation is there. I am super excited to see how this video comes out and to see just how MEDLIFE will portray the need of electricity within this community. I also enjoyed getting so involved with this project because it allowed me to have the first hand experience to relay back to my chapters. I was able to tell them how I could hear the sparking coming from the wires that were running from house to house and how community members were concerned about the safety of their children around these wires.

413 4Being Interviewed for Fundraising Video- Photo Credit: Edward Doherty

So while its only been 8 weeks since I have arrived in Lima, I am excited to see what the city and MEDLIFE have in store for me for my next 8 months.

September 18, 2015 5:11 pm

Intern Journal: Roxanne Garibay

Written by Roxanne Garibay

I have travelled to other countries in Europe and Latin America, but living in Lima for the past month has been a great gift. My first days were filled with excitement and giddy joy at this great adventure at a new place, and the rest of my thirteen roommates and I took it upon ourselves to explore the immense city of Lima, Peru. Our first excursions was to the district of Miraflores, which is known for its restaurants, bars and upscale apartments within view of the ocean. We walked on the oceanside and later got lunch at La Lucha, a delicious sandwich place of Miraflores, which is situated at Larcomar, the oceanside mall of Lima.

Similarly, my first day in the field was breathtaking in many ways. We began our 40 minute ride to the community Union Santa Fe in Pamplona Alta where we were to be present at the Wawa Wasi Inauguration (a day care). We entered a large sea of homes of which communities rise up to the hills and beyond the peaks. During the day you are able to see brightly colored homes scattered in the pueblos jovenes (shantytowns); in addition to a layer of fog that hugs the horizon and tallest hills which are covered in homes. You would never have believed these hills would have as many homes as they do, and to such elevation considering the landscape conditions and lack or resources in such areas. The seclusion and non-government land causes

When going to the field, I always think about going up. During the Wawa Wasi Inauguration we drove up to switchback up the windy trails, leaving only two feet of space between the unprotected cliff edge and our bus. We parked and then, of course, had to take a ‘few flights' of stairs that led up to Union Santa Fe and the last colorful staircase which led up to the daycare center.


11879201_10153129609657616_9042992539370163049_o.jpgAt the Wawa Wasi Inauguration. (PC: April Gulotti)


We recently visited the community of San Cristobal de Hurocancha, where we are beginning a partnership. This community is located at the top of the hills of Pamplona and does not have access to water, electricity or a safe and accessible road to home. Our meeting took place at 7PM, at which point the sun had set and darkness surrounded us. Our walk up to San Cristobal de Hurocancha  began as a road, but quickly turned into a dirt path that was damp from the continuous fog and covered with stones, trash and other waste. The group of almost twenty of us walked in a straight line through the night, with only lights in the distance to guide us along the hillside.

During our meeting, Carlos asked the community members what trail they took home, the same way as we did, they responded. I couldn't imagine this, almost hour long, trek day and night to the foothills and then another bus ride to a work location every day. I thought of the many times I have walked home and the path is always well lit, clean and paved. But that trail the reality for so many individuals of this and other communities.


IMG_3326 copy.jpgMEDLIFE staff & interns with the community of San Cristobal de Hurocancha. (PC: Tom Stevens)


My last field visit was this week, our patient had a possibly tumor on her forehead that had been developing for almost three years. Now it began to affect her vision, and MEDLIFE had proceeded to assist her with removing it and helping her family. Myself and another intern, April, were asked to come to the pre-op to donate blood for her upcoming operation. We took the normal bus ride to the pubelos jovenes in the outskirts of Lima and then walked to the hospital which provides health care the members of the pueblos jovenes.

We entered the hospital and immediately the lines of patients overtook your view and the warm air filled your lungs. There were long lines for appointments, every type of specialists, and the pharmacy. They trailed out of the offices and into the hallway, almost blending together and the amount of people waiting for an appointment was breathtaking. We walked over to the blood bank and waited for three hours to finish processing two blood donations, as we waited, I played with Leonardo, our patients four year old son. His mother told me he was missing school and had multiple times due to having to come along to her appointments. She didn't have closer relatives to care for and take him to school.

I have mentioned the conditions of the communities we work in, and what they do not have access to and what they “need”. After this first month, reflection has sunk into our thoughts and everyday activities. I spent the first few weeks observing and understanding the delicate complexity that our jobs at MEDLIFE entail. Currently I struggle with the complexity of injustice that is present and how as a team we can assist. We know that this year will consist of improvements, however small, toward making better the community's quality of living, but in this we will be able to learn from them and grow. “ What does this all mean?” goes through my mind continuously as I try and take the purpose of why I am here and make a difference. Experiences with Leonardo and his family have helped to feed my passion and show me what facts and pictures can't.


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