June 26, 2015 3:39 pm

Intern Journal: Zoheb Sulaiman

Written by Zoheb Sulaiman

377-4-zoheb-sulaimanFrom 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.

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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.

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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. 377-5-zoheb-sulaimanThe 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.

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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. 377-6-zoheb-sulaimanIt 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.  

Water. Such a basic and common thing in my life that I never stopped to think, ‘what my life would be like without easy access to clean water'? Clean, safe water for cleaning, cooking, drinking, and so many other uses is immediately at our fingertips as Americans that it easily becomes taken for granted. 

When I went on a MEDLIFE trip nearly three years ago, I must admit that I was much more selfish than I am now. The trip for me was going to be a cool experience-- I could travel and shadow some doctors so that I could get in a fun, international experience while also building my resume. My time in Lima that winter really changed the perspective I had of my world and allowed me to have tremendous personal growth the past three years. (Which ultimately led me to this internship with MEDLIFE) For me, this change came about very clearly during my reality tour on the second day of my volunteer trip.

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When walking through the communities and taking photos, we saw many appalling things, including water being distributed in retired chemical barrels. Some of the people who sold these barrels to the communities had not even taken the time to fully peel off the skull-and-crossbones stickers on the side, which were meant to warn the user that the contents were toxic. I kept thinking, ‘people actually drink from these??'

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This was the most shocking sight I had ever seen, and it made me kept thinking ‘why'? Why are these people drinking from these barrels? Why are they in such a circumstance that no other option is available? Why are the people not educated enough to know they are probably poisoning themselves by using these barrels? WHY DOESN'T SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING TO HELP??? We kept walking a ways and stopped to talk to a gentleman standing by an outdoor water faucet. He was explaining that the faucet supplied them with clean water, and was recently put in. After talking with the man a while longer, he shared the information that it had cost about $500 US dollars to install this faucet. 

374-5This hit me hard. Why? Because previously that month I had bought a pair of boots that I had been eyeing for over a year. These boots were beautiful! Brown leather, handmade, and way too expensive. It made me sick to realize that I had just bought a pair of shoes that cost the same as putting in that water faucet. This is when the self-reflection started. I started to question everything I was doing with my life and why I was doing it. Why do I think it is okay to spend money on unnecessary objects when people here can't even have water that is safe? What do I expect out of my life? Why do I want to be a doctor? Why am I here? And eventually, what can I do to help? This moment was bittersweet for me because I then knew that I could not go home and get on with my life. I could not forget what I had seen here. It would have been easy to go back and move on without MEDLIFE, but that was not possible for me.

Three years later, here I am! An intern with MEDLIFE and someone who has a passion for public health and helping underserved communities. That moment in Pamplona Alta changed my life because I know I would not be here without it. I have had the most amazing experience here with MEDLIFE so far and I cannot wait to continue working to make a difference.

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June 8, 2015 3:22 pm

Intern Journal: Aly Lange

Written by Aly Lange

I distinctly remember the first time I was told that MEDLIFE builds staircases.

Why staircases? To me, that seemed odd. Why do we invest so much time and money into building staircases, of all things?

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7 months later, I was on my first mobile clinic with MEDLIFE in Lima, Peru. I and dozens of other volunteers were hiking up a mountain in Pamplona, one of many shantytown communities where millions of people experience poverty. Suddenly, my perspective shifted entirely. Up in these mountains, there is very little footing. The ground crumbles under your feet as you walk, and it's extremely steep. I'll never forget being up at the top of that mountain, huffing and puffing in exhaustion. I couldn't see anything but rocky hills and metal shacks. It was desolate poverty, as far as my eyes could see.

368-2Community members who live here- elderly, disabled, children, pregnant mothers- must trek up these mountains multiple times a day. In order to get to work, school, or even to the nearest water source, one has to brave the dangerous terrain. Directly because of these conditions, it's not uncommon for pregnant mothers to fall and miscarry or deliver prematurely. People fall and sustain multiple injuries such as broken limbs, wounds that become infected, etc.  When a MEDLIFE staircase is built, it alleviates many of these issues.

But in my opinion, the most incredible aspect of MEDLIFE's work with staircases is that the affects don't end there.  

In these shantytowns of Lima, the government owns the land people's houses are built on until the community establishes “land rights”. This is difficult to do, and requires jumping through many governmental hoops. However, without land rights, people cannot easily establish permanent water sources or electricity, get a bank loan, start a business, or anything that one would need a permanent address for. However, when MEDLIFE builds a staircase, they're moving an entire community closer to achieving these land rights by providing a “safe exit” from the community, which is one of the government's stipulations. With a staircase, these amenities are closer to becoming possible. Contrary to my opinion as a college freshman, building a staircase is the most sustainable, root-cause addressing aid MEDLIFE can give to many of these communities.

On Wednesday, I was given the opportunity to go on Project Day to build a staircase in Nueva Esperanza. When we started to work on the staircase, I saw how sincere these people were, and how grateful they were to be having their needs met. One elderly woman, in perhaps her 70s, returned from hiking up the mountain to fetch water as we were working. She immediately started handing buckets up the assembly line with us, throwing herself into the hardest work possible. Later on, Frida, a young woman with epilepsy who has fallen down the hills twice now, badly tweaked her finger in the assembly line. She was in a lot of pain, but kept going despite barely being able to move her finger. We repeatedly asked her to take a break and tried to take over her job, but she refused to stop. We had people of all ages and abilities pouring their blood, sweat and tears into making this staircase. 

These people persevere constantly, even in the most trying, stressful circumstances. Many of them sleep 4 hours a night and work all day, and keep going despite being sick, tired, malnourished, or injured. A thing as simple and cheap as a staircase alleviates so much of their needless suffering.

368-3(At Frida's house at the top of the mountain. Frida (second from right), who suffers from epilepsy, has fallen halfway down the side of the mountain twice now.)

They're struggling, right now.

And we have the resources to help them.

Right now.

April 30, 2015 5:17 pm

Clare's Last Intern Journal

Written by Clare Lilek

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Time flies. What a cliche term. Alas, cliches come to be because they have so much truth behind their overused sentiment. This phrase has never been so clear to me as I approach my last days as a MEDLIFE year long intern, and my last days living in Lima, a city I have grown to love. For the last nine months, I have been living and working in Lima with some of the most inspiring and talented people. Nine months, for some people, may seem like a short amount of time, but I assure you that nine months is a formative span of time in a young adult's life. That nine months can teach you lessons about yourself, your passions, and your future. It can give you a life changing perspective and a support system you never could have dreamed of having. It is a fair amount of time to create change, impact lives, and open the eyes of students all over North America. Nine months may seem short in the span of one's hopefully very long life, but it it is a substantial amount of time to do some good and learn something new.

And learn, I have. Working with MEDLIFE has taught me many lessons about life and about working in a professional environment, just what every recent college grad is looking for.  From my very first week here to just this morning, I learn something new about Peru, marginalized communities, sustainable development work, disparities in health care, the lifestyle of our communities, and of course, the Spanish language. The internship has also given me a perspective that will, hopefully, continue to drive my career and life path. I never want to forget all I have seen and learned, and I never want to forget the real struggles these communities face every single day. In MEDLIFE's introductory video, Dr. Nick Ellis, the founder and CEO of the organization, shares a story of the very first patient that started what would become the non-profit I know today. Darwin is a little boy in the rural parts of Ecuador who ten years ago, needed heart surgery. After Nick raised the money needed to help this then little boy survive, Darwin's father said something that will always hits me to my core. He told Nick, "Don't forget us," and Nick describes in the video how all MEDLIFE employees feel, that we could never forget about Darwin, the catalyst for an organization that we love. But, no, Darwin's father explains "don't forget about all the poor people, everywhere."

Don't forget. Such a simple concept that is so poignant to someone who is passionate about doing social development work. Too easily can we get swept up into our own lives and into the trials and tribulations of our own struggles that we forget why we got involved in this type of work in the first place. The sentiment Darwin's father brings to light is my biggest fear about leaving Lima. Will I forget? Will I lose nine months of valuable perspective that has deepened my understanding of human kindness? Will I get swept back into the world of material goods, and forget about all the people whose biggest concern is getting to school safely? Only time will tell, I guess. But this I do know: I know how I feel today, and today I feel completely permeated and changed by my MEDLIFE experience. Today I feel more enlightened about the world, about myself, and about my future. Of course I fear losing this perspective, because I feel how important it has been in cultivating the person I am today. But can you ever really lose a part of you, that at one point was the dominating factor of your being? Again, only time will tell; but I'm hopeful.

My time in undergrad at the University of Michigan cultivated and developed my critical analysis skills, especially when it comes to social justice centered issues. MEDLIFE has helped me take those skills learned in school and then properly apply them to developmental issues as we tackle access to healthcare for impoverished communities. Working in Lima has given me the opportunity to focus. To take one of my many, many interests and really dive in deep to the issues it presents. Not only has MEDLIFE given me focus, but its given me support to pursue this interest in international healthcare access and the tools to do so.  

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MEDLIFE brought me to Lima, and Lima showed me a love for a country I had previously never even visited. Lima showed me I can live in a massive city, humidity and all, and that I can find a community of diverse, caring, intelligent, and inspiring people to surround myself with inside and outside of work. Living in Lima has prepared me to be ready for anything. No curveball is surprising or shocking after living in Lima and after working with MEDLIFE. I have found a flexibility and resilience inside myself that I didn't even know was there, which are valuable qualities to have at your disposal.  

All that I have seen, done, experienced, and grown to love in my time here is because of MEDLIFE. I moved to Peru, a country I had never previously been to, away from all of my family and friends and everything I have grown accustomed to in order to be apart of the change MEDLIFE brings to communities around the world. I have grown and learned in these past nine months and have connected with people that have brought such a special light and meaning to my life through their friendship. The friends and family I have made here, all the professional and life lessons I have learned, all the drive I have to continue this type of work I have gained because MEDLIFE brought me to Lima, gave me a home, and gave me an opportunity to grow. For this, my time here, and all that it does to help those who have previously been forgotten, I am and will continue to be grateful to this organization.

Even though my fear of forgetting is still present, it has no power over me. Deep down, I know that I have been so profoundly influenced by my time with MEDLIFE that I will never be able to forget, but I believe the exact opposite will occur. I believe that these ideas and memories will only ferment itself further into my being and drive me to continue MEDLIFE's mission, but in a different part of the world using slightly different methods. Because after all, how could I truly ever forget? All the patients I have met, all the students who have helped, and all the profoundly inspiring and charitable staff that work under the guise of MEDLIFE but for the marginalized communities we support. For me, Darwin's father need not worry because I will never forget all the people who still need help, all the people who remained ignored and continue suffering. MEDLIFE will be here to support you, and I will continue to support this work, just in new capacities, using the tools that MEDLIFE has given me. I won't forget. How could I?

December 16, 2014 10:04 am

Julie MacKinnon's Intern Journal

Written by Julie MacKinnon

I became involved with MEDLIFE during my senior year of college, at McGill University, in Montreal, Canada after going on a Mobile Clinic trip with MEDLIFE in December 2013, to Riobamba, Ecuador. Although I was already passionate about MEDLIFE and its mission, my experience in Ecuador really sparked my interest to become more involved, so I applied to be a year-long intern at the MEDLIFE National Office in Lima, Peru. After my acceptance in the spring, I was avidly waiting to get here, learn some Spanish, and start working with such a great organization.

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I finally landed in Lima after a long, 14-hour day of flying, first from Montreal to Miami, and then from Miami to Lima. After such a long day, I was excited  to settle into the new apartment with the other interns. While waiting for my bags, I fervently hoped that Tim, the Student Affairs Director, would be waiting outside to pick me up, as I had left my cell phone back in Canada. Thankfully he was, and we headed out into the foggy night to drive back to the apartment. As we passed the streetlights and traffic lights in the cab, it was hard to get a sense of what the city was really like, but I was excited to be here nonetheless.

I've been very blessed throughout my life to have traveled and lived in many countries across the globe – visiting places in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Besides Antarctica, South America was the one part of the world that I wanted to explore but had never had the chance. After living  in Lima for just over three months, I've had a wonderful time learning about and experiencing the city, which can be both charming and chaotic.

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One of my first times out in the field was in September, when I went on a patient care follow-up visit in a district called Villa Maria del Triunfo. The “slums” we work in are located right outside of Lima - only a 30 minute bus ride away from the office. There are a large number of shanty houses built up into the hills, all of which usually lack running water, electricity and flooring. Because these houses are located high up in the hills, one of MEDLIFE's main goals is to build staircases throughout  these communities. These staircases will prevent injuries from falling, which has become a serious concern for these people.

The patient we saw on that Tuesday had just received a surgery sponsored by MEDLIFE to remove a lump from her breast. We were interviewing her about her experience with MEDLIFE, and asked her about the follow-up medication that she would need. Hearing this patient talk about how much she appreciated MEDLIFE was an eye-opening experience.. I could really tell how happy she was that we were there to help and her genuine gratitude was very touching.

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Since that first field day in September, I've learned so much about MEDLIFE, the people we work with, and living in Lima. It has definitely been an unforgettable experience! These past three months have been filled with new experiences for which I am very grateful. Among them, working in the field with our MEDLIFE nurses, helping a community through the building of  staircase, and having the opportunity to build relationships in Lima both in and out of MEDLIFE.  Though varied and unique, each of these experiences makes me more certain about my goal to continue serving communities in need and doing humanitarian aid work during my career.  Although three months have already passed, I'm looking forward to spending another six months here, and learning everything that MEDLIFE has to offer. 

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