September 2, 2014 2:08 pm

Dominic Grisafe's Intern Journal (2)

Written by Dominic Grisafe

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I'm a summer intern for MEDLIFE, a nonprofit organization that aims to support the poor in three ways: Medicine, Education, and Development (M.E.D.–life). They carry out their name by organizing medical clinics staffed by local health professionals and building stairs in impoverished communities. The outskirts of Lima climb into the rocky hillsides and provide homes for the many immigrants that move to the capital city in search of work. Last Thursday I was able to follow around Carlos, the Director of MEDLIFE Peru, who liaises with the communities we serve.

We started the day by delivering medical supplies to a geriatrics ward a doctor was running out of her house. She explained that 20 patients lived there because they had no one else to help them with their daily lives, which had become impossible for them to complete on their own in their old age. I couldn't understand every word of her Spanish, but I could tell this physician was fulfilling her life's work from the passion with which she spoke. She told us that the government only provides elderly citizens an equivalent of 100 US dollars a month to live on, which is far from sufficient living standards, even for Peru. The home offered a peaceful bubble for the elderly in an otherwise chaotic city.

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After a brief ride in a small cart of a bus, we visited Nueva Esperanza. We arrived on a dusty road and walked through side streets until they turned into dirt paths. We climbed until we came to a group of local people who greeted us, and then turned to Carlos.

This was his second time visiting Nueva Esperanza, and he seemed excited that the people had cleared many large rocks from 100-meter stretch of hill that led up to an enormous white cross. Carlos was here to assess the people's willingness to work with MEDLIFE to build a staircase. The people explained that they had worked in the evenings and on the weekends to clear the path for the stairs, but that they could not continue to work and do manual labor in their spare time. Carlos never hesitated. He explained that volunteer students in America and England would come to help build the stairs with them, and that it was to be a combined effort of the volunteers and local community.

A silver haired woman sat up from a large rock she had been resting on and walked to Carlos. I noticed the tears that were streaming down her face as she explained that she had lived in Nueva Esperanza for many years. She climbed the hill to pray at the cross time and time again, despite enduring the occasional fall. She explained that she wanted nothing more than to be able to walk up the hill safely to pray. Between the woman's passion and Carlos's inspiration, the community agreed they would work with MEDLIFE to build the staircases. The people provided us with a yellow soda called Inca Kola to celebrate the occasion, and everyone thanked each other as we headed down the slope back towards home.

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I asked Carlos if what the old lady had said, that she fell often, was common in the hills of Lima. As I was speaking, a mother with her five-year-old daughter walked past on their way back from school. Carlos greeted them and turned my question onto the mother. She said she had fallen three times while she was pregnant with her daughter, and she still falls from time to time. I had helped build stairs with MEDLIFE two years ago. Back then I could tell the local people were excited and appreciative of our help at the time, but I hadn't really understood how much a safe walk way can truly mean. The mother and her daughter reaffirmed that social infrastructure is just as necessary as healthcare and education.

August 27, 2014 4:11 pm

Intern's Journal: Dileep Mandali (2)

Written by Dileep Mandali

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One of the reasons why I elected to pursue this internship can be credited to the communities MEDLIFE reaches out to aid. Working in these communities 2-3 years ago taught me about the value of opportunities that I have back at home. I learned that what we take for granted, someone somewhere else is yearning for it. Through this internship, I hoped to further discover about myself and what kind of individual I wish to become in couple of years down the road.

Through this internship, I discovered that despite our best intentions and efforts, we cannot help everyone that are struggling. My first field visit was to a small shelter, which housed around 20 elderly people. I recall there was an article about this on MEDLIFE's Facebook page few weeks ago. It had “old people's home” as part of its description, and I clearly remember one of the commenters asking for clarification on the description: “Is it a nursing home or assisted living?” We were not sure how to answer this, because it is neither. I learned that it was a house for the elderly, who have families and relatives yet were abandoned because of their mere age and illness. I also learned that there is a long wait-list, extending to nearly 50-60 (homeless) elderly people, for this shelter.

When I inquired if there is any form of government support for the elderly home, I learned that there is little to none. I was afraid to hear that answer, but I was not surprised. From my journey in Lima, I discovered parks and recreation that attract tourists are further developed while the slums are further ignored in this city. This is precisely why I find MEDLIFE's work to be crucial. MEDLIFE is not just present in Lima to hand out “free” medical, educational, and developmental care; they are present to bring awareness to the concerning issues of severely underserved areas in Lima to its government. This is their goal in Peru as well in Ecuador and in Tanzania, where there is potential for development but lacks resources and efforts.

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Nonetheless, not every one receives help from MEDLIFE. What sets MEDLIFE apart from other organizations with “similar” goals is that MEDLIFE focuses on helping community individuals that seek out and work for their assistance. As I followed Carlos Benavides, the Director of MEDLIFE Peru, on field, I noticed that some community individuals initially wanted student volunteers and local medical practitioners to just provide their aid and leave. But MEDLIFE's goal is to provide and continue their sustainable assistance in the underserved communities, and Carlos assured the individuals in these communities that their conditions will only improve and will only be sustained if they too take part in MEDLIFE's efforts.

 As a result of engaging community individuals in MEDLIFE projects, I also learned that both the community individuals and the student volunteers benefit from their interactions. The community individuals are indeed appalled by how our volunteers travel hundreds of miles just to help a random community of strangers. As a result, they are awed and inspired by the great efforts and help of those from abroad. Likewise, our student volunteers are awed and inspired by the perseverance of the community individuals to continue to support themselves and their families even during poorest conditions.

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As a MEDLIFE student volunteer and intern, I have had the opportunity to help with nearly 5 mobile clinics. Although mobile clinics were unique in their own respective ways, they all shared few commonalities. They all were life-changing to most students. I encountered students on mobile clinics and my members at The Ohio State University chapter who changed their professional track, because they recognized the value of opportunities at home and strived to use these opportunities to better the lives of those struggling to put food on table; I personally know individuals who would eventually go onto attending well renowned medical schools, dental schools, and graduate schools for Public Health because of their experiences on mobile clinics. Then, at the inauguration of MEDLIFE Projects, I realized the type of impact our student volunteers were making on these communities. Just past week, MEDLIFE inaugurated its 107th staircase in Lima, and for this specific inauguration, there were 5 MEDLIFE community leaders present from surrounding areas to share their their heartfelt gratitude for MEDLIFE and its volunteers. Each community leader shared how our student volunteers dramatically changed their lives by providing their communities with medical and educational resources, and infrastructure. Our student volunteers not only made a difference in their lives but their children's future as well.

Even outside of MEDLIFE Summer Internship, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience in Peru. Despite being 4000 miles away from home and no fluency in spanish, I felt very comfortable living in Peru for these past 2 months and will definitely miss this place. As a foreigner, I encountered some of the friendliest individuals, welcoming me into their homes with open arms. Even as a college student with a budget, I was able to enjoy the excursions Peru had to offer. This past week alone was extremely adventurous. I traveled to Islas Ballestas, saw penguins in very unlikely places of earth, gazed at the mesmerizing Paracas Candelabra, and snapped pictures of sea lions and dolphins in their natural habitats. I then traveled to Huacachina village, the “Oasis of America”, where dune bugging and sand boarding was more exhilarating than the amusement parks in United States. Finally, I ended the weekend with some of the world's delicious cuisine, including Astrid y Gaston, ranked as the 18th best restaurant in the world, where 2 sets of delicious bread and olives, 2 main meals, and a dessert dish only totaled up to $60 with the tip (inexpensive compared to the same quality of food in United States). Overall, this summer has been the best one yet in my life, and I would relive it again if I could.

August 21, 2014 9:21 am

Hima Patel's Intern Journal (2)

Written by Hima Patel

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Walking through the pebbly roads of Pamplona Alta, climbing up the rocky hill sides, and waving at the peeping eyes peering from the corners of the ramshackle corrugated metal homes, I have come to learn so much about the lives, families and communities that MEDLIFE reaches out to. When venturing into these towns, seeking the feedback and help of the communities that want a new staircase, a new Wawa Wasi or another new project, I get the chance to hear the oratory skills of Carlos, MEDLIFE's Director.

Carlos commands the attention of the audience, each set of eyes fixed on his face, his jokes eliciting hearty chuckles and his moving speeches garnering solemn looks. Carlos effectively engages the community- convinces them that a mobile clinic will bring needed medical attention for their families, and that educational sessions will inform the young women about pap smears, self-breast exams and safe sex practices. Watching Carlos interact with community leaders, town residents and even grinning children, you understand how pivotal Carlos's work is in creating a working relationship with all of the neighboring communities. His work is the foundation that we build MEDLIFE off of- he lays the groundwork with the communities, allowing mobile clinics to come in and aid the communities by building what they need, and providing necessary medical attention. What I find most awe inspiring is that MEDLIFE is able to include the communities in our work; we do not simply go in, have a clinic or build a staircase, and leave. We are able to partner with these families in the communities, their hands diligently working alongside ours.

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The gray skies and chilly days are no match for the bright smiles and warm hearts that greet us when we trek into the communities. It is moving to see that so many people are so thankful for what we do, and are willing to help us make a difference, however large or small, in their communities. Each day that I get the opportunity to venture out into the field, I am rewarded with the smiles, tears and heartfelt hugs from the families we help. Knowing that a simple staircase, or a medical clinic, can improve the lives of so many in such a small, yet profound way, makes the work here at MEDLIFE more meaningful, as cliché as that may sound.

A little more than halfway through my internship, and I have begun to understand the impact that MEDLIFE has on the communities and families we help, outside of the mobile clinics themselves. The work does not end simply because there are no students from abroad coming in for a clinic. MEDLIFE has a constant flow of patient follow up mingled with community development, working with the people we serve to improve their lives in small, yet significant ways. A day in the life of an intern is never stagnant- sometimes I am in the office, sometimes I am out speaking with a patient about his recovery. It is marvelous to realize that MEDLIFE's work affects so many, and many more will continue to receive help long after I am back in America.

August 12, 2014 10:03 am

Laura McClung's Intern Journal

Written by Laura McClung

I fell in love with the mission of Medlife after being heavily involved in our chapter at the University of Southern California throughout my college career. I attended my first clinic in Tena, Ecuador in August 2011, and then traveled to Lima twice before deciding to apply for the internship during my senior year. Everyone I encountered in Medlife, whether it be staff, interns, doctors, or community leaders, was so passionate about the work Medlife does and about making a sustainable difference in the communities Medlife serves. It was an approach to health and wellbeing that I found inspiring--not only does Medlife provide treatment for sickness and disease, but they focus on educating and empowering their patients to fight the underlying causes behind disease. This includes providing workshops on topics such as eating well to prevent high blood pressure and type II diabetes, sexual health and safe sex practices, and even helping community members start their own business or gain legal possession over their land so they may live more comfortably with their families.

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After seeing the passion and dedication behind the work that Medlife does, I knew I wanted to get involved beyond participating in a week-long mobile clinic, and I was thrilled to accept the position to work as a year-long intern here in Lima, Peru. In addition to being able to dedicate myself full-time for a whole year to Medlife's cause,   I would get to live abroad in a Spanish-speaking country for a year to work on my Spanish, experience a new culture, try new foods, and see new places--a prospect which was exciting after growing up in Leawood, Kansas and not being able to study abroad during college because of my pre-medical curriculum.

An overnight flight from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale, an 11-hour layover in Fort Lauderdale, and another 6 hour flight from Fort Lauderdale to Lima led me to my welcome at the Lima airport by two Peruvian friends I made the last time I was in Lima. It was around 10 pm and having not been given food on the flight from Florida, I was starving, so we dropped my things off at my friends' apartment and went to TGI Fridays for my first meal in Peru. I chose a buffalo chicken pasta, knowing that I would spend the rest of the year eating all different types of Peruvian foods. I did find it interesting, however, that the menu had a special section dedicated to uniquely Peruvian dishes such as tallarines verdes con lomo and lomo con pasta a la huancaína, two Peruvian pasta dishes.

The next night was my friend's mother's birthday, so we took a cab from Miraflores, one of the 43 districts of Lima that borders the ocean, to Chorrillos, a district a bit further south, for her birthday party. I met uncles, aunts, brothers, and nieces, and enjoyed the lively dynamic of joking, eating, and dancing to Peruvian music until two in the morning--a much more boisterous evening than the quiet family birthday dinners I was accustomed to in Kansas. As we rode in the cab along the coast back to Miraflores, I found it interesting that when looking into the distance at the hills surrounding the city, one would see a similar setting to that of Los Angeles--the ocean on the west, and hills in every other direction speckled with tiny lights. However, once daytime arrives the contrast is stark--whereas in Los Angeles the lights come from upscale homes in the hills surrounding the city, in Lima the lights come from the endless squatter settlements covering every mountaintop surrounding Lima, or the pueblos jovenes.

The next morning, my friend and I went on a walk along the beach, and because I had been in Lima the August before, I was prepared for the reversed seasons and the chilly and rainy weather. Although it was still beautiful, I'm excited to see how much more beautiful it is during the “summer” months when the sun is shining and more people come out to enjoy the beaches of the western coast of Peru.  

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With that, my time exploring on my own ended, and I began my first day in the Medlife office and moved into the intern apartment that afternoon. It was exciting to speak to the summer interns who had been involved in their school chapters about their experiences with Medlife and our ideas for other chapters in the future, and everybody I met was very kind and welcoming. Once settled in to the intern apartment just next door to the office, I headed out with a fellow intern to have my first “Peruvian” dinner of pollo a la brasa (a quarter of a chicken and french fries for only about $5.70) around the corner, and to take the bus down the congested street to the grocery store (for only about $0.18). I was surprised by how many amenities Lima shares with the United States--Pizza Hut, Dominoes, Starbucks, KFC, Pinkberry--and how affordable the prices were. It will be a challenge now to not eat at the easily-recognizable American chains but to find the smaller Peruvian gems!

Looking forward, I am excited to dive further into the work of Medlife and head out into the field to see what goes on behind-the-scenes of a mobile clinic--finding communities in need of staircase projects, finding patients in need of services beyond those available at a mobile clinic, providing follow-up care to families in the slums, etc. I would like to gain as much knowledge as I can this year about how to provide sustainable care to communities abroad in need so that I may attend medical school next year with new insights to pursue a career in global medicine and non-profit sustainability.  

 

July 31, 2014 8:25 am

Dominic Grisafe's Intern Journal

Written by Dominic Grisafe

I visited Peru two years ago with my MEDLIFE chapter, so I was ready for the extended plane flight from my home near Los Angeles, California to Lima.

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 The MEDLIFE administrative assistant Amparo was waiting for me at the gate with a smile and a sign with my name on it. She was the first person I had met since returning to Peru, and she embodied the friendliness and positive attitude that I would soon learn was characteristic of everyone working at MEDLIFE. We hopped in a taxi and headed for my new home. Amparo was patient with my broken Spanish as she told me about the work she had been doing over the past year. The red, green, and yellow neon lights of the local businesses shone through the taxi windows while we drove through the lively streets of Lima. It finally set in that I would be living in Peru for the next few months.

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I didn't know what to expect when I visited the impoverished communities of Lima two summers ago. It was quite a cultural shock seeing the hillsides scattered with small homes for the first time. The people of Pamplona Alta waved Peruvian flags proudly over the walls of their brightly colored homes. Though many of them get by on very little, they seemed determined to stay positive, raising their children the best they could. Their strength and pride always stuck in my mind, and I knew I wanted to return to understand more about the people of Pamplona.

Working as an intern at MEDLIFE gives me the opportunity to reach towards several of my personal goals while exploring a new culture. I'm currently applying to medical school to build a career practicing abroad as a physician. MEDLIFE will allow me to work with like-minded volunteers and gain a better feel for clinical work in other countries. I'm also spending my down time studying Spanish. I've been surrounded by Mexican Spanish all my life while growing up in Southern California, but I've never spent a considerable amount of time immersed in the language. I'm hoping to return to the States one step closer to fluency. Most of all, spending the summer working with MEDLIFE is an adventure I'm sure I'll remember for the rest of my life. So far I've only been here a few days. This week is the first time I'll be heading back to the field, and I'm looking forward to seeing the progress that's been made in Pamplona over the last two years. But for now I'm getting used to my new home in Lima. 

My second night here I went grocery shopping down the street with Hima and Dileep, two of my fellow MEDLIFE interns. Afterwards we got separated, and I enjoyed the exhilaration of being lost in the bustling streets of a foreign country. There's nothing quite like traveling 4,000 miles away from home and being alone in a sea of pedestrians, whose language you barely speak, without knowing exactly how to get to your apartment. Thankfully a security guard directed me to a payphone and I was able to get directions from Tim, who ironically holds the position of MEDLIFE director. Now that I've learned my neighborhood better, I'm excited to see what thrills Peru holds for me next. I'm pleased to say that if the next two months are going to be anything like my first two days, then this summer will be one of the most memorable of my life.

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