October 1, 2014 11:13 am

Clare Lilek's Intern Journal

Written by Clare Lilek

I always told myself that I wouldn't be able to live in a large city. The idea was too much for me to comprehend: millions of people cruising the bustling streets on a land so extensive I couldn't possibly know it all. So how did I then end up living in one of the largest cities in the world, you may ask? To be honest, beats me. Lima, alone, wasn't necessarily calling my name—even while I became a frozen popsicle in the cold Michigan weather. However, MEDLIFE's mission was definitely a siren call in and of itself.

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Since arriving to Lima, adjusting to city life has been an adventure to say the least. The lifestyle I left behind is quite different from what I am currently living, and truthfully, I am loving every minute of it. I came here for the fulfilling work that MEDLIFE provides and found a city filled with passion, pride, and heart. Peru has a vivacious culture bursting with delicious food, energetic dancing, and adventurous activities that are all fueled by everyday people trying to make and enjoy a living. My background in traveling has allowed me to experience the country and the more electric aspects of Lima life, but my involvement with MEDLIFE has given me the opportunity to find the heart of the country and explore the social issues endemic to this region.

On my first patient call, I accompanied one of our nurses to visit a bright, young eleven-year-old boy named Gino. Gino has been plagued by health issues for the past three years. He beat cancer with the help of chemotherapy, but the radiation caused additional health complications. Despite all the trials and tribulations he and his family have endured, this brilliant boy had the most beautiful and genuine smile I have ever seen, one that spread from ear to ear. His illuminating grin simply radiated happiness and shone brightly despite his seemingly shy demeanour. Seeing the sheer resilience present in Gino, in the face of his many health challenges, further reminded me of how the good, amidst the hardest trails of life, is still present and working in the world, and MEDLIFE helps to make that possible.

It's so easy to get caught up in your own little world, to start thinking about what only affects you personally, when there is so much more happening all around us. Even when I get distracted by my life in Lima, MEDLIFE grounds me to what truly matters. I am able to learn more about what systemic issues many citizens face and realize that there is a greater adversity people have to endure on a daily basis, challenges I can't even begin to fully comprehend. However, MEDLIFE reminds me that I am here to help in whatever capacity I can. I am here to be a part of an organization that is much greater and larger than myself; one that works toward relieving current pain, correcting future issues, and lending an empathetic ear to the struggles of the people we serve.

One of the most grounding moments so far in my time with MEDLIFE has been my experience with another follow-up patient, Julio Rivera. Twenty six-year-old Julio had not left his house in eight years. That is not an exaggeration and I am not overstating his condition. For eight years, he has been practically trapped in his one-bedroom home, mourning the sudden loss of his mobility. Many years ago, he started to experience pain in his spine that made walking difficult; lacking access to adequate care, Julio slowly began to lose movement. Julio lives on top of a cerro (hill), which requires him to climb down a staircase to even leave his house; he would then have to continue down a multi-sloped, extremely steeped hill to simply access a main road. His debilitating and unknown illness, geographical location, and socioeconomic status made it impossible for him to even see the daylight—let alone a doctor—for far too long. After hearing about Julio's condition, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the team that assisted him in leaving his house for the first time in eight years so that he could receive proper medical treatment.

Clare Julio

Julio's nervous smile while taking pictures of the outside world, was thrilling to watch. This was a man filled with so much depression about his situation who was suddenly seeing a small light at the end of a very dark and long tunnel. Escorting Julio to the doctors was a profound experience; hearing that with hard work and a lot of therapy he might be able to move on his own again, caused a united sigh of relief. Being a part of an organization that can make the seemingly impossible, possible for so many families who have lost hope, is moving and incredibly rewarding.

My time in Lima so far has shown me the importance of doing what you can do today to help relieve the situation of another. At times I feel like I am not doing enough, because there is so much more to be done. However, what I have is time; so, time is what I can give in order for MEDLIFE to, little by little, shoulder some of the burden these families carry on a daily basis. The mission is not about rebuilding a whole new system, but slowly redefining how people can move within said system. We are not moving mountains, but we are giving people the ability to chisel away at their own cerros.

I may have previously envisioned my life away from the fast paced energy of a large city, but I couldn't imagine spending my year anywhere else. The MEDLIFE mission drew me here, enticed me with its opportunities and chances, but the welcoming people I have found in Lima, through the work MEDLIFE does, is what continues to anchor me to this beautiful and vibrant city.

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.  

 

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