September 27, 2013 11:15 am

Cerro Cachito, a community unified for a cause

Written by Ebony Bailey


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Before hosting a Mobile Clinic in a new community, Carlos Benavides, Director of MEDLIFE Peru, understands the importance of visiting the community first to learn more about its needs and how MEDLIFE can help. Last week, Carlos took the other interns and I to the community of Cerro Cachito to do just that -- learn about the needs of a community.

Located in the Ventanilla district of Callao -- a two and a half bus ride from our offices in Lima -- the community of Cerro Cachito sits in the hills that overlook the Pacific Ocean. Founded about 10 years ago, this community is unified by one mission: helping persons with disabilities. Though it is comprised of both persons with and without disabilities, everyone living in Cerro Cachito shares the common goal of addressing the needs and improving the quality of life of persons with disabilities.

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Upon arrival, we were greeted by Rosa Marreros, a community leader who showed us around. As we walked through the streets and met with different community members, we learned about the establishment and development of Cerro Cachito, as well as its needs. Though many people in the community need extensive medical care, there is a lack of medical facilities in the area. As a result, several people are not getting the medical attention they deserve.

After the tour, we had a meeting, lead by Carlos, with different community members to discuss the needs of this community and what MEDLIFE can do to help.  As community members rallied together to discuss their points, I could see the light in their eyes sparked by their desire to move their community forward. It's heartwarming to see so much passion not only in this community, but also in all the communities we work with.

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During our visit to Cerro Cachito, we met a handful of prospective patients for our Follow-Up program. Among them was Christopher, a six-year-old boy who is hard of hearing and is unable to speak. As we walked into his home, we could see the excitement rush through his as he greeted us with a huge smile, one that transcended any communication barriers between us.

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We look forward to many more visits to this community and to hosting a Mobile Clinic here in the near future.

Find out more about mobile clinics and the Patient Follow-up program here.


nightmeetingCommunity members gathered at a nighttime meeting in Villa Maria del Triunfo.
Photo by Benjamin Ostrander

The number of communities in need of staircases and other infrastructure projects in the shantytowns of Lima can be overwhelming. In order to decide where to work next, the main factor that MEDLIFE Peru Director Carlos Benavides considers is community organization. When the community can rally around a strong leadership, we know that they will be up to the challenge of building and maintaining a project with us.

Written by Rosali Vela and translated by Rachel Goldberg

tallerThe house was packed at the educational workshop on Friday

Even though I've lived in Lima my entire life, it's hard to believe that this much poverty exists in some of its supposedly most "stable" districts. MEDLIFE usually works in the poorest districts of Lima. But we responded last Friday to a request from the municipality of Santiago de Surco, considered a model district of Lima, to hold educational workshops in two of its poorest neighborhoods.

Nobody would have imagined that so close to Surco's main plaza there exists a community, almost hidden, where though the houses are built with brick, the poverty was visible in people's faces. The second community was the same, though much farther away and more isolated. We received a warm welcome in both places; community members were interested and never stopped participating and asking questions during the afternoon.

The MEDLIFE summer interns prepared a presentation about nutrition, demonstrating how to measure body mass index (BMI) and giving advice about eating healthy. Our medical director, Dr. Jose Rodriguez, continued with information about diabetes and the importance of a balanced diet. Dr. Evelyn, the OB-GYN who has been working at MEDLIFE's Mobile Clinics, gave an excellent talk about breast cancer and cervical cancer screening, which were some of the most talked-about topics in the workshop. Finally, Maria, a health promoter who helps with the education station at our clinics, talked about domestic violence and encouraged those present to report abuse if they witness it.

These talks are the result of collaboration with the local government and a critical step in getting to know new communities prior to conducting Mobile Clinics. When we first arrive in new communities, the families there are unaware of what MEDLIFE does and why, and may be reluctant to visit the clinic, which is why educational workshops are an important part of our year-round work.

tallergroupThe MEDLIFE team

The visit was a first look at this process for our new summer interns, who will soon be helping to run a special Mobile Clinic just for children in Surco. "It was great to see the response from the community," said MEDLIFE Intern Hailey Bossio. "I was really nervous at first, but everyone listened attentively and really respected our efforts."

One of the strengths of MEDLIFE's work in the shantytowns of Lima is the relationships we build with local leaders who are committed to improving conditions in their communities. This week, Raul Flores, leader of the 8 de Diciembre settlement, was featured on Peruvian national television as an "anonymous hero" for his work to improve the community. Check out the full video and English translation below, and try to spot all the red MEDLIFE staircases! 


In 2000, Raul Flores left his hometown of Apurimac to make a new living in Lima, Peru's capital city. He and some of his fellow countrymen settled in one of the most dangerous zones in Villa Maria del Triunfo, and from rocks and sand the Community of 8 de Diciembre was born.


"It is a dream that everyone has, to have a home of their own," said Raul. 


Today, this pueblo joven has water, sewers and electricity in the older part, and hope to extend the services to all of the 140 families in the zone. Getting these services was not easy; Raul had to knock on many different doors. 


"We went to many different places, to NGOs, ordinary people, and a lot of friends who are helping us to improve our community," he said.


At the same time, Raul has to support his family. He works as a taxi driver, and has a wife, child, and an entire community to take care of. "Sometimes I have to make sacrifices at home," he says. "There's not enough money because working for the community takes up a lot of my time."


"We work here for everyone's sake," says a neighbor, Wilmer. "We are all very united." Asked if she was happy with the work, another community member, Rosa adds, "Yes, I can see that there are improvements every day. They are doing a lot."

Source: Frecuencia Latina


177-esmeraldas-medlife-holandaHolanda poses at the project site

"I'm 37," Holanda Marquez tells me, without any intention of lying about her age. She easily lifts a bucket full of rocks that even the strongest and most agile members of the group have trouble carrying all the way to the top of the project site. Holanda told us that she struggles with lapses in her memory; just moments later her daughter, Martha, assured us that her mother is no younger than 60. Yet, with her 60 years, 10 children, and various grandchildren, Holanda still has the strength of the 37-year-old she claims to be. I thought for a moment that this must be a product of years working in the field, but I was wrong. "I work as a homemaker," Holanda explained, making me wonder if hard work runs in the blood of the people here in Esmeraldas.

Holanda's husband leaves every morning to head to his job in the heat and rain, without a car, without air conditioning, and without any options of speeding up his travel. "If he walks quickly, he can get to work in 45 minutes," Martha tells me. Martha is the youngest of the couples' children; she dreams of moving to Guayaquil to study to become a flight attendant.

177-esmeraldas-medlife-holanda-2Holanda and her family at the staircase construction site in their community

"We have 20 hectares," the family tells me, as if it's no great thing. The work together to grow corn and cocoa, saving one part for the home and sending the rest to a small store located below their fields. Unable to depend on any fixed income, they sells what they can, depending on the weather, land, and market to determine their small income. 

In a good season we can harvest 600 pounds, and in a bad one, 300," says Martha. With an average of 500 pounds of cocoa, the family can earn about $160 dollars per month selling their crops. "My father works to get other odd jobs, because it's not enough. We need to raise our monthly income to $300," explains Martha. This is barely enough to feed the six mouths that still live in Holanda's home, amongst them, one with the characteristic traits of a child with Down Syndrome.

All of the children get up early to walk to school, covering their shoes with plastic bags so they don't dirty their school uniforms. While the majority of the children travel to a local school nearby school, 14-year-old Juan attends a school for students with special needs located in the city center. The community in which Holanda's family lives is connected to the city by one bus, which makes two trips per day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. If the bus passes by without stopping, or if Juan misses the bus due to the difficult path down from his home, he simply does not attend school that day.

Alongside Holanda's community in Esmeraldas, MEDLIFE developed its first staircase project in all of Ecuador. The project was completed with the hard work of the community, support of our student volunteers, and the unconditional help from the local government. During the inauguration, the community thanked us in their own, special way – with traditional music, food, and dancing to the rhythms of bombo and marimba.

"Before, tragedies occurred," Holanda says, as she looks – her eyes filled with happiness – at the almost-finished staircase. The family believes that the new staircase will help them avoid injuries, and to be able to more safely navigate their daily journeys.

Written by Luis Herrera, translated into English by Lindsay Bigda. Photos by Luis Herrera

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