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 Edomia Poma Pallcarcajo works in the comedor in the communidad of El Jardines in San Juan De Miraflores to support her family, serving up nutritious, cheap government subsized meals to her neighbors. Since living in El Jardines, Edomia has worked to improve the life of her community through efforts like teaching a weekend class to local kids out of her house and helping her neighbors on home improvement projects. She was also MEDLIFE’s point of contact with the community for the recent stair project we completed there the week of December 18th. What makes Edomia and the community of Jardines even more remarkable is that they were able to organize to connect the community to the municipal water supply system and electric system, an effort which Edomia and her husband, who is general secretary of the group of communities city government, played a critical part in.

I spoke with Edomia to learn more about what her strategies and motivations are for the inspiring work she does.

* This interview has been paraphrased and translated from Spanish *

Tell me about some of the work you have done recently with MEDLIFE and within the community.

We have always wanted to have this project (the staircase) to live better, for ease of movement in our community. We have achieved this dream putting our strength, our part, of all our neighbors, men, women and children together. It is difficult, but nothing is impossible for us. Sometimes, the situation is not so easy in this place, in this part of Peru. We live on a little hill. With all of our strength we have brought water and plumbing to our community. I give this message to other communities who also organize and do their part: Not having money doesn’t mean that you cannot improve, that you cannot have. You need to have strength and make a decision. Go to your neighbors, be an example, speak with them, they too can learn to work together. Unity creates strength. Every step we take brings us closer to our goals.

I also want to say thank you to the young people who have visited us from abroad. They are our brothers, I welcome and thank them from my heart. For me, it is a joy to work together with them and my community, smile and walk down the staircase with ease.

What is are some obstacles you face when trying to get the community together to work together on a project?

In a community, not everyone is collaborative and wants to work together. They are not bad people. There is always someone who is discouraged, who has lost hope. But they are not a bad person. They have not been taught, they don’t have the experience, but they too can learn to think in a new way. Some people wait (to work on community projects) until they have a salary, or until they get a reward, but let me tell you the greatest reward you can receive is the happiness of your neighbors, and to see you impact of your work culminate in your community. One person alone cannot  make a big difference, but together as a community you can. Give your hand to your neighbour, never your back. You will see a changed family, a new family, and this will make you happy. 

IMG 1142MEDLIFE Projects Director Carlos Benavides Discusses a potential project with Edomia.

 Have you ever been discouraged?

When we were working on the water and plumbing project, some people thought that I was receiving a salary for this work, or that I was taking the money for the project and using it for myself. But that wasn’t true, I worked on the project because I wanted it for my community. I felt very sad when one of my neighbors accused my of taking money. I had a dream of a tree that was full of fruit. I was underneath it next to the woman who accused me and it told me, help her, lift her up, so I helped her and lifted her up so she could reach the fruit. What did this tree want to tell me? I meditated and thought about it and decided to take a box and write “help your fellow man” on it and “we want a better life, to have water and plumbing,” and I went to city down below to try and raise money with this woman. We talked with passerby and sang. People gave us change… After some time, she forgave me and supported me on projects.

What was Jardines like when you got here? How did you start working to help others in your community?

When I got here, this place was sand. We didn’t have water or electricity. Our houses were made of wood and plastic bags. I started by giving people advice… I saw their difficulties and gained their trust. I used to always keep medicine in my house, when there (her neighbors) kids were sick, they would knock on my door and ask for a pill. They confided in me.

Later, I would go help them fix their roof, their rooms to make it like a house and help them take out all of the rocks. I would teach them: you can make your house better. I would tell them, I will help you, show me your budget on paper and I will help you make a plan to save money for improvements. Maybe you don’t have money to remove your roof that has collapsed. What about if you take a day and I will come to your house and we can do it together… At first they looked at me “hey neighbor, what’s going on? Why are you helping me take all the rocks out of my house?” But I did it as if it were my own. I showed them and they followed my lead. There are a lot of houses on this little hill that have been improved. 

15722588 302901013439773 1162283020 nEdomia with her kids on a new MEDLIFE Staircase

 What was your motivation to do all of this? Have you always thought this way?

I am from the district of Andamarca, from the province of conception. I left when I was 11. I saw how much need there was there. Many of us had the desire to study, but the economy didn’t help us. I didn’t even have shoes for elementary school, nor a uniform, notebook, my parents couldn’t help me. I saw my families like this. I wanted to be a professional. I wasn’t able to have a professional career.

I left and went to work in a chicken restaurant helping the cook when I was 11, but always with sadness in my heart, always with the desire to go back and help. Maybe even just by giving someone shoes, a notebook, some fruit... A lot of time passed and I never went back, I was just a child, I didn’t know how to get back …

I met my husband at 15, at 18 we went to Lima together and got married. I lived in a rented apartment in Pueblo Libre, then I went to Comas and had my first kid. He is in university now. He is going to finish in one year. I am so happy for him.

Since we were living in a rented room, it was so expensive. We went to visit some family in Pamplona, and they told us “there is an invasion in the hills. There is land up there. You can go.” We went looking for a place to live. At first I couldn’t get used to it because of all the sand. I suffered a lot. But I thought about my family and how am I ever going to be able to help them if I live in a rented room? It is better to stay here. So I spoke with my husband and we stayed. I still wanted to go find my family in the provinces, but I saw that my neighbours here were also from humble places in the provinces like me, and I said, well, it is better that I stay. Because the people here also need my help.

 

July 12, 2016 8:12 am

Ecuador Earthquake Relief Fund

Written by Sarah Bridge

Two weeks ago, MEDLIFE doctors, nurses and clinic leaders made the 3 hour journey from the city of Esmeraldas to the small, isolated community of Canalon in the province of Muisne, Ecuador.  The clinic staff had to take two buses over rocky, undefined roads and pile into a small boat to reach the community that is all but cut off from Ecuador's main cities.  The journey was made to set up one of the most ambitious mobile clinics we have established so far.  Over 170 people from five different communities made the journey to Canalon on 29th June to seek medical attention from the clinic.  As always, MEDLIFE staff were offering medical treatment and advice to attendees of the clinic.  However, in addition they were also offering support and help for those community members who had been affected by the recent earthquake that shook this, and many other areas of Ecuador, in April of this year.

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Following the catastrophe on April 16, MEDLIFE in Ecuador has been working tirelessly with affected communities to bring medical attention and development to areas that need it most.  The earthquake, which struck Ecuador's provinces of Esmeraldas and Manabi with a 7.8 magnitude, caused around 661 deaths and resulted in over 7000 injuries.  Furthermore, there was severe impact on infrastructure with more than 2000 buildings damaged and over 24,000 people left homeless.

Jama, a community of about 20,000 in the coastal region of Ecuador, was hit especially hard by the earthquake and MEDLIFE has been working closely with the people of this district to provide the help needed to rebuild the worst affected areas.  Since the earthquake struck, MEDLIFE's Earthquake Relief Fund has been going towards rebuilding and fixing many of the buildings that were destroyed in this area.  The fund, which totalled $18,962, is being used in conjunction with money from the provincial government of Tena to construct houses and bathrooms for the individuals and families who suffered most from this natural disaster.

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In working with the government, MEDLIFE is able to create a more sustainable development and reconstruction project for this community.  Since April, MEDLIFE have succeeded in working with the government to complete two bathroom projects in this area and another eight are planned to be completed over the next few months.  In addition to the infrastructural improvement projects being run by MEDLIFE, the Canalon clinic was established to make sure even those most isolated from the rest of the country were able to receive medical attention if they needed it.  Three months on and the work MEDLIFE and other NGOs have been putting in, along with the government, is beginning to bring normality back to the affected provinces.

However, though under control, the assistance needed as a result of this earthquake is still far from being over.  Just a few days ago, on July 10, two more earthquakes were recorded in the Esmeraldas province.  These recent tremors reached magnitudes of 5.9 and 6.4 respectively on the Richter scale and are thought to have been aftershocks of the April disaster.  The recent earthquakes have caused further damage to infrastructure in affected areas that, though not as severe as in April, still needs attention.  Martha Chicaiza, director of MED Programs in Ecuador told us that this would be more repair and maintenance work than reconstruction.   Martha described how “the first earthquake entirely destroyed buildings, this time however it will be more fixing the roof of a school or rebuilding the wall of a house than having to create entire new buildings”.

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MEDLIFE hopes to be able to continue to work with the government on these projects to create sustainable development in the communities and continue to run more clinics like Canalon where possible.  Being able to support the affected communities to the best of our ability will make a difference in how much these people suffer from this disaster.  As the projects continue, we will keep our website updated with information about the communities and the progress of the projects.

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IMG 5049Hillside in Tabiazo, the town where this volunteer group did project and the site of many other MEDLIFE projects. A few thousand people live in this small agricultural community, growing primarily cacao and yuca among other things. Most of the families in the community have lived there for several generations. The nearest major town, Esmeraldas, and nearest hospital is about an hour away by car. You can see that the homes are elevated to prevent the river from rising and submerging them during floods. One government worker said that "this sometimes works, but they are not always high enough." 

IMG 5148MEDLIFE volunteers arrive to begin work on project, renovating a building built by another NGO about 20 years ago that had fallen into a state of disrepair. The building is used partly as a school, for community events and for medical brigades that come through once a month or so. The community requested MEDLIFE do this project.

IMG 5049Cleaning the school inside the building, the sign in the background reads "The participation of citizens and the organizations of families promotes the integral development of children." The other one reads "All of us have the right to be treated well."

IMG 5049Kids riding bikes down a street in Tabiazo.

IMG 5049Home in Tabiazo.

IMG 5049Girl on her porch in Tabiazo.

IMG 5518Brianna is a 14 year old girl who came to the MEDLIFE clinic in Carlos Concha complaining of a painful swollen arm. She had broken her arm when she was eight years old, lack of proper medical treatment caused it to heal incorrectly. A tumor developed in her arm. The injury still impairs her daily activity, making it hard to do necessary work like clean dishes and work in her families finca, though she said she still manages to cut down plants by swinging her machete with her uninjured arm. She was finally able to see a doctor and was enrolled in the MEDLIFE follow-up program so she can get the treatment she needs.

IMG 5049Patients line up outside of the MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic.

IMG 5049Volunteers teaching clapping games to kids after clinic.

IMG 5049Bodega in Tabiazo.

IMG 5049This child had critical malnutrion and was finally taken to a hospital and given supplements at a MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic in Tahique.

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February 18, 2016 3:32 pm

Learning about New Delhi's Urban Slums

Written by Jake Kincaid

 As many of you know, MEDLIFE is expanding to India! We will be holding our first mobile clinics in India May 7-15 and May 14-22, 2016, in New Delhi India. MEDLIFE will partner with Mamta (MEDLIFE always uses local medical staff) to bring our Mobile Clinics to the community of Nihal Vihar, an urban slum made up of mostly migrants that began to grow rapidly in early 2000. Information on this community is difficult to come by, so I held a Skype interview with Sonali Maheshwari, Senior Program Manager at Mamta to find out more about Nihal Vihar and the work they do there.

*Not an exact transcription, edited for brevity and clarity.

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Jake: How do the Urban Slums in Nihal Vihar differ from India and New Delhi's other slums?

Sonali: It is a highly and densely populated area. Nihal Vihar has a highly migrant population, it is full of migrants, because of the nearby industrial areas, the nearby options for employment. So it majorly consists of migrants. We see that health and development indicators, like low birth weight, chronic malnutrition, anaemic pregnant women, which has not changed much over the last many years (last two decades).

Jake: But the population has grown substantially over the last 20 years right?

Sonali: Yes the population has swelled.

Jake: What kinds of employment opportunities are there? 

Sonali: With Nihal Vihar being surrounded by so many small industries- options for semi-skilled opportunities, semi-skilled employment are many, so that's why people are migrating there but still there is low- it is inadequate. Health complications are there, poor environmental conditions are there, you can say that people are migrating from villages where there are lesser opportunities for employment to tap these opportunities… manufacturing electric equipment, slippers, shoes, these types of small-scale industries that surround Nihal Vihal.

Jake: Is there environmental pollution from industry?

Sonali: Typical industrial pollution is not there, factories are not prominent in the area. Small scale making of shoes and electrical equipment with their hands, not through the machines is being done. So that kind of environmental pollution that you get with industry is not there. But yes, environmental conditions are not good for so many other reasons.

Jake: Yes, I have read that hygiene and sanitation are a big issue in New Delhi slums, because there are no sewage systems, people have to use open toilets.

Sonali: Yes, their practices are not that healthy and safe, all that adds to the poor environmental conditions. They all are like big families staying in one small, small area, because they can't afford bigger spaces, so many people staying in one room, creating those poor environmental conditions.

Jake: I know that there are lot of public health challenges, a lot more than we have time to talk about, but what are the main public health challenges that you see in Nihal Vihar.

Sonali: The Major health issues prominent in Nihal Vihar are malnutrition, diahria, anemia especially in pregnant ladies, malaria, typhoid, skin infections, and there is one more that we have recently seen is people complaining of pain in there joints.

Jake: What is the public health system like? What kinds of access do residents have to healthcare?

Sonali: In the last five or six years since Mamta has been intervening there, access has improved but there is a lot of room for improvement, the population being migrant. We have been continuously doing those practices and strategies to bring access. But because the population is migrating, seasonal migration is happening, the kinds of changes you want after five or six years of intervention is yet to happen. Facilities are there, facilities are operational, facilities are fairly equipped also. But because of not having that safe behaviour attitude, people don't go when they should. Working with the public health function, we are training them, making linkages, but access is an issue that still needs to be focused on.

Jake: What do you mean by safe behaviour attitudes?  

Sonali: Safe behaviour attitudes means that when you have symptoms, without any delay one should go (and see a doctor) without delay- for example if someone is having continuous fever for four to five days. Malaria and dengue fever being prominent diseases there, people don't have that attitude of getting a test as soon as possible. They will try home remedies or something.

Jake: So people know what is available to them in the public health centers but don't use it?

Sonali: People know, but because of that attitude they don't go when they should. But many people who are (recent) migrants don't know.

Jake: What kinds of stuff do you do to improve malnutrition in children. I've seen in my research on India that it is a huge problem.

Sonali: As I said that our program is mainly aiming at behaviour change, so we tap on their knowledge, attitude, practices through educating them on different components of nutrition, how it matters when it is a pregnant lady, lactating, infant, adolescent. And by linking them to the government schemes…. The government has programs that give out iron supplements, or supplemental food to lactating pregnant women or adolescent girls.

Jake: So you impact nutrition through education. Is part of the problem then that people don't know how to effectively use the little money they have to buy nutritious food.

Sonali: That is one, how can they change their diet patterns out of locally available food. Not telling them options that are not available to them, and then, telling lactating women how they can ensure child nutrition through exclusive breastfeeding. How important it is, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, then the supplementing (of the diet with breastmilk) after. This is where there are a lot of myths and misconceptions in the community that we are working on. To teach them how they can ensure their nutrition and their children's nutrition.

Jake: What kinds of places are these migrants are coming from? It sounds like living conditions are very difficult in Nihal Vihar, so I'm wondering what was life like for these migrants in these places? What made them decide to move to somewhere like Nihal Vihar where life is still very difficult?

Sonali: Delhi being centrally located, there are a mix of people from each and every state… But majorly from states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar… They come to Nihal Vihar, come to Delhi, get into some kind of technical or non-technical occupation, grow in that. It is the major reason why they are migrating, especially focusing on the informal sector. Plus, it's easy for them to manage their families, they come here they get a job, Delhi being an otherwise reasonable place to eat, to live, they can send a good amount of money back to manage their overall needs.

Jake: So a lot of migrants are sending money to their family in other parts of India?

Sonali: Yes usually when they come, they come alone. They first get themselves aligned in some kind of job and set themselves there. In some case then they get married there.

Jake: So even though these people are very poor the work they are doing in Delhi still pays a lot better than what they could do back home? Which is mostly farming right?

Sonali: Yes back in their hometowns, mainly their family would have the occupation of farming. If the next generation doesn't want to continue with the occupation of farming and they want to learn some kind of skill then they come (to New Delhi). This is a suitable place to get those kinds of skills and join a different sector. Many of them seasonally go back to help their families with the harvest. 

February 2, 2016 4:23 pm

Yuncaypata: Photoblog

Written by Jake Kincaid

This winter clinic season in Cusco, MEDLIFE began working intensively in the rural agrarian community of Yuncaypata, located in the mountains about 45 minutes outside of Cusco. MEDLIFE choose Yuncaypata as the site of its first fuel efficient stove project. Volunteers worked for a couple of weeks renovating kitchens here. Walking the streets of Yuncaypata is bittersweet, as the extreme beauty of the natural surroundings and the residents of the community is contrasted with the extreme poverty experienced by those who live there. These photos hold a sense of the former.

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Backyard with flowers on a stormy day.

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A beneficiary of the stoves project stands in her kitchen.

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Child of a beneficiary stands against an adobe wall, a material many houses here are constructed from.

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The streets here are unpaved, and turn to thick sludge in the rain.

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Guinea Pig on the floor of a beneficiaries (pictured below) kitchen, before MEDLIFE renovated it. Guinea Pig, or cuy is a typical food here. Many people keep them in their kitchens like this.

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Portrait of beneficiary. You can see the wood pile she uses to fuel her kitchen behind her.

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Child of beneficiary with his mother in kitchen.

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Home in Yuncaypata as storm clears above.

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Compound where several families live on a sunny day.

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