"I cannot put into words how thankful we are. I like my new house. It's really pretty," said Nicol, Rosa Morocho's nine-year-old daughter at the house inauguration.

Inauguration in LimaIt is a tradition for MEDLIFE volunteers to break a bottle of champagne during the inauguration ceremony to commemorate a project they have worked on during their week of service.

In July 2018, MEDLIFE inaugurated the Morocho family’s house in AA.HH. Laderas de Nueva Esperanza, a community located in the outskirts of Villa Maria del Triunfo, Lima, Peru. There were smiles, laughter, and tears as we remembered the process we went through and all the people involved in building the house and creating relationships that will last forever. But, how did it all start?

A new house for the Morocho Family

In 2017, the MEDLIFE team was building a water reservoir in Laderas de Nueva Esperanza when we met Nicol, the young girl who lived next to the water reservoir we were building. Little by little, she won everyone's heart, and we learned her story.

 NicolNicol always has a smile on her face.

Nicol was a nine-year-old girl at the time, who would wake up very early every day to take care of her mom Rosa. She had never been able to walk and could barely use her right arm — an undiagnosed handicap she has had since she was a child. Nicol assumed a lot of responsibility caring for Rosa. With MEDLIFE’s support, Rosa was able to visit a doctor and receive a diagnosis: she was a victim of Polio, a virus that can spread to the nervous system causing irreparable damage and paralysis. While her disease is incurable, MEDLIFE worked to support Rosa in other ways.

In her home, Rosa would be forced to crawl on the floor with her one useable arm. Nothing was designed for someone who could not stand up. With that in mind, MEDLIFE elected to renovate the house into a Health Home for Rosa and Nicol. We added light switches close to the ground, a handicapped bathroom with a sink close to the ground, and ramps instead of stairs. With a renovated home, Rosa could now be on her own while Nicol is studying at school.

The day finally came when we inaugurated the much-needed house. We blew up balloons, and decorated everything to make the ceremony extra special. Then, with Nicol by our side, we broke a bottle of champagne and celebrated.

inauguration ceremonyNicol helping prepare for the inauguration ceremony.

Continuing to Thrive

A week after the inauguration, we called Nicol to let her know we were visiting with some volunteers and staff. When we arrived, she was waiting for us with a BIG smile on her face. It was inspiring to see all the decorations that they had in every room, making the house their own. Before we left, they let us know how grateful they were to all the volunteers, staff, and donors for making a dream come true. Nicol even showed us how much her grades had improved, and we were so proud!

Get to know Nicol and Rosa better by reading more of their story here.

 

A new houseNicol and Rosa in their new house.  

On Thursday, April 5th 2018, the MEDLIFE Cusco team and a group volunteers representing four United States universities conducted a mobile medical clinic in the community of Ccasacancha, about an hour and a half outside of the city of Cusco, in the district of Ancahuasi. Although this clinic was the first conducted in Ancahuasi in 2018, MEDLIFE has been actively working within the surrounding communities for an over a year. What’s more, multiple patients in MEDLIFE’s atient follow-up program live within or nearby Ccasacancha. Towards the end of the day, as the clinic was winding down, Carmen, one of our MEDprograms nurses, asked me and a volunteer to accompany her in making a visit to one such patient and his family: Juan José.

    Juan José is a thirteen year-old boy who lives in Ccasacancha with his parents and five siblings. Although Juan José was born a healthy boy, he sustained serious burns on his face, neck, and chest from an accident when he was four years old. When MEDLIFE first met Juan José and his family at a mobile medical clinic in 2017, the scar that had formed left him partially disfigured and had contracted to the extent that it prohibited him from being able to fully turn his head. The MEDLIFE doctor recommended that Juan José undergo a Z-plasty scar revision surgery, in which the surgeon would re-open the scar sufficiently for Juan José to regain mobility in his neck. However, it was not until Carmen made a visit to Juan José’s home that MEDLIFE discovered the true extent of the challenges he was facing.

    Initially, Juan José’s father refused to let Carmen enter his family’s house or enroll his son into MEDLIFE’s patient follow-up program. However, Carmen persisted and continued to make periodic visits to Juan José’s house, offering to help him and his family.

    After the fourth visit, Carmen was invited inside. Upon entering the house, she discovered that the family was living in destitute conditions and that nearly all of the family members suffered from chronic malnutrition. A big reason for this, Carmen found, was that Juan José’s father was an alcoholic and unemployed. This meant that the only income the family could rely on came from Juan José’s mother, who worked as a farmhand in an artichoke farm in the district of Zurite. The family’s financial situation had been made even more difficult when Juan José’s seventeen year-old sister, Ana Beatriz, found that she was pregnant. It was then that Carmen knew that MEDLIFE needed to do more than just ensure that Juan José received the surgery he needed. If Juan José was going to have a successful recuperation after his surgery, and his sister give birth to a healthy baby, the entire family’s living situation would need to be drastically improved.

     After meeting Juan José and gaining his parents’ trust, MEDLIFE’s Cusco nurses, Carmen and Lis, made visits to the family, checking up on how they were doing, providing the family with basic medications, and ensuring Ana Beatriz received the prenatal care she needed. However, on the day of our mobile clinic, Carmen and Lis wanted to do more than make another routine visit, they wanted to give the volunteers and myself a firsthand look at the difficulties Juan José and his family were truly facing, and ask for help.

    As Cynthia, a volunteer from Vermont Tech, and I followed Carmen down a dirt road leading away from our mobile clinic location, it was not long before Juan José’s house came into site. Juan José’s family lives in a house typical of the region: two small buildings, a kitchen and a storeroom/bedroom, made out of adobe bricks. Both buildings face each other and are and surrounded by a corrugated metal fence. When we arrived, Ana Beatriz opened the door and ushered us inside. She told us that both parents were currently out of the house but she and Juan José were both home. As I entered the house, I could see Juan José standing in the yard behind his sister, timid at first, but beginning to smile as he saw Carmen.

     As Carmen greeted the two children in the house, she urged Cynthia and I to examine the conditions in which Juan José and his family lived. When we first entered the kitchen, Cynthia and I were blinded by the darkness inside. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness we could make out pots and pans placed on both the dirt floor, as well as atop a small, adobe stove, completely devoid of any stovepipe or ventilation. We turned our heads upward and found the entire kitchen ceiling caked with black tar from years of smoke filling the kitchen during mealtimes.

    After seeing the kitchen, we walked across the yard to the family’s storeroom/bedroom. We climbed the wooden steps to the second floor where the entire family slept in one room. Inside we saw two large beds piled high with blankets and surrounded by clothes scattered on the floor. The walls and ceiling had been covered in a white plastic tarp to prevent water from leaking into the bedroom. While inside, Carmen pointed out to us that the beds that the family slept on were not mattresses, but large pieces of yellow foam set on top of wood pallets. Upon leaving the bedroom we began to truly comprehend scope of the challenges that Juan José and his family were facing at home.

      Congregating back in the yard, Carmen indicated that Juan José and his family would greatly benefit from having their house renovated with shelves, paved floors, waterproof roofing and a new ventilated and fuel efficient stove. These improvements would not only ensure that Juan José has a safe and clean environment in which to recuperate, but that the rest of his family would enjoy a higher quality of life at home as well. Carmen and Cynthia shared a tearful moment together as they discussed what could be done for Juan José’s family.

     Since that day at Juan José’s house, the new MEDLIFE chapter at Vermont Tech has been raising money to help Juan José’s family, and Carmen and Lis have continued to support the family through routine visits. Both nurses have continued to accompany Ana Beatriz to her prenatal doctor appointments and have been thinking of ways to further improve Juan José’s family’s situation. The two have even been talking to the family about the possibility of installing a family greenhouse, in addition to their much needed home renovations, in order to provide a means to grow healthy fruits and vegetables, and thus combat malnutrition. Back in the United States, Cynthia and the rest of the Vermont Tech chapter have already raised over $500 and hope to raise more in the near future to go towards extra costs associated with Juan José’s surgery and his house renovation. Through the continued collaboration between MEDLIFE staff and the MEDLIFE chapter at Vermont Tech, the goal of getting Juan José the surgery he needs and supporting his family with a safe home is already on its way to becoming a reality.

We are proud to present a new MEDLIFE project in Kilimanjaro! Thanks to the hard work of our MEDLIFE team we were able to make much-needed improvements to Kilema Primary School, a school that will benefit more than 200 students and teachers in the community of Kilema. 

Kilema, located in Marangu (Moshi), is a community of just over 20,000 inhabitants. During a mobile clinic nearby, the director of the local school petitioned for MEDLIFE's support in order to construct new school bathrooms, as well as renovate the exterior of the classrooms, which had been flooded during heavy seasonal rains. The flooding not only interrupted classes but also damaged the rooms and put the health of the children at risk. The toilets being used at the school presented another health risk, as they were dirty and lacked a proper drainage system. Many children had even had stomach complications and were still afraid to use the bathroom during school hours.

unnamedOriginally, the bathrooms did not have toilets, running water, and some of the stalls lacked doors

For this project, MEDLIFE renovated the toilets, repaired the administrative offices, acquired a water tank for the bathrooms, painted the classrooms and constructed a water drainage system so that rainwater would not flood the school in the future. Students, teachers, and parents all participated in the renovations. After everything was completed, the community was very happy with all the improvements that were made!

unnamed 8The new bathrooms have proper doors, new toilets, and water tank to supply them with water. Also, new bathrooms for the teachers were built, so kids have their own bathrooms.

unnamed 2Classrooms were painted and a drainage system was built to avoid future flooding.

unnamed 3A thank-you letter was sent to our Tanzania team from the Kilema Primary School!

 

 

Secsencalla, a community located within the district of Andahualiyas in the province of Quispicanchis, is located one hour outside the city of Cusco. It is a rural community of approximately 100 families, most of whom dedicate themselves to cultivating and harvesting maize. Each family in Secsencalla has a different background, but the story of Victoria's family has been one of the most impactful. 

"There is a family living in extreme poverty," said Dula, the health coordinator in Secsencalla who helps us select the families that will benefit from our Healthy Homes program. "They do not have anyone else, and they really need you." Without hesitation, we went to visit the aforementioned house.

 1The space they used as a kitchen.

When we visited Victoria's house we were surprised by the conditions in which she lived. The walls of the improvised kitchen were almost completely black with soot, making it difficult to see inside. Once our eyes adjusted to the dark, we could see how the smoke that emanated from the unventilated wood burning stove made Eberth, Victoria's oldest son, cough while he was cooking. Next to the stove, a half dozen guinea pigs were kept in a feces-filled pen, shrieking desperately at the lack of air.

3The room shared by Victoria and her children.

The main bedroom was located in another building, where Victoria and her three children shared a single sleeping space. A soaking wet plastic tarp hung loosely from the ceiling, placed there by Victoria in a futile attempt to keep Cusco's seasonal rains from seeping into the house. The damp adobe walls seemed ready to give way at any moment and the roof, already leaking profusely, appeared to be on the verge of collapse. It was evident that we had to do something.

Victoria has been a widow for the past two years. During this time she has cared for her daughter and the two older children of her deceased husband, whom she cares for as her own. To provide for her family she works a variety of odd jobs, from laboring in the fields to washing clothes and loading construction material. Victoria is a woman of surprising strength who, despite being placed in a difficult situation replete with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, works to overcome them in order to give her children a decent life. 

4The space that was used as a warehouse and that we rebuilt to be a new, more adequate and healthy kitchen.

The damp adobe walls seemed ready to give way at any moment and the roof, already leaking profusely, appeared to be on the verge of collapse. It was evident that we had to do something. Normally, the Healthy Homes program involves the construction of a new fuel-efficient stove, the improvement and relocation of bedrooms, and the construction of shelves that help with home organization (you can read more about the Healthy Homes program in this blog.) In the case of Victoria, we also rebuilt the roof in its entirety, as well as relocated the kitchen to a new, properly ventilated space. Thanks to the work of our volunteers from UPR - Rio Piedras, UPR - Cayey, and the University of Florida, we also managed to paint Victoria's new kitchen and bedroom in order to give her newly renovated home an orderly and safe look. 

Look at the photos of our volunteers working below:

5Victoria's new kitchen! It has a window that allows better ventilation and the improved stove does not let smoke escape into the kitchen, so her children will not have health problems.

6This room was completely renovated. The roof was entirely rebuilt utilizing traditional building techniques to protect against frequent seasonal rains.

7We also built shelves to help with kitchen organization. These shelves are very efficient and inexpensive to build.The idea is that families like Victoria's can build them themselves. Each box has the value of S/.1 (around $ 0.30 cents) and they look great!

8Our volunteers all took a final photo with Victoria and her younger daughter, Flor, who helped us throughout the workday and even shared a bit of corn from their harvest! Thank you, Victoria, for welcoming us into your home!

Secsencalla, a small town of around 300 inhabitants, sits one hour outside the main city of Cusco. Like many communities outside the tourist capital, Secsencalla relies on corn as the main source of income. As community members wait for the February harvest, they'll also work side jobs in construction, cleaning, or drive mototaxis - small two-seater vehicles pulled along by a motorcycle.

As we walk the unpaved streets of Secsencalla, I can't help but notice how nice all the homes look; natural finishings, quaint balconies, tidy gardens. However, I also notice that Secsencalla has no plazas or public spaces, only one small building that doubles as both a small school and a community center - where MEDLIFE recently held a meeting to discuss the Healthy Homes project, an initiative which will work with 10 homes in the community that have children under the age of five and are at risk of malnutrition.

 IMG 1656A main street in Secsencalla. In the background you can see the green schoolhouse

Mercedes Olave, the head of MED Programs in Cusco, understands the importance of working within the framework and goals of the local governments and communities which MEDLIFE partners with. Prior to the start of mobile clinic season, she has already held several meetings with municipal workers in the district of Andahuaylillas, where Secsencalla is located, in order to learn what they consider their needs and desires to be. “The most serious problems facing communities is what happens after NGOs leave without even telling us their plans. They have their own objectives, sometimes very different from our own, and with the best of intentions end up making our job more difficult. They can waste months preparing a project and once it has been built, it's not even where the community really needs it” explains a municipal worker of Andahuaylillas as we meet to propose our plan. MEDLIFE avoids this through interactive meetings with communities to identify their greatest needs together - and for this clinic season both they and MEDLIFE agree that we should focus on children with malnutrition.

IMG 1694Many of the houses look nice from the outside, but on the inside lack many basic necessities.

The first house is made of cement and and looks nice from the outside but as we walk inside, I realize they don't have a kitchen. “Come here and look” Mercedes says to me while we walk to the house´s backyard. “This is the stove” - located out in the open exposed to the elements, but for a small covering overtop.

During February and March, families have money from the corn harvest and often will use it for home improvements. Things such as repainting homes or redoing finishings are cheap. What's more expensive is improving the inside or saving up for larger projects, which can be very difficult to save for when the profits from corn farming usually do not exceed 3000 Peruvian soles (around 700 dollars) a year.

The “stove” is just an open flame without ventilation, and has turned the kitchen wall behind it completely black. There's food stored all around it, disorganized and exposed - obviously not a safe way to prepare food. “It doesn't sting anymore” the homeowner tells with a smile. “You get used to the smoke.” It's incredible how much damage smoke can do - the hacking cough of the homeowner is a reminder that even if members of the communtiy become accustomed to the discomfort, the health effects over time are profound.

IMG 1677In this kitchen not only can you see the blackened wall behind the stove but also the cuy's (guinea pig's) cage and food right next to it.

The other homes in Secsencalla are very similar. Some are bigger than others, or have an additional room or two, but all lack a proper stove. While some have a small gas stove, families typically run out of money to buy gas for the entire year and eventually go back to the open flame even though they're aware of the health risks associated with it.

 Cooking over an open flame is the main method employed by people in rural parts of Peru largely because firewood is cheap and easily accessible. However, cooking over an open flame is very dangerous and can cause serious health problems, most commonly respiratory diseases. This is why MEDLIFE builds improved stoves in Cusco, or stoves that do not rely on open flame and have proper ventilation. Smoke often contains carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide formaldehyde and polyaromatic hydrocarbons such as benzo (a) pyrine. Families often suffer serious consequences due to exposure such as cataracts, blindness, increased risk of infections, chronic pulmonary obstruction, anemia and lung cancer. Smoke can also have serious effects on pregnant women.

collage secsenAnother stove we saw. The smoke coming out of it was so suffocating that we could only stay in the kitchen a minute.

This winter clinic season as part of the Healthy Home project, we will build fuel-efficient stoves for 10 families in Secsencalla that include ventilation through the ceiling of the home in order to eliminate prolonged smoke inhalation.

But apart from the great benefits that improved kitchens will have on the families of Secsencalla, the Healthy Homes program also has a bedroom improvement aspect.

In another of the houses we visited we found many clothes accumulated on the floor and on the bed, and in others, on the contrary, there was not a single piece of furniture. "It's that the girls like to sleep with us," one of the parents tells us when we ask them where their daughters are sleeping.

"The problem is that often they view it as innocent or a non-issue. But no boy or girl over 6 years old should sleep with their parents. First of all because it interrupts the marital life of the parents. There are things that children should not see, not because it is not natural, but because it is not the right age for them to see or hear those things, "Mercedes explains to the man. "And on the other hand, a young girl must have her own room or environment, separate from the men of the house whether they are the father or the brothers, because otherwise she is exposed to danger" Mercedes explains.

The Healthy Homes stove initiative provides the perfect opportunity to reform other aspects of the families home lives as well: MEDLIFE provides paints and shelves to organize their clothes, advice on personal and family hygiene, and ultimately we hold conversations to advise separating the environments and thus ensure that each son or daughter has their own space, a need that has a much deeper background.

IMG 1675This is the children's bedroom (2 girls and 1 baby boy) in one of the houses we visited and will work in this Winter. The gentleman tells us that he has not yet implemented it because his children prefer to sleep with them in the parent's bedroom. Mercedes explains the importance of separating living arrangements so that everyone has their own space as much as possible.

According to the WHO, in 2013 Peru ranked third in prevalancy of rape and sexual violence worldwide after Bangladesh and Ethiopia. In 2016, according to the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations in Peru (MIMP), girls and adolescent women represented 65% of cases of family violence and 70% of victims of sexual violence.

“It's unacceptable that many of our follow-up patients have suffered from gender-related violence… And much of the time it's because they have to sleep in the same bedroom as their father or brothers,” Mercedes tells me. “Once, many years ago in another job, I asked a man why he had raped his daughter. He just told me that he could, if she changed her clothes in front of him because they slept in the same room.”

IMG 1680Both girls live in one of the homes where we will be leading our Healthy Homes program this Winter.

Cases like that were the ones that inspired Mercedes to include the improvement of bedrooms within the Healthy Homes program that MEDLIFE is implementing in Cusco. "This program is an opportunity not only to improve the infrastructure and hygiene of each home, but to ensure the physical and mental well-being of children who may be at risk. It is a program that allows us to really know each family and make a real change. House by house "says Heidy Aspilcueta, Director of MEDLIFE Cusco.

 "I just moved here to Secsencalla about two years ago with my wife and daughter, and I attended Mrs. Mercedes' talk in the community. She spoke to us about the importance of separating the bedrooms and improving the kitchen. I am already building, little by little, and I hope that after the corn harvesting season I can get the kitchen ready to build my stove. Little by little it's improving" says one of the parents who will have her kitchen put together by the third group of volunteers arriving in the beginning of March (Sign up here).

Here at MEDLIFE Cusco, we are very excited to start this program in the community of Secsencalla, where we have been amazed by the organization and the desire of this community to work with MEDLIFE. If you are a volunteer or a member of a chapter, please consider a Service Learning Trip to Cusco to help us implement our Healthy Homes program in some of the 100 homes that make up Secsencalla, so that come February it won't only be the abundance of corn bringing good fortune to the village, but also our volunteers helping to create sustainable change and brighter futures for the families.

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