September 11, 2015 2:25 pm

Intern Journal: Cristina Negron

Written by Cristina Negron

409 MEDLIFE cristina negronPhoto Credit: April Gulotti

A little more than a month has passed since I arrived to the grey winter skies of Lima, Perú.  The experience so far has been humbling and exciting all in one.  I'm already nervous about the time passing too fast.  The thought of being at the airport eight months from now waiting for the flight home is a bit daunting.  There is so much to do during this year: get working experience, learn more about global health, empower and aid these communities, learn about Perú's history as well as its society, explore a new city, explore a new country, explore a new continent, get to know the co-workers, meet the locals, eat as much local food as possible and also find the time to apply to graduate schools and/or jobs.  Easy, right?

This is probably one of the most stimulating and overwhelming experiences we will ever have.  On the one hand, there is group of fourteen twenty-something-year-olds living together under one roof.  Everyone is extremely passionate about global health and exploring a new city.  On the other hand, a couple of miles east of where we live, people live in more poverty than any of us could even fathom.  To balance these two worlds is difficult because we are all excited to help others' needs during the day, but we also get the chance to go home at night and unwind.  We get to explore the city life after 5pm or come home to a warm bed or a cup of tea with friends sitting by our side.  Then the next day, we go back into these communities to listen to their concerns and see how different our realities are, once again.  Two completely different worlds are intertwined and it is a struggle to not feel guilty about our “normal” reality.

When we visit the communities of the “Pueblos Jóvenes”, we get their perspective and get to experience, for half a day, how “simple daily things” such as bathrooms, staircases, water and electricity are not only scarce but almost nonexistent.  It is not only medicine and healthcare that lacks, but also these basic living accessories that we all have access to in our homes.  How do we go into these communities' everyday, work hand-in-hand with the community members, knowing that at the end of the day we will be warm and safe in our houses?  With MEDLIFE, I hope to gain an idea of how to turn this initial guilt and confusion into a positive output towards global health and the communities most in need.

We are also slowly learning to balance our desires to help these communities based on theories and problems we've learned in college versus figuring out what is actually plausible and sustainable to the particular needs of each community.  The importance of listening to the communities and empowering their decisions rather than imposing our own beliefs of what we think they need is crucial for a sustainable outcome.  For this reason, I am so happy to be part of the MEDLIFE community that works with said mission.  I think this is what separates our non-profit from others, and it is providing an excellent base for all of us interns and our futures.  Hopefully, by the end of this internship, we will have a better idea of how to be pioneers for social justice and against global health disparities.

409 MEDLIFE cristina negron 2View from Barranco on a Sunday versus view from the Pueblos Jóvenes on a Monday.

September 4, 2015 11:50 am

Intern Journal: Jessica Danker

Written by Jessica Danker

“Lima, founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535, is a fascinating city and a treasure trove of history. Explore ancient Incan archeological sites, or stroll through the elegant cathedrals and opulent palaces dating from Spanish colonial times. Downtown Lima is crowded, but you'll enjoy exploring the city's neighborhoods—especially the beachfront areas, which have great shopping and dining and fabulous hotels.” Trip Advisor.

Immediately, with just a single Google search, you are sucked into this whirlwind of what seemingly sounds like a travel destination that you would be dumb not to have on your bucket list (for me it was almost instant FOMO).  Words such as fascinating, opulent, historical, beachfront, elegant, fabulous, and a treasure describe the city of Lima almost everywhere you turn. Not to mention, the endless chat about the incredible gastronomy Peru has to offer.  Prime examples: Ceviche, Aji de Gallina, Causa Rellena, Arroz con leche and the list goes on... Drool. When I found out that I was going to be coming to Lima, Peru for the yearlong MEDprograms internship I could hardly wait to explore the city and thoroughly enjoy every mouth watering Peruvian dish over and over again.

405 7Typical Peruvian dish ceviche. Photo credit : Kristine Paiste

 As I sat in the window seat on the airplane, I excitedly awaited our arrival. We dove into the fog, my heart began racing as reality set in. This is my home for the next year. I impatiently awaited the wintery grey fog to clear (still waiting) so I could see the city described to me.

 I immediately discover that my mental image had been guided completely askew.  Not one word was mentioned during my research on what would be my home for the next year about what and who embodies the real city of Peru. Not one! Yes, the city does have marvelous archeological ruins, beautiful cathedrals and street food to satisfy any traveler, but what about the parts of the city that aren't plastered on each and every travel site.

405 3Photo Credit: Tom Stephens

405 6Lima, Peru houses 30% or about 10 million inhabitants of the Peruvian population.  Many of who live in extreme poverty in communities called pueblos jovenes.  Within these communities almost all of the people are not considered residents of the city of Lima due to their lack of land rights.

In my short time as a MEDprograms intern these forgotten, unspoken about communities have become a part of everyday life.  Just a week into working for MEDLIFE I have seen what incredible things the program has done for the community.  While the interns and I huffed and puffed walking up the steep staircases MEDLIFE has built into the mountainside, it is hard to imagine how the inhabitants of this area climbed the treacherous terrain up and down to their houses multiple times a day.  While on the tour with Señor Carlos, it was made clear how much I took for granted each day.

I met a mother that day on tour. With sad and tired eyes, she told her story. I listened and almost instantly she began to cry. Her sons playing nearby, seeing her crying, came to comfort her as she asked for our help. Help with life's basic necessities that so many people like her do not have access to, such as, running water, electricity and some things as simple as a staircase.  For the rest of my time here in Lima, it will be her face and those of the community that push me to continue the fight for medical, educational and developmental equality for low- income families. I am grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of MEDLIFE.

405 1A mother is aided by a staircase that MEDLIFE has built into the hillside. Photo Credit: Tom Stephens

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September 3, 2015 2:02 pm

Intern Journal: Jake Kincaid

Written by Jake Kincaid

I was on a massive granite dome in Tuolumne Meadows several hundred feet off the ground, hanging from three fingers buried into a crack, my toes balancing on sharp ball bearing sized crystals. I looked down and saw that my last piece of protection was 30 feet below me. If a foot or a hand slipped I was going for a 60 foot ride and probably at least breaking an ankle on the ledges below. I had just pulled through some of the most difficult terrain I had ever climbed. The section ahead was easier but more dangerous.

I was exhausted, my legs were beginning shake, I had what we called the Elvis leg. I looked up at the crescent shaped crack marking the way and saw no opportunities to place more protection that I was confident could hold a fall. My hands were becoming slick with sweat, my arms swollen and weak. I tried to dry my hands with chalk, to take deep breaths and shake out the burn, to feel like there was no way I could fall. It wasn't happening.

elcapsmallMe climbing high on El Capitan.

Yet still, I was calm, I felt raw, real. I just breathed and flowed through it move by move. I tip-toed my way across the knobs and crystals that poked out of the otherwise smooth glacier polished face, slid my fingers across the flared seam and eventually reached safety.

I sat on a ledge and waited for my partner to follow, basking in warm high altitude sun and the euphoria of adrenaline.

I spent my five years in college (hey I had three majors and who wants to leave college after only four years) focused primarily on a singular goal: climbing The Nose of El Capitan. The Nose is the most famous, and often called the best, rock climb in the world. Sure I did pretty good in school and learned a lot along the way, even wrote a some stories I am still proud of. I always had a vague idea of finding work telling stories, engaging with people, and making a positive impact, even in just a small way. But my heart was mainly focused on this one selfish climbing goal. I never did much that was of any real use to anyone else.

I graduated and went and lived in Yosemite for two months. After 5 days of struggle, 3000 feet of sheer granite, and every emotion I have ever experienced from agony to bliss, exhaustion to exhilaration, my buddy and I topped out the Nose. It was a lifelong dream and it had been all I had hoped it would be- it felt like the ultimate physical and mental challenge.

When I had finished I went and camped by Sand Dollar beach in Big Sur with a good friend of mine. I sat on the beach physically and emotionally exhausted, but at peace and blissed out by the tranquility of my surroundings, listening to the ocean, bathing in the afterglow of the climb.

But I could only truly relax for a few days.

I told her I felt aimless, adrift. I had absolutely no idea what to do with myself. I felt lost without that one goal that I had been constantly pushing towards. In school, all I had known was that I wanted to climb Half-Dome and the Nose in Yosemite, then somehow get into journalism and tell stories that mattered. The story telling, having a career, that was always distant, abstract, something I would do later, like turning 30. Training for climbing was hard but straightforward, get strong and attempt incrementally difficult climbs. Then, one had to just walk to the base of El Cap, and climb to the top.

Getting into journalism, telling good stories, that was something different. Progress was not delineated by a physical direction in space. Telling stories professionally, or even just finding satisfying work, required navigating a baffling set of social and cultural obstacles. I didn't just want to find satisfying work, I wanted to find work that actually made the world better somehow. I had no idea how to do that.

           So I went climbing more, I took comfort in its beautiful simplicity, get to the top, and you've done it. Sure, getting to the top was sometimes maddeningly difficult- but the objective and the path were always relatively clear.

And so yet again I found myself sitting on a ledge hundreds of feet off the ground, my nerves on fire, trying to catch my breath.    

The crisp piney air filled my lungs and calmed me. Pristine alpine lakes spread out below me, shimmering in the sun, reflecting the pine forests and granite domes surrounding them. Just another day out on the rock. Sure it was beautiful, exhilarating, fun, but the feeling that I was moving towards something important was gone. Climbing just wasn't doing it anymore.

 I could continuously push the danger and the difficulty but the kind of challenge was always the same- always get to the top. Don't fall. Don't die. When you were done, all you had to show for it were some cool photos, sore muscles and stories that only your climbing buddies cared about.

 It seemed climbing The Nose had been enough for now. I will never quit climbing or enjoying it, but it was time to find another kind of challenge. The challenges presented by climbing were not helping me grow like they used to. It was time for climbing to be just a hobby, at least for a while.

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***

I went back home to Boulder Colorado after months of living out of my car and climbing. I started applying to jobs and internships, mostly at newspapers all over the US. That was where you got to tell true stories right?

I had always written off public relations of any kind as bullshit. I wasn't going to lie and make some company look good. If they were actually doing something good, then a real journalist would cover it. I wanted to actually do something to improve the world, and improve other people's awareness of it, not obfuscate it. I wanted work that felt like an adventure.

 I had always imagined myself moving abroad after I graduated, but I didn't know how, I had no hope of writing for a newspaper in another language. I only kind of spoke Spanish, and I wrote it horribly.

I spent the year adrift and in a daze, bored. I became lost in the endless black hole of the internet on a daily basis, trying to find some direction, advice, opportunities. The challenge of finding meaningful work was depressing, I often poured days into something only to realize it was a complete waste of time.

 I wrote freelance stories at small local papers, even some stories I am proud of, but it didn't make me much money and for the most part I didn't find it very inspiring. Who goes to journalism school to write stories about the farmers market or a bizarre holiday where people (only 10 people showed, they had been going for years) bring their pets to church to get blessed with holy water? Alot of these stories just didn't need to be told.

I delivered groceries to make money. I wandered up and down the aisles of grocery stores and perfected the art of not being present- of disengaging, a habit that eventually spread outside of my job to the detriment of my entire life.

 The most challenging part of my job was searching for the right kind of vegan cheese (did they want the one made from almonds or the one made from coffee, since when can they make cheese from coffee?) for the yuppie health crazed boulderites the app catered too. I listened to podcasts while I worked, interviews with writers, Serial, this American Life and wondered how I could possibly find stories worth telling, and who would give me a place to put them?

 Sure I had interviews, the most promising one covering crime in a small town in Colorado. But my heart was not in telling those stories. In my cover letters and applications, I struggled to find a convincing way to sound like I cared about covering small town USA news (I didn't) or to sound like I was qualified to work as a reporter at a place like Reuters or Harper's (I wasn't). They all saw through it. I didn't get far. I wanted to travel, I wanted an adventure.

8 months later I went climbing with a friend on a route that would have been child's play for us in our Yosemite days. We both lamented how we had done nothing exciting since Yosemite, but now we sucked at climbing too. I started training again out of a lack of direction, but the inspiration wasn't there like it used to be.

Eventually I decided if I didn't find anything, I was going to abandon my life- my girlfriend, job and lease, head to South America, wander around and just find myself a story to tell. I started practicing my Spanish.

I scoured the internet for anything abroad anywhere, but I was especially interested in Latin America, both because I missed it (I had traveled in Central America before) and because I already had Spanish language skills and actually felt there was a hope of attaining fluency.

That was when I found MEDLIFE. It seemed to offer what I was looking for. They had a robust media output, interesting stories, and worked in Latin America. The only reason I was hesitant because it was PR and international development- not traditional journalism. But I thought, “hey why not this looks like the best opportunity to give public relations a try, at least I will get to travel. Maybe they do such a good job I won't have to bs and distort information.”

It is easy to be cynical and defeatist about aid and development. Everyone has heard a story about a do-gooder's attempt to help the poor that has backfired and made things worse, from the common American mythology of welfare queens to the true stories of entire towns bottomed out economically by poorly implemented microfinance plans.

I had read such things and felt a sense that it was impossible to do anything at all. It seemed easier to keep living the good life in Boulder - not that I think those who do so are bad people, or that no one in Boulder makes a positive impact in the world, but I sure wasn't doing much but having fun in Boulder.

I was hoping to see something different, something better, something that clearly worked, something beautiful- wasn't that what giving was supposed to be?

***

Sometime later I found myself standing in a landscape that seemed like something in between a post-apocalyptic shanty town and a failed outpost on some distance desert planet where the atmosphere was too thick to let light through. Only it was real, it was on earth and it wasn't something as drastic as a global apocalypse that had created it but the subtle interaction of a number of factors: years of internal conflict in Peru, mass migration, market forces, geopolitics and of course historical circumstance going back to colonialism that would require several books to explain.

MEDLIFE had accepted me into the internship program, and I was doing fieldwork in the Peruvian slums where we work.

Rolling hills of barren dirt and rubble speckled with shacks stretched out as far as I could see. The fog and mist had not subsided in the weeks since I arrived. It disoriented and exhausted the mind, typically causing me to nod off on the crowded busses and awaken at our field site with the sense that I was in a bleak dystopian nightmare.

Although I felt like I was on another planet when I was in the pueblos jovenes (the name given to the slums outside Lima), I have learned that a perceived distance between these places, the lives of the poor lived here and my privileged life in the US was only an illusion created by the mind's inability and resistance to understanding and accepting the complex flows of capital and resources, of interdependence and influence that lead to the existence of such places. While no one is innocent and few can be said to be truly guilty- it is hard to deny the fact that each thing one person possesses is something that another person necessarily does not.

One thing has become clear, the pueblos jovenes are not on a distant desert planet. We all live in the same planetary and economic ecosystem, one with limited resources, resources that in this day and age can be distributed most anywhere.

But simply throwing resources and money at a problem like poverty won't fix it, and sometimes it can make it worse. There is no one formula for successful aid, it takes something else.

We got off the bus and began hiking into the hills, it was my second day in the field with MEDLIFE. A sickening vapor rose from the earth that created the distinct sensation I was wading through a substance, one that felt slightly viscous when inhaled, composed of evaporated dog feces, car exhaust, and smoke from either wood fires (at best) or garbage (more likely). I was adrift and in a hazy sea of suffering and hardship that I did not understand.

 I had no idea I was about to encounter the first of many amazing stories- the kind I had been hoping to find when I came here. A story worth telling, a story that mattered, a story that didn't make one feel cynical, helpless and defeatist.

We met Rosario and her neighbor Nilda after a long hike high into the hills. Stray dogs barked at us as we approached the collection of small shacks built out of materials that appeared to have been scavenged from a junkyard. The dogs sounded like they were waiting  for us to take just one more step before leaping at me and tearing a chunk out of my leg. I tensed at each bark, but Janet, the nurse I was with, assured me they were harmless.

Rosario only speaks Quechua- so her neighbor Nilda was translating for her. Rosario was 70, her home was one of the most squalid I had ever seen. A small, dirty one room shack. Mobility was clearly a huge issue for her.

It made my head reel to see her struggle out of her home and remove her hat to reveal a massive tumor. Apparently I didn't need to be dangling on a rock face hundreds of feet off the ground to get vertigo.

 I struggled not to cry. I took a deep breath and realized that this was not about my privileged, shocked reaction to the realities of poverty. My feelings did not matter. I would hop on a bus and go back to my life of comfort and opportunity, she would stay here in this existence that I was struggling to accept the reality of even for just a few minutes. I felt pathetic.

But I wasn't here to go on some kind of sick poverty sight-seeing tour, I was here for a reason, wasn't I?

I had done dozens of interviews before, even done interviews in Spanish before, but this was different. I started nervously asking questions from the list I had prepared earlier that week. How has your illness changed your life? Who helps you, who supports you? What are the biggest challenges in your life?

interview

Within the grim landscape of the pueblos jovenes, I have witnessed countless inspiring acts of selflessness, resilience and kindness from the residents that live there, the beauty of which in my mind outweighs the shocking squalor of the environment they live in.

This was the first one: Nilda, a 23 year old mother of two who also has a massive tumor on her chest, doesn't just translate for Rosario, she takes care of her as if Rosario were her mother, brings her food, looks after her.Though it was sad, ugly, disturbing- there was alsobeauty in that story, and in the many other stories I would encounter on a weekly basis.

The mother who cradled her mentally retarded and epileptic daughter like an infant because her daughter is basically an infant. Who only leaves her community high in the hills a couple times a year because she is always taking care of her, yet, still says she is happy. “This is my life,” she said. “At least I have my health, I can see my mother, talk with my neighbors, the seizures aren't everyday anymore.”

The children who appear to be having the time of their lives, running and screaming with delight as they jump into gravel like it is a soft pile of leaves on a lovely autumn afternoon.

The woman who took in an old senile arthritic friend (Elberta) who was abandoned by her family. Elberta is so senile they have to change her diapers. They put everything into caring for Elberta, despite having enough problems of their own, she had a stroke, her daughter who supports them both had a heart attack, and yet still says “We had to care for Elberta, we are human beings… How can you abandon an old woman like that? I think such people have never opened a bible.”

We visited a family to make a video to fundraise to build them a new house. The little girl shoed chickens out of her dirt floor kitchen as we entered. She spends her nights, often alone, huddled around candles with her younger brother, tiny beacons of light in the absolute darkness of the Ecuadorian countryside. Their mom leaves them alone to go see her boyfriend in Riobamba. As we leave, she insists that we take pieces of jewelry as a gift to remember her by. We try and refuse but she protests, “I have enough.” We didn't take her jewelry, but we did accept the flowers she made in arts and crafts class.

I have spent several months now visiting people like this in their homes and trying to tell their stories. It has been rewarding and challenging beyond my expectations. I love this work. I feel like I am on the right path again.

 I relish in the nuance and challenge of communicating with people far different than myself, of trying to make those who read my stories, look at my photos, or watch my videos feel as if the fate of these people seemingly so far away is somehow bound with theirs, that the problems of the poor on another continent should matter to them.

The best thing is that MEDLIFE exceeded my expectations as an organization. I really do just have to document the stories unfolding around me. I am proud to work for this organization. MEDLIFE finds a problem and tries to fix it, there is no formula.

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Pamplona Alta needed a school so MEDLIFE built one, a beautiful, clean white school in the middle of one of the most dilapidated, dirtiest slums I have ever seen. The place looked rough even for a Lima slum. But now, the kids have somewhere nice to go and learn. The clean whiteness of the school made it look like a supernatural apparition, like it was photo shopped into the foggy dilapidated environment that is Pamplona Alta. It was a symbol of hope. After smashing a Champaign bottle with a hammer to inaugurate it and taking a tour, I let myself tear up from a sense of hope instead of holding back tears of sadness.

Another community needed a water pylon, a woman needed a house, a boy needed a surgery, the list goes on. MEDLIFE has destroyed my cynicism and defeatism towards development; I have seen with my own eyes that it is possible to make progress, albeit slowly.

It is not easy, it is messy, confusing, and complicated. The path forward is not always clear. I admire the way that MEDLIFE listens to the needs expressed by the people we are trying to help, and is willing to try to meet that need in a way unique to each person or community.

Working with MEDLIFE has given me the perfect opportunity to work towards becoming the best version of myself, and to help the world become the best version of itself. I have no delusions of grandeur, what I am doing is only a drop in the bucket, but I am happy to be putting it in. 

18890 10153375532424161 9190035675929915492 nMany of the incredible people I have had the privelege of meeting and working with at MEDLIFE.

August 25, 2015 5:06 pm

Meet the Interns Year-long 2015 Part 3

Written by Rosali Vela
2015 2 10 AnnaName: Anna Folz
Hometown: Stony Brook, NY
School: Franklin and Marshall College
Major: Public Health
 
How I got involved with: My school did not have a chapter, I heard about MEDLIFE through a friend who was also a yearlong intern. He spoke so highly of the work that MEDLIFE did. After I spent time on the website I soon fell in love with it and everything MEDLIFE did.
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: During college I played Rugby, played viola in the orchestra and ran a social justice organization. I also continued to build on an organization that I started during my gap year, called Impuslo. The goal of The Impulso Project is to provide fuel efficient stoves to families in order to reduce the negative health effects caused by open fires and inefficient stoves for cooking and heating. With Impulso, I have spent a large amount of time organizing various trips to Guatemala and fundraising for the stoves. Aside from all of this, I love traveling and experiencing new cultures, especially through food (mainly cheese)
 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: Having spent time working with various organizations throughout Central and South America, I knew I wanted to continue working abroad and wanted to work in positions that had a public health lense. MEDLIFE was like the perfect fit. It is so important to me that public health organizations work directly with the local community, assisting community members and leaders in implementing programs designed to improve the health of families. MEDLIFE does exactly that. It is so awesome being able to work with an organization that works cooperatively with local communities in addressing public health issues.
What was your first impression of Lima?: I was very lost and confused at first. The city seemed so huge and I only knew how to get to the grocery store (not a bad place to know). I quickly learned that drivers are reckless and to never J-walk (for a New Yokrer, its hard not to do). The city is filled with so much color, which seems to contribute to its vibrant and exciting culture.
What are your goals for this internship?: I would love to continue developing projects that address the health issues confronting people negatively effected by the inhalation of smoke from inefficient stoves and open fires used in cooking. I hope to be able to assist in securing fuel-efficient stoves that will help in alleviating these health issues in Cusco and other areas in which MEDLIFE is working. Perhaps most importantly, during my time with MEDLIFE, I want to learn how to teach safer and cleaner ways to live without imposing on the local cultural traditions.
 

2015 jordan
Name: Jordan McHugh
Hometown: Setauket, NY
School: University of Michigan
Major: Cellular, Molecular Biology & Geochemi
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: I had pre-med friends who were looking for something meaningful to do during spring break. Since my friend was the University of Michigan chapter's president, we decided to accompany her on a trip.  MEDLIFE turned out to be so much more than a spring break trip for me, and I am so excited to be continuing on with this program.
Tell us a little about yourself:  I love backpacking and conquering mountains! I also love coming a new place and just walking around, discovering and learning new things.
Why did you decide to become an intern?: After my first clinic, I was inspired by MEDLIFE's unique mission to collaborate with like-minded individuals around the country towards an idealistic goal. This internship offers me the rare opportunity to work in an inspired environment to congregate people and bring them into the heart of a growing city and repair it even more.
What was your first impression of Lima?: Crowded! I'm from New York, and I thought I understood busy. Lima has taken this understanding to a whole other level. Here we see houses gridding the mountainside as far as the eyes can see, and traffic rushing around more furiously than I ever observed in Manhattan.. 
What are your goals for this internship?: Although having a short-term impact is satisfying in itself, I want to create something lasting on a personal level. I look forward to accomplishing physical feats such as the construction of a “wa wa wasi” (daycare center); but I really hope to come back to a community where people recognize my face or know my name. That would be truly meaningful.
August 18, 2015 3:01 pm

Intern Journal: Tara Piryaei

Written by Tara Piryaei

Why You Won't Regret It

I have one week left in Lima. I have learned more about myself in these last 2 months than I have after years of college. Going abroad alone is an experience that forces you to be vulnerable, encourages you to be independent, and pushes you to new boundaries you didn't think you were capable of. Working abroad, specifically with an organization as selfless and impactful as MEDLIFE, is truly humbling.

At my first community meeting, the 11 Volunteer Affairs Interns, Señor Carlos, and George took two combis and a moto taxi to the pueblos jovenes. The mototaxi was absolutely terrifying. We were off-roading in what felt like a motorized tricycle. Stray, angry dogs chased us up the mountain side. We got to the top and saw the pueblos jovenes lit up below. The overcast skies of Lima revealed no stars. The only lights were the faded orange lamps that lined the dirt roads, casting just enough light to dodge dogs but not to dodge the dog feces.

We made it to the meeting, and everyone stood at the bottom of the stairs. On one side there were the American interns--11 of us. On the other side stood about 30 concerned Peruvians, men and women of all ages. Carlos began to speak.

He thanked them for having us here. He introduced the interns. He explained our goal to build a staircase in their community and apologized for the 2 year wait, from our lack of funds. He asked if any organization has ever reached out to them, has ever asked if they needed help, has ever asked for their input. “Nunca,” they murmured in unison.

He continued to discuss the importance of education. He asked how many women have gotten pap smears and clinical breast exams. He called out three women and asked each one if they knew why it was important. They didn't. They were embarrassed. But it captured everyone's attention. He asked the men to raise their hands if they were over 40. They didn't, so he called them out. He asked if they've gotten prostate exams before--only one person had. He briefly discussed safe sex practices. He covered a lot in the hour we were there. He ended with a talk about unity. MEDLIFE works together WITH the community. Carlos ended his speech by saying “manos que trabajan juntos son más fuertes.” Hands working together are stronger. Some community members spoke and expressed their gratitude.

Then we hiked. In the dark, in the cold, we climbed the mountain side. It was a trek for the interns, but a common path for the community members. Someone slipped. I pictured it raining, and all of us slipping off the mountain side. I wondered how young children made this trek. We used the lights from our iphones. We were told that the trek we made was where the stairs were to be built.

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I felt the beauty of childhood within me--the excitement and wonder of seeing things for the first time. Before this trip, I had never seen so many homes packed onto a hillside. I had never seen a hospital with beds outside because the emergency room was over capacity. I had never seen an NGO working hand-in-hand with a community to build a cement rooftop. I had never seen nurses trek up a mountainside to hunt for a patient's home, with no GPS, in order to provide follow-up care. I had never seen a doctor buy an entire community breakfast and proceed to give them an educational talk on nutrition.

I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by the most inspirational, loving, and beautiful group of interns. Whether it was an issue of cultural sensitivity, the safety of children at a daycare, respecting a community by obtaining their consent, or working to influence others through a documentary, these interns persistently took action and inspired others to do the same.

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Traveling opens up your mind as you meet people beyond the boundaries of your family, friends, and hometown. I am leaving with part of Peru in me--I am keeping part of Lima in my heart. Everyone I've met, as well as the kind souls I never crossed paths with, are a small piece of me as I carry their stories. I came into this internship with a plan, and left with much more than a list of goals could ever create. I hope to use my experience to inspire others to not only volunteer for MEDLIFE, but also to travel. This experience was so much more than working for a non-profit. It was a chapter of a story that can be told after my death; that my children can tell their children I took part in.

When you believe that one person cannot change the world, you are ignoring the power that comes with sharing stories. A passionate person acts as the first domino in a row of billions--a person is as powerful as their experiences, and these experiences are meant to be shared with others.

Whether it is a spontaneous decision, or a decision planned out years in advance, going abroad with MEDLIFE will be life-changing, and it is well worth taking a break from your life to experience someone else's reality. 

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