We just received these photos from Ccaccaccollo, a community outside Cusco, Peru, where we constructed new bathroom facilities starting in August. The community has been putting the finishing touches on the project, and school director Maria Teresa Flores tells us, "The bathrooms look great, and the kids and I are very grateful to MEDLIFE for completing this project." 

Published in Sanitation Projects

The road goes from pavement, to cobble stone, to dirt. Small tin-roofed houses reveal themselves, hidden high in the hills. They can only be found by following the trail of concrete steps coated in a fine veil of green moss from the street to their doors. 

Luis, PJ and I wind our ways into the countryside of Colta, Ecuador in a white pick up truck. We've come to check on a bathroom construction project at a rural school called Columbe Lote 1 y 2, situated in a deep valley near a snaking river.

Dr. Antonio Tayupanda, director of Columbe Lote 1 y 2 greets us in front.

He leads us to four young male volunteers energetically sloshing together cement in a wheelbarrow and hammering apart the adjoining wall of the old, insufficient bathrooms. Currently, there are five bathroom stalls for the 170 students who attend the school. A long basin of dirtied pink and while tile with brass faucets serves as a sink. They are constructing three more bathroom stalls through funding by MEDLIFE Ecuador. 

Dr. Tayupanda surveys the work proudly. This new project will serve his students, who range from ages four to 16 years old, well. He is stocky and his posture is straight. Brown eyes framed by crinkles of smile lines nestle into his round face. For a 48-year-old man, his hair is youthful. A thick black curl falls in the center of his forehead. 

After snapping photos of troweling out thick cement mixtures and aligning cinderblock bathroom walls, the director insists on feeding us. He whisks us away to a small classroom where we squeeze into wooden chairs better suited for five-year-olds. Dr. Tayupanda leans in the doorway, pressing us to finish our plates like a worried mother. He is bundled in a white corduroy coat with a faux-sheepskin collar, though the weather is warm. Small children in thick, red wool sweaters danced about his feet, excited by visitors and the day's construction. He playfully pats them all on the head. 

Our next stop is a bare classroom. A thick red curtain serves as a separating wall for the long room. It hangs limply and unevenly on a wire strung across the ceiling. Dr. Tayupanda speaks of the dire need for more schoolhouses, gesturing out of a dirtied window lined with small potted plants. 

Outside was a circle of painted wooden stumps that served as the student's seats. They conduct class here when they run out of room indoors. The strong winds turn the pages of Quichua instruction books, and teachers, of which there are 12 in the school, have to compete with the loud moo's of cows grazing in the distance. The lack of space is a thorn in his side as principal.

This is one of only three stark classrooms they have at the school. But smoke hangs in the air. Why?

The director answers our questioning with a gesture toward the back of the classroom. There lies a narrow room the size of a closet. Three young women in traditional dress cluster around a fire, heating a large metal pot of potatoes. They peel potatoes with small knives, chatter, and lean toward the one open window for fresh air. They were making lunch for the students, and the principal is proud that no one goes hungry here.  

Dr. Tayupanda excitedly leads us to the back of the school's property. It appears that lunch was not only provided for each student, for the cost of one U.S. dollar per month, but it was home-grown.  

We slip through a narrow, muddy passage way between a school house and a small set of three cages formerly used to raise guinea pigs. Here lays his pet project to improve the school -- a cinderblock foundation of what will be a new, larger pen for guinea pig farming.

guywithcuy blog

Though not what one assumes of school lunch, guinea pig is a common dietary supplement in the rural communities of Ecuador. According to the Telegraph, these small rodents can have “more protein and less cholesterol than beef, pork, lamb or chicken.” They're also quite easy to raise, needing a few servings of commonly grown vegetables a day, such as dark greens, radishes and celery. 

Around the corner from the pen are steep hills of fertile, black earth. Dr. Tayupanda points to our feet where a springy lettuce plant grows. 

“In three months, it's ready to be harvested,” he says, beaming. 

The hills surrounding the school are draped with rectangular plots of vegetables. Blackberry vines curl along the thin wooden fence surrounding the farm plots. Crops like potatoes, onions, cilantro, turnips, and peppers are grown by the parents of the children on these hills. They volunteer once a week, and the harvest feeds the children and teachers lunch throughout the year. 

“How long have you worked here?” I then ask. 

“Twenty three years,” he replies without a blink. “And you, you're what? Twenty-two?” he asks smiling.

“Yes, twenty-two, how did you know?”

He let out a deep laugh. “Twenty three years working [with young people] and I know a twenty-two-year-old.”

He thanks us for visiting, shaking our hands with both of his. 

I really hope that you return and come see us,” he says sincerely, as if inviting us back for a family dinner. 

Rachel Hoffman is a MEDLIFE media intern based in Riobamba, Ecuador

November 20, 2012 5:14 pm

On Building a Bathroom

Luis and I took a short bus ride from Riobamba. The rhythmic rocking of the behemoths they call buses here was still enough to induce both of us into a brief slumber. After thirty minutes and a brisk walk through a few uneven cobblestone streets, we reached a tall iron gate that sat guarding a small school. On the side of the school facing the street it read “Escuela Mariana Borja” in black, capital letters.

We had arrived. To look at a bathroom. 

colta construction toolsIt wasn't yet a bathroom per se -- it was a patch of grass and a pile of rubble from which we were going to begin building one. Sanitation projects for MEDLIFE Ecuador are some of the most important community projects for providing sustained health care. This school sits in the Cajabamba community in Colta, a primarily indigenous and rural population. Rural and lower-class regions like these have the worst access to proper sanitation facilities in the country. Without hygienic separation from fecal matter, it can often lead to infections and diarrhea that is life-threatening, especially for younger children. 

Escuela Mariana Borja is overflowing with children between first and sixth grade. Once you're inside, dark orange and ochre walls form semi-outdoor hallways. Children duck and giggle behind pillars. A cement rectangle forms a small soccer field in the center of the compound, where young boys scrabble over a well-worn ball. 

Colta-school-childrenThe need for the bathroom project was obvious. The current situation involves three stalls for boys and three for girls. There are over 200 students. When we spoke with the principal and some school children, they told us that often the smaller children get pushed out of the long lines for the bathroom during recesses by the older students. They hardly get to wash their hands, let alone relieve themselves. 

But the school day must go on. Children in a fourth grade science class were excitedly slapping bright red paint onto papier mâché volcanoes in makeshift streams of lava. First graders were practicing their letters in small marble notebooks in an impressive concentrated silence. 

On November 7th, the bathroom construction site was a pile of cinderblocks, a few scattered indigenous women volunteers from the community, and the skeleton of an old metal swing-set. By November 16th, a frame of the new stalls was erected in gray cinderblock, and a volunteer group was busily installing piping and supports on the roof. The project is slated for completion by November 26th.

Rachel Hoffman is a MEDLIFE media intern based in Riobamba, Ecuador

MEDLIFE works with local authorities and community members to aid those most in need.  Hygiene Projects encompass the construction of latrines, waste disposal systems, handwashing stations, and other structures.  We also implement proper hygiene education and provide check-ups and medical treatment for the community during our Mobile Clinics.  Our aim is to provide a clean and safe learning environment for students and teachers in rural and low-income communities so that they may continue their education with dignity.

In January of 2011, MEDLIFE completed another Hygiene Project in the jungle community of 21 de Enero of Tena, Ecuador. Read below to learn more about the project: 


21enero1 321enero 3

21 de Enero is a community belonging to the district of Archidona, a 30-minute drive in the sticky jungle heat from the larger city of Tena, Ecuador. The remote community has only one school, which serves 56 children, ages 5 to 12. After local government workers signaled that the school was in great need of improved sanitation, MEDLIFE staff members drove out to see how they could help.


They encountered poor and insufficient hygiene facilities due to the fact that 56 students and four teachers had to share a single toilet. Children would often tire of waiting and just relieve themselves outside while teachers reported occasionally making themselves sick by waiting until they got home to use the bathroom. The tiny stall was also a dangerous potential source of parasites and bacteria.


Calling on the help of students from UNE, Berkeley, FIU, Miami, Cornell, Claremont, Syracuse, and Johns Hopkins, MEDLIFE staff and volunteers completed a larger and more sanitary bathroom for the community over the span of 10 days. The improved facility has two separate stalls and a wash station to help combat the spread of infectious disease. Says school director Elsa Astudillo, “I feel proud to have these new bathrooms.”


For more info on the MEDLIFE Fund and how you can contribute, please follow the links below:

Learn more about the MEDLIFE Fund

Donate to the MEDLIFE Fund

This summer MEDLIFE conducted it's third-ever Mobile Clinic in Panama. It was the first time that the Mobile Clinic had visited the rural interior of the country, and also the first time that we had completed a community development project there. MEDLIFE's two summer interns in Panama, Lisa Berdie and Miriam Marshall, assumed a great deal of responsibility in coordinating the logistics of the Mobile Clinic and development project. They share the details of the project below:

13-1Two weeks ago, 32 student volunteers, accompanied by local medical professionals, conducted a MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic in Penonomé, Panama. It was a great way to start developing meaningful relationships in a new part of the country as we extended our services to four different communities. The first three days of the Clinic were held in the same location and people walked for up to three hours to come see our doctors. It was truly amazing to witness the lifestyle of people who live in such a remote place!

The opportunity to work alongside community members on the development project was one of the most rewarding parts of the experience. We worked together to construct a bathroom next to a building that functions as a central meeting place for organizations in the community. Primarily, a group called the Madres Maestras (Mother Teachers) meets in this building. The group has day care centers throughout Panama and is especially active in the province of Coclé (where the Mobile Clinic took place). The organization provides support for families and believes that early education is essential in childhood development; the Madres encourage every parent to be a teacher for their child.

Published in Sanitation Projects

Because this is what elementary school kids in Cebadas are using right now:


MEDLIFE students from Brown and the University of Delaware, alongside local community members, consructed a new bathroom on this site during a Mobile Clinic in March 2011.

When MEDLIFE first started in 2005, our goal was to deliver medical care to those without access in Latin America. As we spent more time in the communities we visited on our Mobile Clinics, we learned more about the myriad problems constraining their residents' livelihoods and preventing them from leading healthy lives. We realized that delivery of healthcare services wasn't the only way that we could help individuals and families in need, so we decided to broaden our work to encompass community development projects. These projects' overall aim is to improve the health and living conditions of individual communities. Always working in collaboration with community leaders and residents, we have since built classrooms, bathrooms, and washrooms in rural and urban elementary schools, and stairways and retention walls for hillside villages. Funding for many of these projects now comes from the MEDLIFE Fund. All public donations and fundraising for MEDLIFE goes 100% to our community development projects.

Rachel Eggleston is a MEDLIFE summer intern in Ecuador. Here's her perspective on a community development project in Chimborazo:

1-1Today, fellow interns JP, Meredith, and I traveled to the rural village of Pull Manuel Laso, Chimborazo, deep in the Ecuadorian Andes mountain range, to check on the progress of a MEDLIFE-sponsored bathroom construction project. We woke up around 7 am and hopped in a taxi, which took us to the bus station. One bus and one government vehicle later, we arrived in Pull Manuel Laso. Francisca Paguay, the director of the community's school, greeted us immediately. Sra. Paguay led us down a trail to the bathroom project, which overlooks the vast agricultural and mountainous landscape typical of many communities in rural Chimborazo. When we arrived, several community members stopped their whitewashing to greet us. They were eager to show us what they had accomplished since Martha (Director of Operations, MEDLIFE Ecuador) last visited.

Published in Intern Journal