October 22, 2018 2:23 pm

A new house for the Morocho Family

"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.  

Written by Rosali Vela and translated by Rachel Goldberg

tallerThe house was packed at the educational workshop on Friday

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

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

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

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

tallergroupThe MEDLIFE team

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

The summer Mobile Clinic trip season is officially underway, with simultaneous clinics and development projects happening this week in Lima, Peru and Tena, Ecuador. Check out some photo highlights from the past few days in Lima:

collagelimaclinicYesterday's clinic took place in Ventanilla, north of Lima, Peru. 

collagestairsStudents from schools including WVU, VCU, North Dakota and Purdue worked tirelessly to help build the first staircase in Buena Vista, a new settlement in Lima, and enjoyed getting to know the neighbors as they worked together.

"That's my birthday!" said one of the students, when we told her the name of the community we were going to be working with, named for the date of its founding.

The excitement at the staircase project this week was contagious, spreading to everyone in the community of 8 de Diciembre. Men, women, teenagers and even elderly people came out to work on the stairs. "I'm still strong," said Natividad, when we asked her not to carry the heavy bags of cement. "After what happened to Thalia, we need to finish this quickly." Natividad's daughter fell when she was walking up the rocky hill that leads to his house a couple months ago. She's now recovering at home, but she's afraid to go down the hill and unable to go to school.


The student volunteers were excited to work with the community members of 8 de Diciembre, often called the "ant workers" by MEDLIFE director Carlos Benavides for their exceptional work ethic.

"You know Raul, people have been saying bad things about your community," Carlos said to Raul Flores, the community leader of 8 de Diciembre. Raul smiled but stayed silent, waiting for Carlos to continue. "Nobody wants to work with you! They say your community never stops working, not even to take a breath." Laughing, Raul replied, "Well, I would rather be hated for a good reason than for a bad one." Still smiling, he walked over to his taxicab and turned up the volume of the radio. That was the signal we were waiting for: time to get to work!

"What's the record for the most work completed in a single day?" asked one student. The work usually goes slowly, I told him. Normally you can work with ten bags of cement until the first "Break, please" is heard, usually because of the sun. I explained that after mixing the cement, it must be passed bucket by bucket up the hill to create the staircase. "Well, we're going to break the record," the student said, undaunted. I translated this to the members of the community. "Then we have to use 15 bags!" they said.

Amongst the community members who came out to help, we found Betsy, Eloy's mom, dressed in a Peruvian pride shirt. "I need the work," she told me when I asked why she was helping out in a community that's not her own. "Their community is helping me by paying 25 soles (about $9.60) a day, and I still need to buy the school supplies for my kids."

Working with Betsy is a lot of fun, because she's always cracking jokes. "I'm going to charge you for every joke," she said to me when she saw me laughing. Even the students were laughing, sometimes without even understanding what she was saying.

A week ago we bought some school materials for another patient, Leonel, and even with our bargaining skills, we spent more than 200 soles. I couldn't imagine how difficult it must be for Betsy, a single mother, without a job and with three more kids to worry about. But Betsy still keeps up her sense of humor from her youth in Pucallpa, in the Peruvian jungle. She started joking around with one of the students, Thomas, who was next to her in line.

And while carrying the heavy cement buckets, Thomas told me something. "I brought some school materials from home, and I don't know who to give them to," he said. But I already had someone in mind. Betsy was was in for a great surprise.

thomas and betsy

At the end of the day, the students celebrated breaking the record, having finished the entire 15 bags of cement. "Now you won't forget about us!" they said. It's true; we never forget the hard work and dedication of the student volunteers.

As we were leaving, we passed by Betsy taking Eloy to school and stopped to talk. She showed us his schoolbooks. "He gets straight A's, and I'm asking his teachers to place him in third grade," she told us. Eloy lost an entire school year because of his illness, and is now repeating the second grade.

As she was putting the notebook away, we gave Betsy the school materials that Thomas had brought. That might have been the first time that I have seen Betsy speechless. "Thank you," she said without looking at anybody. When they reached the bus stop, Betsy turned back smiling and yelled out, "Thank you, handsome." Everyone laughed, and Thomas responded, "Adios, mi amor" (goodbye my love). Betsy, still laughing, held Eloy's hand as she waved goodbye.

Other school supplies brought by students on this trip will be delivered on Friday. If you're a student going on a Mobile Clinic with some extra space in your suitcase, you too are welcome to bring donations of school supplies, art materials, or toys for the children in the communities where we work. Your contributions will be greatly appreciated.

Lima's pueblos jóvenes are not like Brazil's favelas, or Argentina's villas, or the slums of Mexico City. While most of Latin America's shantytowns have been haphazardly thrown together, without state assistance, the founding of Lima's Villa El Salvador (VES) in the 1970s was unique.

The creation of Villa El Salvador, a formal settlement for urban squatters, was a response to the housing needs of over 4,000 families that had invaded land in an area known as Lima's Southern Cone. Under the Velasco regime, the central government partnered with the community to mutually create an urban plan and assign legal plots to families. Lima's desert location, with ample unused land, also contributed to the city's initial success in providing lots for low-income communities. VES remains an important case study for participatory democracy, and marks the first example of government-aided slum development on the continent.

VES old collage

Government officials, community members, and scholars alike recognize the importance of legal land ownership and well-planned urban development. Officials in Peru note the many benefits that property rights bring their residents, including access to credit, access to home improvement loans, and the ability to start new home businesses. Community members themselves are also acutely aware of how it can change their quality of life, especially by connecting them to permanent – not provisional – electricity, water, and waste disposal services. Residents we speak with often cite obtaining land title as a primary concern; without it, they worry that they will have no assets to pass down to their children.

World Bank report regarding a pilot land titling program in Peru indicates that "strengthening tenure security through property formalization in urban squatter settlements has a large positive effect on investment." A new document released by the U.N. In May of 2012 also highlights the issue of land title, linking it to food security and economic empowerment.

Yet political treatment of new settlements in Peru has varied widely since the 1970s with changes in government administration, swinging from absolute recognition of urban slum communities to their forced removal. These changes have resulted in a patchwork of settlements, rising up from the outskirts of Lima, which remain in various stages of development and legal recognition.

Published in Global Topics

The Spring 2013 Mobile Clinic season kicked off yesterday with a Mobile Clinic in Villa El Salvador, Lima, Peru, staffed by enthusiastic volunteers from schools including University of Michigan, University of Florida, and Dominican University. Check out some photo highlights below, and stay tuned for more updates from the clinics happening this week in Lima and Esmeraldas, Ecuador!cliniccollage1clinicgroupcliniccollage2

A strong sense of solidarity in poor communities can sometimes give rise to innovative solutions in the face of extreme hardship. One example: the case of comedores populares in Lima, Peru -- community kitchens that provide nutritious meals for everyone, and that also play an important role as a local gathering place. Anyone can eat at a comedor, but they are especially important for the most vulnerable populations -- namely children, the elderly, and handicapped -- who may not have the means to obtain a healthy diet. At the Comedor Hijos de Brillantes in Pamplona Alta, Lima, the handicapped and elderly get a free meal every day. For everyone else, it's just S/1.50, or 60 US cents.

Roberto Huayhuapuma Vasquez, President of the Association of the Disabled in Pamplona, recently invited the MEDLIFE team to visit the Comedor Hijos de Brillantes to learn more about their work and how we could help. Roberto, who was born with only one functioning leg, started the association for the disabled after facing discrimination and seeing the limitations it placed on others like him. "I realized that together we could do a lot to change the world for disabled people in my neighborhood," he said. "We are capable of doing much more than we are given."

The group began serving meals to the handicapped in the area two years ago, and has managed to accomplish a great deal with very few resources. They started out cooking on a wood fire; now they have a small stove, which prepares meals for about 50 people a day. Of those 50, about half eat for free.



The cramped shack that serves as a comedor is ill equipped for people with disabilities, with a dirt floor, narrow entryway, and no handrails. They're asking our supporters for help with improvements to the structure to make it more accessible so they can continue serving the population of men, women and children who depend on them. If you'd like to contribute to this project, donate to the MEDLIFE fund.

What is a comedor?

Comedores populares began informally in the 1960s and 70s as a survival strategy in the fast-growing pueblos jovenes, or urban shantytowns of Lima. Women came together to form neighborhood organizations, pooled their resources and collectively prepared and distributed meals to their families. As economic conditions worsened, their numbers exploded.

The comedor model of social organization found in Peru is a unique one. It started with grassroots action, driven primarily by women in the poorest communities. The introduction of the Vaso de Leche government assistance program in the 1990s, which guaranteed a glass of milk for children and pregnant women every day, was made possible by using the existing networks of comedors. The women leaders in the program gained organizational skills and experience that empowered them to fight for a more active voice in public life. Sadly, they also became targets of political violence by the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorist group in the 90s.

Today, thousands of comedores populares are still active and vital to the growing populations in pueblos jovenes. Many are subsidized by the Peruvian government, which provides some raw ingredients in bulk, with some also receiving donations from church groups and NGOs. They are staffed in shifts by local volunteers, who receive food for their families in exchange for the hard work of preparing meals for large numbers of people. The network of women and men who run the comedors are important allies for MEDLIFE in the battle against malnutrition and other health problems, spreading the word about programs and resources to the entire community. They're often where we hold our preventative health workshops and public forums throughout the year, and sometimes even double as improvised doctors' offices at our Mobile Clinics.

landtitle taller1

Our latest educational workshop was located in a small community in the Nueva Esperanza area of Via Maria del Triunfo. MEDLIFE will bring a Mobile Clinic to this same community in March of 2013.

During the workshop, MEDLIFE staff members presented on a number of health topics, including the importance of psychological health and sleep, preventative tests for breast and cervical cancers, and nutrition. Along with our usual preventative health topics, we also touched on – for the first time – the important issue of property rights.

biz crowd collage

As many of our supporters know, MEDLIFE Peru works primarily with low-income, informal settlements established just outside of the city of Lima. Poverty, terrorism, and a lack of opportunities in rural Peru have prompted thousands of residents to migrate to these urban slums. As these communities become bigger, more established, and better organized, residents begin to move toward legal formalization of their homes and communal spaces.

Yet, the country has struggled in developing a comprehensive plan for urban development. With changes in government administration, treatment of informal settlements has varied widely. The involvement of several different agencies, sometimes with conflicting policies, also makes the process of legalization a murky one to navigate.

Santos Abad, a government lawyer, explained the basics of acquiring land title, highlighting the primary agencies involved in the process: COFOPRI (government agency that deals with property formalization), the municipal government, and – in some cases – the court system.

Abad outlined an important law called the prescripción adquisitiva de dominio. This law states that an individual may gain legal land title simply by possessing the land, peacefully and consistently, for a minimum of 10 years. The government's 10-year rule is a seemingly adequate amount of time for legal owners to reclaim their land or, if they wish, take squatters to court.

Community members listened attentively and immediately began to ask questions. In addition to general information about legalizing their property titles, many wanted to know more about the intricacies of sharing property. What happens when you share a home but are not married? How can parents ensure that their homes get passed on to their children?

Residents have voiced a need for more education, in order to better understand their legal rights. MEDLIFE hopes to begin including this type of training, focusing first on property rights, in our upcoming educational workshops.

Stay tuned for more information on important issues regarding land rights in Peru, coming soon!

Last Friday we visited the community of 8 de Diciembre for a seminar on various topics regarding preventative health care, as well as to hand out the Pap smear results for patients who attended a previous Mobile Clinic. The turnout was a lot bigger than we expected, showing us that this community is eager to learn about preventative measures they can take to help protect themselves and their families. From the moment we arrived we saw a very organized community; they had taken the time to rearrange the room to be able to accomodate all participants.

Biz Shenk, one of our MEDLIFE interns, gave a short presentation about mental health, which the community appreciated enormously. Several residents had questions regarding psychological health, but felt ashamed to ask them publicly; for this reason, MEDLIFE is trying to organize visits so that community members can meet one-on-one with psychologists. Two representatives from Manuela Ramos, an NGO that works to secure women's rights, also helped MEDLIFE Field Nurse Meri Lecaros present information about sexual and women's health. Among the topics addressed were how to recognize and prevent STDs, how to prevent cervical cancer, and how to do a quick breast exam to check for breast cancer. 

Although participants listened with interest to all of the topics, the one that seemed to interest them the most was malnutrition. Almost every mother in the room was asking for advice; they all wanted to give the best possible nutrition to their children. At the end of the seminar everyone was satisfied with the answers given to their questions, and confident that the information received was not just for them to keep, but to also be shared with others. This group's interest was so strong that they even asked for more meetings, and MEDLIFE plans to continue returning to the zone to provide information on additional health topics. 

Inge is a Communications Intern based out of Lima, Peru

MEDLIFE works by partnering with local communities and listening to their needs. That's how we became involved in the construction of our first-ever potable water project, which will provide a community of 400 people with safe access to clean water for years to come.

Unión Santa Fé is a settlement located high in the hills of Pamplona, in the outskirts of Lima, Peru. For several months, since January of 2012, MEDLIFE has been working with residents to construct staircases and a Wawa Wasi daycare center in their community. Yet as we visited the site and spoke to local leaders, it became clear that the school project alone would not be enough; the community was lacking the infrastructure to support it.

In response to these needs, MEDLIFE Director of Peru Carlos Benavides gathered community support and began the process of constructing both a road and a system to transport potable water. Building there was challenging, because it meant navigating both the difficult terrain of the work sites as well as a complicated bureaucracy.

To ensure sustainability, MEDLIFE works with existing government programs to make sure our projects will be utilized and properly maintained. In this case, we are partnering with a group called "Agua para Todos" ("Water for All"), a state initiative with the goal of improving access to potable water, particularly in poor communities. In order to benefit from this program, a settlement first has to be legally recognized by the district government. Then they must present a formal application to the water company, SEDAPAL, with plans drawn up by professional engineers. MEDLIFE helped the community of Unión Santa Fé along the way, with the entire process taking about 6 months. 

In addition to covering 50% of the building costs, MEDLIFE played an important role in organizing community meetings and coordinating with the different entities involved in the project. Now the pipes and basins that will distribute water have already been constructed and installed; all that's left to get the system up and running is a final inspection and approval from SEDAPAL. We look forward to completing this project within the next few months!

See a slideshow of photos from our progress on the project here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/medlife/sets/72157631747754638/show/

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