351-2Joanna Dainton traveled all the way from her home in England to be an intern with MEDLIFE from November 2013 through May 2014 to gain relevant experience working for a non-profit in a developing country. During the internship, her experience with one community leader MEDLIFE frequently works with, Jorge Vargas, motivated her to make a difference in the community beyond what her intern duties entailed.

“I wanted to help Jorge because he was someone who I really connected with,” Joanna remembers. She says he has a lively and humorous personality, and despite his physical handicap, “his optimistic attitude was incredible,” she says. Jorge was bound to a wheelchair because of polio he contracted as a child, and Joanna wanted to help him where he needed it most: his mobility.

351-3As Joanna recounts, Jorge was restricted to using an old, rusted wheelchair to navigate the rocky and steep terrain of his community, high in the hills of Nueva Esperanza, in Lima, Peru. With this chair, Jorge required someone else to push him around, and his work as a community leader was severely limited.

“I felt this was an unacceptable situation, especially given his full involvement in his community as a leader and organizer,” Joanna explains. “I could see that by enabling him to be independent, not only would his life be improved but the lives of those around him would be too.”

During the last stretch of her internship with MEDLIFE, Joanna launched a plan—in collaboration with MEDLIFE staff including Carlos Benavides, MEDLIFE Peru's Director—to buy Jorge a motorized wheelchair. She would start a MEDLIFE campaign to turn his dream of having his independence again into a reality.

Upon her return to England, Joanna communicated Jorge's story to her network of friends and family across her social media accounts, she sent out countless emails and even held fundraising events. Before long, she had reached her goal of $1000 and MEDLIFE matched her contribution to afford the motorized wheelchair.

After the funds were in, the MEDLIFE team proceeded on to the next step: finding the perfect motorized wheelchair customized to Jorge's needs.  After trial and error and months of research to find the perfect fit, as of February 2015, Jorge is comfortably navigating his way around his community with his motorized wheelchair.

Joanna feels overjoyed with the accomplishment and collaborative team effort. “It's brilliant knowing we achieved what we set out to do and have hopefully changed Jorge's life for the better,” she said.

351-4Jorge's newfound independence not only means he does not need to rely on friends and family to get around, but also allows him to continue his work as a community leader, which was very limited before. Helping organize MEDLIFE mobile clinics in his community was difficult for Jorge to manage previously (although his passion for helping his community enabled him to accomplish it), but now Jorge has the tools, along with the heart, to really create change.

Reflecting on her experience, Joanna says she feels an even closer connection to the communities she helped serve during her internship, despite being half way across the world.  “Seeing the photos of Jorge with his new wheelchair has created a link between myself and everyone who donated and worked on the project, and Jorge and his community,” Joanna says.

Joanna's friendship with Jorge made her feel very passionate about her campaign for his motorized wheelchair. She believes this type of connection MEDLIFE strives to achieve with its follow-up care and long-term relationships with families and communities is essential for effective change. Joanna certainly saw an opportunity to directly change someone's life in her experience with Jorge, and encourages anyone else considering development projects to find that personal connection in order to be the most successful.

December 31, 2014 11:32 am

Meet the patient: Claudia Pinto

Claudia Pinto never worried about her health. She has a resilient immune system, she says. She has never become sick enough to merit a visit to the doctor. Claudia's priority is not her own well-being, anyway. She became a mother when she was 23 years old, and since then, has always put her children's needs before her own.

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Claudia's children never had a father figure; she supports her small family single-handedly. To accomplish this challenging task, Claudia works unforgivingly long hours as a housemaid in order to feed her children and afford very basic living expenses.  Without a moment of free time to assess her own physical condition, let alone manage time off from work to visit the doctor, Claudia never had the resources to even consider the possibility of developing a serious health problem.

When a MEDLIFE mobile clinic came through Claudia's neighborhood in San Juan de Miraflores in August of 2014, she initially hesitated, assuming it would conflict with work. Before the clinic, however, Claudia managed a few free hours from her commitments, and found it too convenient to pass up. She join her neighbors and attended the clinic with her son, his health being her priority, of course.

Claudia visited the OB/GYN station to take advantage of the free breast exam and pap smear, of which she has only had five or six in her life—a number incredibly low for a woman in her forties. During her check-up, the OB/GYN informed her of two discoveries Claudia would need to attend to. Claudia was first told she had a urinary tract infection, something easily remedied. The doctor's second piece of news caught her off guard a bit. Claudia was informed of a small lump in her breast. The doctor at the mobile clinic expressed her concern and told Claudia to follow-up as soon as possible.

“Well, this simply won't work,” Claudia thought while her mind immediately skimmed over a whole host of reasons for why a growth in her breast was an utter inconvenience: lack of finances, the need to constantly work, responsibility to care for her children, etc. Claudia left the mobile clinic in a hurry, attempting  to run away from the new discovery, though she did acknowledge her breast had been in pain for a while. Regardless, Claudia wanted it to disappear so she started by ridding it from her mind and went about her routine as usual.

Though Claudia tried to escape her new reality, she somewhat confronted it by confiding in a friend, one who could lend her some guidance. Claudia's friend had suffered from breast cancer for ten years and felt very strongly about Claudia's new discovery. “Please take care of yourself,” pleaded Claudia's friend. “Don't suffer if you don't have to. I don't want what happened to me to happen to you.” And with that, Claudia was convinced to visit a nearby medical “post” to ask for medical advice.  

At the small community clinic, Claudia found out the cost to remove the Fibroadenoma, a non-cancerous tumor, from her breast would be 210 Peruvian soles, or 70 USD, which Claudia simply did not have. She makes enough money to feed her family and pay for household expenses but is never able to save that large of an amount.

Feeling trapped in her situation, Claudia began to panic. She was frightened for her health and for her children's well-being.  Most of all, Claudia was afraid of the possibility of not finding a resolution. She thought there was no way out.

Her luck changed in October 2014. Claudia reconnected with MEDLIFE at a community meeting in her neighborhood that was held to discuss upcoming projects and winter mobile clinics. During the meeting, Claudia approached MEDLIFE staff explaining her situation— and she was immediately recognized. She was a patient who they tried to contact after the August mobile clinic but were unable to reach her. Claudia and MEDLIFE realized it was a misunderstanding, and moved forward to solve the problem.

After a few preliminary appointments with Claudia, MEDLIFE scheduled her operation and she had her tumor removed on November 5, 2014. The organization covered all related expenses including medical appointments, the operation and medications. Claudia said, for the first time in years, she felt fully supported, not only financially, but also emotionally. At first, Claudia could not believe that someone outside of her family cared enough about her health to help. She feels extremely grateful to MEDLIFE for discovering her ailments, because otherwise she would have continued living her life without knowledge that she was ill.

Since her experience with MEDLIFE, Claudia is determined to spread the word to her neighbors about how important it is to care for their health. She recognizes that for people living in the hills of Lima, proper medical care is neglected for many reasons, including lack of access, time, and money. Though she has been lucky with good health up until this point, she knows the situation is far different for many of her neighbors. She wants to encourage others to not only be vigilant of their health, but also take advantage of help when it comes along. 

February 4, 2013 2:06 pm

A New Home for Eloy

Thanks to your support, MEDLIFE patient Eloy Britto received a life-saving heart surgery last December. He was released from the ICU in January; however, doctors explicitly stated that Eloy needed a clean, ventilated area to rest and recover. Yet, MEDLIFE staff members knew that he was going back to a small, dusty home shared with two other families.

Two weeks later, MEDLIFE began the process of building Eloy a new, clean, and well-ventilated house. With a generous donation of land from the community, MEDLIFE staff members worked alongside residents to build a new home for Eloy's family. A new staircase project was also completed, allowing Eloy to safely walk to and from his new home.

Watch the video highlights from these projects below!

A New Home for Eloy from Medlife on Vimeo.

 

November 28, 2012 2:57 pm

Celebrating Our 50th Staircase

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Our 50th staircase project in Lima, Peru is a special one for a number of reasons. Like our very first staircase project, this one came directly out of the relationship developed between a patient and MEDLIFE staff members after a Mobile Clinic. And although the initial idea that sparked these stairs came from one small boy, the project will benefit many families for years to come.

Virgen de Cocharcas is a community located in the hills of the Villa María de Triunfo district. With seventeen years of settlement, it's a relatively established community, having recently gained recognition from the local government in the form of electricity and water. But as the community continues to creep higher into the hills, it still lacks accessible roads and stairs. The community is built on a sandy slope, and branching off of it are steep hills composed of loosely piled rocks that lead to small wooden houses that about 350 people call home.

One of them is eight-year old Eloy Britto, who came to Lima just months ago with his mother and younger siblings from the jungle region of Peru, and is now living with a relative in Virgen de Cocharcas. Eloy was born with Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart condition that results in low oxygenation of the blood. In the US, it is usually corrected with an operation within a year from birth. But Eloy had been living without any medical treatment until his mother brought him to a Mobile Clinic in their community last summer.

The terrain leading to Eloy's house would be dangerous for anyone, but going on home visits over the next few months, MEDLIFE's patient follow-up team was especially affected by the sight of Eloy making his way up and down the hill. Every few steps, he had to stop to catch his breath and then start up again.

The process of building these stairs was not an easy one. Though the students who come on weeklong Mobile Clinics work together with locals to help get stair projects built, the groundwork is laid weeks in advance at late-night meetings with the community. MEDLIFE provides building materials but requires a commitment of labor from the community before construction begins to ensure that the project will be carried out. Director Carlos Benavides says that this community was a more difficult case because most of the able-bodied adults were busy working far from home and had to be convinced of the necessity of building these staircases to benefit the community as a whole.

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Yet, once the community finally came together to clear the site and begin construction, the staircase progressed rapidly. In just two weeks, residents of Virgen de Cocharcas and students and parents from Dana Hills High School laid the foundations, poured cement, painted and even planted trees. At the end of the week, the formerly barren, rocky ground was almost unrecognizable. To inaugurate the project, Eloy's mother and a mother from the Dana Hills group broke the champagne bottle together, and the community treated everyone to a dance performance and some typical Peruvian appetizers.

Having seen the change from just this one project, Carlos is sure that nearby families will soon begin requesting stairs of their own. And sure enough, the next project planned for our first Mobile Clinic in December is a second staircase for Virgen de Cocharcas, a few blocks from Eloy's house.

MEDLIFE's mission of providing access to medicine, education and development to everyone may be based in Latin America, but it doesn't end there. One of the most important things that students can take away from the Mobile Clinic experience is the drive to serve in their own communities. MEDLIFE chapters all over the US are partnering with other on- and off-campus organizations to work toward a better world.

V 1Though a young chapter, MEDLIFE at San Francisco State University has taken this message to heart. After forming last year and going on a Mobile Clinic, they decided to find a way to help out in their hometown. So last Friday night, several members of the chapter took a few hours to volunteer at a local church that serves meals to the needy as part of the GLIDE program, an organization that provides various social services in the San Francisco area.

Chapter president Emily Parathara says, "Hundreds of hungry locals lined up to eat dinner. I couldn't help but wonder about their access to health care -- many had rashes and hives on their skin which were probably never seen by a doctor." Emily says the experience reminded her of her Mobile Clinic experience in Peru. "It just motivated me to be a doctor and reminded me why I'm doing this in the first place. Most of all, it reminded me that poverty is everywhere."

collageAt the University of Florida, MEDLIFE members did their part by helping to build houses for low-income families in their community. They joined forces with 50 other volunteers for their first group community service project with the local Habitat for Humanity. Says chapter president Michelle Nguyen, "Together, as a community, we helped build Kay and her children a safe, comfortable, and affordable home."

Volunteering together can also be a great way for chapters to come together as a team and get to know other groups on campus. At the University of Vermont, MEDLIFE chapter members participated in a community event called the Catamountain Classic, where, says president Austin Davis, "we and the rest of the UVM clubs divided up the long trail and attempted to hike it all in one weekend." The money raised from donations and registration fees went toward the creation of a scholarship fund, in memory of a UVM student, to allow local youth to participate in wilderness education trips.

When looking for the right volunteering opportunity, it's a good idea to check out local organizations that need volunteers to help with projects related to your interests. MEDLIFE at UGA has formed a lasting relationship with Medshare, a nonprofit that collects excess medical supplies from hospitals and packages the supplies to send to underprivileged communities abroad. Members of UGA's MEDLIFE chapter often volunteer at Medshare's Atlanta-based headquarters, and last year, Medshare donated supplies for a Mobile Clinic in Peru. Click here to read the Medshare blog about our partnership here!

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Thanks to these chapters, and to everyone making a difference in their community! If your chapter has recently volunteered, please share your story with us at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

Written by Multimedia Producer Rosali Vela and translated by Rachel Goldberg and Lindsay Bigda:

Patient follow-up is more than treating the illness itself; it's getting to know our patients and, most of all, listening to them. Carmen Solano is a MEDLIFE patient we first discovered thanks to our newly implemented breast cancer screenings at our Mobile Clinics. Despite facing a painful diagnosis of breast cancer and a long treatment process, she is remarkably hopeful and upbeat. MEDLIFE has been supporting her through her chemotherapy sessions over the past few months. Though weakened both by the illness and the effects of the chemo, she makes the trip every week from high in the hills of Villa Maria de Triunfo to the hospital, where MEDLIFE field nurse Meri Lecaros accompanies her to her doctor's appointments.

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Recently, her pain had been becoming worse, and her treatment was delayed by a wound that wouldn't heal. The site where doctors had removed a portion of breast tissue for a biopsy was infected and draining fluid. If it continued, it could trigger other problems that would require the removal of her entire breast.

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Carmen's doctor told her that the infections could be a result of the fact that her living conditions, humid and poorly ventilated, had turned her mattress into a source of infection. An old and damp mattress is easily susceptible to bug infestations -- a condition that, although a common occurrence, could severely complicate Carmen's condition. But there was nothing she could do; she needed a mattress to sleep on, and to buy a new one and transport it to her home was impossible for her.

Feeling that MEDLIFE had already given her enough help with her chemotherapy and medications, Carmen was embarrassed to admit the problem to us and didn't want to ask for more assistance. However, when she mentioned it to Meri on one of her visits, Meri immediately recognized the importance of the mattress and promised to do everything possible to help. On her next visit, Meri took other members of the MEDLIFE team to see Carmen's living situation. They were shocked to see the mattress, filled with cardboard, straw and rags, and resolved to buy a new one as soon as possible.

CarmenOn October 18, MEDLIFE Director Carlos Benavides, Multimedia Producer Rosali Vela, and Meri went to buy the two mattresses and bedframes for Carmen and her family. They met up with community leaders, who helped carry the beds up to surprise Carmen at her house, and everyone immediately got to work putting the new beds together and cleaning out the old one. And that wasn't all -- the MEDLIFE and community representatives there that day took the opportunity to finalize an agreement to build safer stairs on the steep ground next to Carmen's home. The director of the community kitchen also agreed to donate food for Carmen and her daughters, since her illness has made it impossible for her to work to provide for her family. It was an emotional moment for everyone as Carmen, with a huge smile, thanked everyone from MEDLIFE for listening to her.

See a slideshow of photos from Carmen's story by clicking on the play button below and read the captions by viewing it on Flickr here: http://www.flickr.com//photos/medlife/sets/72157631850925603/show/

October 25, 2012 9:12 am

Fall Fundraising Highlights

This month, we asked our supporters to direct their fundraising efforts to a very special project: our Wawa Wasi daycare center in Lima, Peru -- and you came through! Here are some great fundraisers held by our student chapters during the month of October. 

Many chapters report having their most successful bake sales during parents' weekend. Last weekend, Union College's chapter raised $200 selling donuts donated by a local business to hungry students and their parents!

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At San Francisco State University, students are representing MEDLIFE with these wristbands, on sale for just $2 each.

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At George Washington University, students sold the famous Georgetown cupcakes to raise money for MEDLIFE.

Cupcakes GWU

USC is bringing back their Limapalooza party, this time for Halloween. Last year they raised over $1,000 by hosting the party and charging students $5 at the door. 

limapalooza

These are just a few examples of how students can get creative, have fun and raise money for a great cause. We still need your donations to finish constructing the Wawa Wasi, so keep it up! If your chapter holds a successful fundraiser this year, we want to hear about it! Send photos and a description of the event to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , and we'll share your stories with the MEDLIFE community. 

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/

Our MEDLIFE Chapter at the Unversity of Georgia has come up with a ghoulishly fun idea for fundraising: a Zombie 5K! Runners will run for [their] lives on campus while being chased by "zombies" and two survivors will be awarded gift cards. If you happen to be around that area, you can be a part of it by clicking on their FB event photo below or going to https://www.facebook.com/events/276133812506072/.

Zombie5k Oct2012

This chapter is also known for doing a great job fundraising throughout the year. Last week, they held a scarf sale at their local farmer's market in Athens. Co-President Sarah Premji tells us, "we've been doing these scarf sales about once or twice a month for the past two years. We set up a tent here at the local market and spread the word about MEDLIFE. We sell scarves amongst other organizations and individuals at the market who sell things ranging from candles to organic food.

This week we sold 14 scarves and recruited two new members! This was a great way to get our name out in the Athens community. The next Athens Farmers Market Sale will be on October 20th." 

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MEDLIFE thanks all of our student chapters hard at work fundraising for our MEDLIFE Fund Projects and low-income families everywhere. If your chapter has any photos or ideas for fundraisers please send them to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  and we'll be sure to pass them along to the rest of the MEDLIFE community!

 

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: 

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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.”

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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


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