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.  

As a medical student going on a MEDLIFE internship, I most looked forward to the chance to see the mobile medical clinics in action and help to provide medical care to families in need. We were encouraged to read about the issues surrounding aid provision and health inequalities, and in doing so we encountered quotes such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s:

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhumane.”


With these famous words still resounding, I arrived in the communities ready to help in whatever way I could. I was humbled to find that my help could only make a difference thanks to the communities themselves who came out in full force to help us build a staircase in the hills.

Despite having 20 students from the UK working together to pass cement, paint the walls, and clear debris – the community members outnumbered us. Some helped with the manual labor while others fetched drinks to reinvigorate us under the Peruvian sun. 

The trust that these people had in MEDLIFE was clear as they brought out their children to meet us, let us play with their dogs, and joined in and laughed as we sang a range of well-known songs from the UK to keep spirits up while we worked.


Vital to this is the role played by local community leaders who are employed by MEDLIFE. They understand the communities and help to foster trust. This really struck me after an educational meeting about women’s health, when a crowd of 30 or so people stayed late to speak to one of these local leaders and explain their different needs.

It is through these discussions that we begin to recognize the different problems that each community faces, and allows us to personalize the help we provide. It was through these discussions that the idea to build staircases first arose - a simple idea that would never have occurred to me living in the UK, but clearly made a huge difference to the lives of the people we met and helped to create a safer place to live. I am very grateful to have been a part of MEDLIFE’s work, and look forward to being involved again in the future, and continuing to put the community at the heart of it all. 

April 30, 2018 3:40 pm

MEDLIFE UK Intern: Arka Banerjee

The MEDLIFE Internship in Lima, Peru was a fulfilling and highly enjoyable experience. I appreciated the opportunity to work with like-minded individuals and a movement that is passionate about making a positive difference and improving the living standards of the disadvantaged in the world.
As a medical student, I have a keen interest in working to ensure access to good healthcare for all globally. Working with local doctors, dentists and nurses in the mobile clinics gave me the opportunity to work towards this goal.

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Along with the mobile clinics, being involved in a variety of projects ranging from building infrastructure to education highlighted MEDLIFE’s holistic approach to development and helping the disadvantaged escape poverty. I was excited to be involved in the various development projects, and enjoyed meeting and working with new friends, both from the UK and Peru. The internship also provided the opportunity to learn more about the struggles and individual stories of the disadvantaged in Lima. Through the sharing’s, I gained insights into the nature of the problems that those in poverty face, as well as how we can work together with the disadvantaged to alleviate these problems.

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I learned that poverty and its associated challenges, although often having many common elements, is a heterogeneous phenomenon with every person having a different story and set of needs. One-size-fits-all policies and programmes, especially those carried out without consulting the disadvantaged, may be less effective. Personally speaking, I believe the internship has changed my thoughts and perceptions of poverty and development for the better. I feel I have a more holistic understanding and perspective on what can be done to increase standards of living worldwide, and I am looking forward to implementing these in future projects with MEDLIFE and in my University in future. All in all, I would say it was an eye-opening and highly enriching experience and I am incredibly thankful to have had the opportunity to be involved in it.

- Arka Banerjee, 1 st Year Medic, University of Cambridge

Voluntourism and medical missions have been heavily criticized both in the media and the academic community, and for a good reason: they often ineffectively funnel valuable resources and time into a trip that ultimately serves the participants instead of the community they set out to help. Simply put, one cannot effectively solve the complex and immense problems in global public health in a country and culture they do not know in a few weeks time. Progress in global public health is made on the timescale of years, not days.

Maya Roberts of Yale University summarizes the problem well in her critique of medical missions and what she calls “Duffle Bag Medicine.”

“I spot a young man, at most 19, smoking a cigarette, and leaning against the makeshift frame that converts the backs of pickups into the primary form of public transportation here in Guatemala. He is not a licensed medical professional; he is an American on vacation and he is about to distribute medication to patients… He has confidently slung a stethoscope around his neck, proclaiming an ability to provide medical care, an assertion that is at best questionable. He is from a small US town; all he needs to do to be part of this transient medical team is to finance his flight to Guatemala. He freely donates his time and energy, but he delivers “care” without the appropriate training, without knowledge of the predominant language, and without any clear accountability… This young man and his group are genuinely proud that they spend their vacation here and are especially proud of their contribution.  I worry that this pride prevents them from acknowledging that their actions may actually be harmful and do not necessarily address the complex needs of this community. Their short-term work is not integrated into a local infrastructure. Health promoters—local men and women trained to recognize serious ailments and to treat minor ones—are not introduced to these groups. Public health and preventive measures are not part of the overarching goals for the transient clinics; this inhibits the project’s long-term potential and puts the community at risk of receiving inappropriate care.”

MEDLIFE has taken the medical mission voluntourism model and fixed it by addressing these important critiques. We have local staff permanently based where we work who keep checking in with patients and build long-term relationships with communities to make sure that the valuable contributions made by volunteers on their trips are properly directed and able to accumulate into a lasting and sustainable change.

26334169914 abd4db06b6 zA volunteer listens to a patients heart murmur under supervision from an Ecuadorian doctor on a Mobile Clinic.

          Sometimes, on a Mobile Clinic, you really can just give a quick treatment and create a profound impact on a patient’s life. When a kid comes in with a bacterial infection or a parasite, pulling some antibiotics out of a duffel bag makes a big difference. However, being able to help that small number of easy patients isn’t good enough when many people who come into our clinics face much more serious and chronic problems.

When someone comes in with serious complications caused by diabetes, malnutrition, high blood pressure, or a tumor, things are more complicated. Sometimes on clinic, we run out of diabetes or high blood pressure medication and our volunteers are initially dismayed. MEDLIFE founder Nick Ellis explains that, in the end, it matters very little if we hand out a month’s supply of a diabetes medication. The impact on their overall prognosis will be negligible and the odds that they get more of the medication if they weren’t already taking it are slim. What really matters is that we found this patient.

27703185930 39248f1b74 zA patient's tumor being examined at a house visit after the patient was found in a Mobile Clinic.

 MEDLIFE works with local health care professionals instead of trying to replace them. Our Mobile Clinics use local doctors, this allows us to provide culturally appropriate care and provides greater opportunities for cultural exchange and for our volunteers to learn about how healthcare is practiced in the developing world.

Our follow-up program utilizes the parts of the existing local healthcare infrastructure whenever possible, so we are working together with local care providers. For example, the Peruvian health care system pays for tuberculosis treatment. The problem is that patients are often unaware that this is available to them and do not know how to access it. This is compounded by the well-known problems with proper adherence to tuberculosis treatment; medication must be taken regularly on a tight schedule or patients risk developing drug resistant TB, which is harder to treat and must be treated with medication that causes more severe undesired side effects. When we encounter a TB patient on a mobile clinic, we have our nurses visit them in their home and walk them through accessing the free treatment option, and often accompany them to their appointments. They continue visiting the patients in their homes to make sure they are following proper protocol.

We build a lasting relationship with communities; bringing clinics back to the same communities year after year to continue to address the root causes and allow our impact on the community’s health to accumulate over time. MED Programs staff was initially concerned when they noticed that the number of women coming in for Pap smears had dropped dramatically in communities we had been visiting for years. However, after speaking with community members, they realized that this was actually an encouraging indicator that our educational approach was working; the women had simply started going in for yearly pap smears on their own after learning about the importance of the screening in our clinics.

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We give our volunteers an opportunity to be a part of our long-term bonds to communities and patients. Volunteers often go back and fundraise for projects and patients that they encountered on their mobile clinics. Sometimes, that chapter is able to be present for the inauguration of a project they fundraised for. When that is not possible, we update them with videos and photos showing them where their hard work went and explaining why we need to fundraise to do a specific project or patient.

Voluntourism is a massive industry worth an estimated $2 billion with 1.6 million volunteers annually and it continues to grow. It is not going away. Despite shortcomings in results, it provides life-changing educational experiences to young students every year, fostering cultural exchange, a sense of global community, and inspiring young students to continue working to solve the problems they are exposed to throughout their careers. MEDLIFE has taken the broken model and fixed it. MEDLIFE Mobile Clinics and our patient follow-up program use a unique approach that ensures that the good intentions and hard work of volunteers produce life changing and sustainable results in the communities we work in, results our volunteers can be proud of. 

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The MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic was back in Cusco last week, and in addition to providing medical care to rural communities, volunteers all lent a hand to a community development project there. This week, that meant continuing the work of a previous MEDLIFE group, which had built the foundation for a brand new auditorium at the San Judas Chico girls' home.

The enthusiastic volunteers made up a diverse group of students and grads, including a large group from the UC Davis MEDLIFE chapter. They worked hard all week, digging, mixing and pouring cement to finish the five columns that the structure needed. They also created a small vegetable garden nearby, and planted the first seeds.



When they weren't busy working, the volunteers got to know the girls who live at the orphanage. With the girls practicing their braiding techniques, the volunteers arrived at the hotel each day with a new hairstyle. The young residents of the home, big fans of K-pop, were especially excited to find out that one volunteer, Justin, was Korean, and insisted on getting his autograph and photos.cuscojustin

At the end of the week, it was time to celebrate the completion of their hard work. Volunteers broke a bottle of champagne, and the girls got together to show their thanks with a special singing performance. Then it was time to say an emotional goodbye, with the girls asking when we would be back to see them. 

The next Cusco clinic group, in August, will be helping to construct a roof for the auditorium.

For more photos, check out the Facebook album.

Student leaders at UGA's MEDLIFE chapter have distinguished themselves with their dedication to community service, not only on their Mobile Clinic trips in South America, but at home in Athens, Georgia as well. This year, they successfully applied the MEDLIFE approach of listening to the community and responding to their needs to complete improvement projects at the Oasis Católico Santa Rafaela Hispanic Community Center.

They started by meeting with the community center's director, Sister Margarita, to determine what the most urgent needs of the center were, and how they could help. She showed them the rotting floors of the trailers where after-school tutoring programs are held, and gave them a prioritized list of projects she would like to see completed. In September 2012, the chapter's executive board applied for a Sustainable Service grant from Volunteer UGA, and were awarded $8,000 to replace floors and create a parking lot. They spent the next several months planning the project and gathering materials and volunteers.


In February, more than 40 volunteers, including undergraduate students, medical students, and a faculty member, worked in shifts throughout the weekend to re-floor and carpet two trailers. Chapter president Sarah Premji says the volunteers' reward was in seeing the finished project and hearing words of thanks from the many community members who stopped by. "The trailers had been developing holes in the floor, and you could see the ground in certain places," she told us. "With the completion of this project, Sister Margarita can rest assured that the children and tutors who participate in the after-school tutoring program will be in a safe, secure environment. There is no longer any danger of anyone falling through the rotting floor." At the end of March, the volunteers came together once again to build a gravel parking lot, to provide a safer place where volunteers can park and monthly food donations can be dropped off.


At a large school like UGA, getting this level of organization and participation in a student group can be a challenge. The UGA MEDLIFE chapter owes its success to a strong 6-person executive board, and an innovative approach. As the chapter grew, they found that member commitment dropped off; said Sarah, "meetings became less personal and members felt less comfortable talking to each other." So this year, they decided to split the chapter up into "family groups" which would foster open discussion and natural relationships within the chapter, and play to the strengths and interests of its individual members. Sarah reports that the new initiative has been a success: "In just one and a half semesters, MEDLIFE at UGA has seen increased member commitment and involvement," she says. The new structure gives all chapter members the opportunity to be leaders within the organization.

ugaawardMembers of UGA MEDLIFE's executive board at an awards ceremony honoring student organizations

UGA has also brought us some of this year's best fundraisers, from the Run For (Your) Life Zombie 5K in the fall, to the upcoming Battle of the Bands happening this month. We can't wait to see what they come up with next!

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!


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 .


September 27, 2012 2:46 pm

One Billion+ Campaign Tour UPDATE!

This week kicks off our One Billion+ Campaign Tour across the United States and Canada! Read below for some quick journal entries on the road from our four presenters including Director of MEDLIFE, Nick Ellis, Co-Founder Juan Vanegas, and year-round interns Sean White and Biz Shenk:


Sept. 26, 2012:

"I Flew into San Francisco today and met with the UC Berkeley chapter. The presentation went well and then I met up with their executive board and discussed the possibility of their chapter eventually becoming a regional center for MEDLIFE in the future; they are very excited about it. I also talked to them about how it would be great to get more people involved. They also shared with me about their prerequisites for students wanting to go abroad on a Mobile Clinic -- there are classes that they require their participants to take before they go so that they are better prepared and effective for their trip. This sounds like an interesting idea that we could share with other chapters. It was a great day in Berkeley."

View Nick's photos from Berkeley, CA by clicking HERE

Next week, Nick will be travelling all over southern California, from San Luis Obispo down to Riverside. Check out the California tour schedule page to find out where he'll be exactly.


Sept. 27, 2012: 1-Juan Nc Update

"Today I headed out to Virginia Commonwealth University for a presentation at 3:30 PM. The talk was at a big lecture hall; about 20 people showed up and it went really, really well. I was able to talk to students and their pre-health advisor for a while after the presentation and then a couple of the officers asked me if they could take me on a tour of their campus. They were incredibly hospitable; they even insisted on buying me dinner! Most importantly, I got to talk to them a lot about what their monthly goals should be, what the main themes are that they should be covering at every meeting and about sending students on Mobile Clinics via the 50:50 Campaign. Overall, it was a very positive day!"

View Juan's photos from Virginia by clicking HERE

Next week, Juan will be travelling to North Carolina and Maine! Find out where he'll be stopping by checking the Southeast region tour schedule page.



Sept. 26, 2012:

"Today I met with Mrs. Gauthier at Grand Blanc High School. She is excited about setting up a high school Chapter at GBHS. Several of her students have been looking for an international clinical experience and it seems like MEDLIFE will fit that need well. Expanding MEDLIFE to high schools is a new venture for us, with our first group of highschoolers coming in November to Lima -- this should be fun and interesting. After the presentation, I hit the road for Toronto. Now I'm here safe and sound and getting prepared for tomorrow's talks at York and University of Toronto."  

Next week, Sean will be travelling to Pennsylvania and Ohio! Find out where he'll be stopping by checking the Midwest region tour schedule page.


Sept. 27, 2012: Biz-Mass 

"Headed to Wellesley College around 11:30 AM to meet up with Nikita, a junior majoring in psychology and biology. The presentation went incredibly well, with about 20 or so students showing up. All were very attentive and asked questions throughout the presentation. At the end, everyone even stayed to ask more questions regarding the Mobile Clinics and how to get involved."

View more of Biz's photos from Mass by clicking HERE

This weekend, Biz will be heading to Rhode Island and Connecticut! Find out where she'll be stopping by checking the Northeast region tour schedule page