Rosali Vela

Rosali Vela

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The mornings in community “Unión Santa Fe” are very cold. It's a cold that grinds your teeth and hurts your bones. A cold so damp that it encloses you as you try to rush through the walkways so that you don't lose yourself in the dense fog that surrounds you.

But the fog and the cold does not bother Selvestrina. Life has taught her that the strongest survive, and Selvestrina has the power and the strength to endure any harsh winter. 


The cold accompanies Selvestrina while she does her morning chores, feeding her chicken and hens that wake her up every day. She steals bits of grains from them to toast breakfast, sometimes lunch, and when times are hard, even dinner.

Selvestrina doesn't like Lima. It's noisy, chaotic and full of cars -- cars that collide in their battles for a single spot on the narrow streets. It terrifies Selvestrina to know that she is practically alone in a chaotic city where only a few people understand her. Selvestrina does not speak Spanish, only Quechua.


Every week, Lucia Suarez, MEDLIFE's field nurse, picks up Selvestrina from her house. Thanks to the wonderful Lucia, who speaks Quechua and translates for Selvestrina, we can understand the needs that Selvestrina wants to express to us.

selvestrina5Lucia leisurely takes Selvestrina to her weekly appointment with Angie, MEDLIFE's dentist, who is slowly reconstructing her teeth that have faced many years of neglect and lack of treatment.

Though the appointment lasts between two and four hours, Selvestrina remains patient because she trusts the doctor to attend to her teeth with reassuring love and care.

The language barrier does not matter. And at the dentist, while she receives modern treatment in the utmost tranquility, it is hard for her to believe the adversity that she has gone through in life. Her life has never been easy. 

It wasn't easy when terrorists murdered her older brother. It wasn't easy when her daughter fled to Lima without her, running away from a dark future. And it also wasn't easy when her only son who stayed with her was kidnapped and tortured to the point where it made him crazy. 


Migration rates in Lima are soaring. Hundreds of thousands of people come to Lima every year for better opportunities, better jobs and better lives. Selvestrina was one of those people, but Lima has failed to give her the refuge she needed. The first wooden house that her family built was destroyed from a fire started by police who were following orders to preserve private property. At that time, she, her husband and her son were left with only what they had on. 

In their second house, they were robbed of everything they could find, even if there were only a few things of value. Her husband gave up and now lives in his old village with a neighbor who wants him to move out. But between the tears and the pain, Selvestrina stayed, fighting and surviving.


Two weeks ago, MEDLIFE made an agreement with a local comedor, that it would grant Selvestrina and her son the foods that they need on a daily basis. 

Futhermore, Selvestrina will soon have a new set of teeth that will illuminate the shy smile that we have seen in every appointment with her.

In her most recent visit with Angie, Selvestrina thought, how can I thank someone who has given me so much without asking anything in return? That visit, Selvestrina reached into her pocket and pulled out a bag of roasted corn that she made herself to give as a gift, leaving Angie speechless.

On that day, Selvestrina may not have eaten breakfast, or maybe her hens did not have their complete ration for the day, but the best gifts, like the one she gave to Angie, are not bought with money.

Meet our new MEDLIFE year-long interns! Part 2!

2014 - EBONY-baileyName: Ebony Bailey
Hometown: Porterville, California
School: University of Southern California
Major: Print and Digital Journalism
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: I volunteered a Mobile Clinic two years ago in Tena, Ecuador with my university -- my first time overseas. It was a wonderful experience and I'm excited to be involved with MEDLIFE again.
Why did you decide to become an intern?: I'm very interested in digital media and wanted to apply my skills to a good cause, while also improving my Spanish. MEDLIFE's media internship seemed like the perfect mixture of all three!
What was your first impression of Lima?: The traffic is crazy! But  it's also part of the personality and charm of this city. This city is huge and I love the sprawl -- every neighborhood is a new place of discovery. Though I've only been here a week, it seems like it's been months. I'm excited to explore much more of Lima and to see where the rest of this journey takes me.

My favorite part so far: Seeing the collaboration between community members in los pueblos jovenes and MEDLIFE staff when working on development projects. I love how they are so driven and passionate about making positive change in their communities. It's empowering to see such community mobilization.

2014 - NICOLE-millwardName: Nicole Millward
Hometown: Toronto, Canada
School: McGill University
Major: Psychology and Cell Biology
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: I first got involved with MEDLIFE at McGill University, the first MEDLIFE Chapter in Canada, and was President for two years. I've been lucky enough to attend Clinics in both Tena and Lima, both amazing experiences! 
Why did you decide to become an intern?: The most meaningful part of my University experience was my involvement with MEDLIFE, and I am excited to be able to see how it works on the ground. There is no other cause that I would feel as confident pursuing, and I am grateful for a chance to further contribute to the organization. 
What was your first impression of Lima?: When I first got to Lima I was amazed by the size of the city and the differences between the neighbourhoods. After spending some time here I've grown to love the unique places I've found, as well as be excited for the neighbourhoods I have yet to discover! 

My favorite part so far: My favourite part of working with MEDLIFE so far has been getting a chance to go to the field with Carlos. The interns are helping with the construction of a staircase in a community, and I'm grateful for a chance to understand how the process works from start to finish! 

September 6, 2013 9:25 am

Patient Story: Julio Pineda


We met 52-year old Julio Pineda during a mobile clinic in March 2013 when Julio did not have anyone to turn to.

Julio lived in Comas, one of the biggest districts in Lima, working as a bus driver. His meager income had to support both his family and his grown children. 

He knew he had diabetes, but never thought to pay attention to it. To him, his work took precedence over his doctor appointments.

When Julio had to have his leg amputated in Hospital Collique, he felt as if his world was ending. He was unable to find a way to earn a living after leaving his job as a bus driver, so he had no choice but to leave home and rely on his children. His children welcomed him with open arms with the little they had.  

Unfortunately, the new home was in one of the highest areas of Villa María del Triunfo, and it was exhausting to move from one side of the house to the other on crutches. On top of it all, Julio did not have the financial means to cover the cost of rehabilitation.

It was at this point that MEDLIFE met Julio, who did not hesitate to approach us.

As MEDLIFE got to know more about Julio's case, we knew we could do much more to improve his quality of life. Finally, after much searching, Julio was very grateful when MEDLIFE found someone to donate a wheelchair.

But what else could we do for Julio?

Ruth Varona, a MEDLIFE field nurse, was assigned to Julio's case and has since been conducting his rehabilitation treatment every week. Once his treatment began, we discovered what he really needed: a prosthetic leg.

A prosthetic leg is extremely costly and requires a series of medical exams that Julio could not cover on his own. No day goes by that Julio does not hope for a prosthetic so that he can go back to work and provide for his family.

Recently, Julio received an orthopedic pylon, which helps create the necessary balance for the actual prosthetic. At this moment, Julio is waiting for the necessary funds to by the prosthetic leg he needs, which costs $1700. This will help him restore his life. To donate to this campaign, click here

Like Julio, all of MEDLIFE's follow-up patients are given the necessary medical attention and support to move forward and improve their quality of life.

To learn more about the follow-up program, click here.

September 2, 2013 4:04 pm

Meet the Interns Year-long 2013-14

Meet our new MEDLIFE year-long interns!

2014 - jennifer-clay2Name: Jennifer Clay
Hometown: Syracuse, NY
School: George Washington University
Major: Public Health
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I grew up in Syracuse, NY, where I spent a lot of time playing soccer, skiing, and hiking in the Adirondack Mountains. I then moved to Washington D.C. and went to the George Washington University, where I graduated this past May with a degree in Public Health. My major, along with a semester studying abroad in Chile, helped me realize that after graduation I wanted to work with an organization like Medlife.
My favorite part so far: During my first full week in Lima I worked on a mobile clinic. One afternoon after working on the staircase project, Medlife Peru Director Carlos Benavides took myself and some of the other student volunteers to a community a short walk away. There Carlos was meeting the community for the very first time, to learn about their needs and possibly start working with them. As we were led around the extremely steep slopes that lacked any well-constructed stairs at all, we learned how very difficult daily life was for them. Nevertheless after Carlos explained about Medlife and set a date for us to return and hold a first meeting with them, the women giving us the tour offered us cups of Coke to mark the occasion. As I walked away with a knitted red hat one women had given to me as a gift, I could not believe how lucky I was to be there and see how this process starts.

2014 - Frank-Dawedeit2Name: Frank Dawedeit
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Johns Hopkins University
Major: Behavioral Biology
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I was introduced to MEDLIFE at the chapter formation in Fall 2010. I was intrigued by MEDLIFE's threefold approach to helping Latin Americans improve their quality of life. Working with Carlos and Alberto in Peru and Martha in Ecuador was incredibly meaningful, and the dedication of all the local doctors and volunteers made me want to come back. The enormous efforts the communities themselves invested in projects as well as the joy of the kiddies convinced me MEDLIFE was an organization I should work with for an extended period.
What was your first impression of Lima?: My first impression of Lima was startling. I had expected a little community in the hills, but instead encountered a thriving city with plenty of nightly raucous celebration and nightly soda consumption options. From the intimidating airport to the sprawling roads amidst first-rate architecture, I loved my Lima experience and I'm truly privileged to be back for a year. I hope to partner with MEDLIFE for many days ahead and learn as much from the people in the office and field as they doubtless glean from watching him stumble into doorways, walls, etc.
My favorite part so far: I'm a journalist at heart, but also a part-time actor and driver. I'm a Detroit Lions fan but officially hails from Jacksonville, FL. My favorite part of my internship so far is a close race between reuniting with Carlos and driving the Pacific Coast at night with Giancarlo on an empty highway, to the beats of Demi Lovato.

2014 - Hannah-Gillean2Name: Hannah Gillean
Hometown: Devon, Pennsylvania
School: Temple University
Major: Spanish Literature and Urban Studies
Tell us a little bit about yourself: Of the many values that I hold true, I strongly believe that travel is the best education.  Not only can travel expose you to a new language, food, culture or custom, travel opens the mind to a new way of interpreting the world we all share. In the words of Pico Iyer, in Why We Travel, "…Travel spins us round in two ways at once: It shows us the sights and values and issues that we might ordinarily ignore; but it also, and more deeply, shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty." For me, travel encourages my mind to manipulate the mundane into something spectacular. It allows me to break the boundary between perception and reality while I engage parts of my brain that I never even knew existed. I see travel as a vehicle to promote understanding, individuality and most of all a global perspective—all of which, I believe, are essential characteristics one must embrace in this ever-evolving world.
What was your first impression of Lima?: Before leaving, I had absolutely no idea of what it would be like to live in Lima, as I had never been to South American before. Now that I have been here for almost a month, I never want to leave. The city of Lima is chaotic, yet rhythmic, massive, and yet intimate. It's a mix of every emotion possible crammed into a traffic-jammed metropolis along the coast of the Pacific Ocean—there is so much to do and also so many things to discover. On a side note—I am SO looking forward to exploring the gastronomic capital of South America one bite at a time!

We are glad to introduce Terry Mulligan, a 26 year old teacher who after teaching for 2 years in Chicago, started a life changing journey to Moshi, Tanzania. In Tanzania, Terry volunteered to teach in a small elementary school. Now he supports MEDLIFE and is helping us to execute the very first Mobile Clinic in Africa.

IMG 5136Terry during his visit to Peru next to MEDLIFE CEO Nick Ellis, MEDLIFE Director of Peru Carlos Benavides and MEDLIFE Director of Mobile Clinics Jorge Cockburn.

Terry visited our office last spring after meeting MEDLIFE Founder and CEO, Nick Ellis during his visit to Tanzania. They stayed at the “Stella Maris”, a beautiful hotel that also subsidizes an elementary school for low-income children and HIV orphans. 

Terry is not only a collaborator but also is a volunteer teacher of that school.

“Most of our students are orphans or they're extremely disadvantaged. They all come from very poor backgrounds” Terry says. “And most of them have to walk 15 minutes to an 1 hour to get to school”.

terryTerry Mulligan.

After seeing the great work Terry was doing and realizing that it was possible to run volunteer trips in Tanzania, he was invited to learn more about our organization. Last spring, Terry visited the MEDLIFE offices in Lima, Peru. In Peru, Terry was able to meet all of the staff and visit the communities where we work in Lima.

Terry finished his studies at University of Missouri, and achieved his Bachelors degree in Elementary Education. After working in Chicago for several years, he took the opportunity to go and teach in the school run by the Mailisita Foundation. “The first time I taught was for 44 African children with the Mailisita Foundation” says Terry “When I was just a volunteer. I could not imagine that after a couple years I would be returning for stay.”.

Moshi Tanzania is an area just at the foothills of mount Kilimanjaro. The spectacular natural beauty of the surrounding area nearly hides the true reality that the area is incredibly impoverished.

Tanzania has some of the poorest standards of living in the world. Only 44% of the people have access to improved drinking water sources and 70% don't have access to electricity. In education, only around 25% get enrolled in secondary school.

“The People in Moshi are so welcoming. They are wonderful people who want and need help. The reason why I was so excited to work with MEDLIFE is because one of the principles of the organization is to work hand in hand with communities. The same way MEDLIFE works with communities in Peru or in Ecuador, we can create a partnership here in Tanzania. This will allow the locals to have responsibilities so that together we will be able to accomplish the goals of delivering medicine, education and development”.

At the moment Terry is becoming our new MEDLIFE Director of Tanzania and for the first time, he will be helping us to take the first Mobile Clinic to Moshi, Tanzania.

All of us at MEDLIFE are happy and excited to start this adventure, and we are ready to continue delivering MED's to low-income families everywhere.

Rosendo, Segundo, Gladys and Maria make up the group of patients who we met at Mobile Clinics in the community of La Merced del Canton Alausi in the Chimborazo province. These communities, about three and a half hours from the nearest city, Riobamba, are known for their isolation and cold temperatures.

tbMEDLIFE Doctor examining a possible TB patient (Photo by Martha Chicaiza)

The clinics took place in the community school, and the patients arrived and were diagnosed by MEDLIFE doctors. During the exam, doctors observed a great deal of phlegm and strange noises coming from their lungs, symptoms which could indicate tuberculosis. They immediately contacted the closest public health center to carry out further tests.

At the end of the clinic week, MEDLIFE Director of Ecuador Martha Chicaiza got in touch with the director of the team in charge of tuberculosis at the hospital of the province. She explained MEDLIFE's work, and in addition to thanking her, the doctor asked that she be kept informed of future clinics there, to better diagnose and treat people with tuberculosis, as well as educate them about how dangerous the disease can be and how to prevent it.

The next day, Martha contacted the three patients who appear to be suffering from tuberculosis in order to make a plan to help them. Martha committed to helping them by coming with them to the hospital to orient them, and they agreed. But the day of the appointment none of them showed. Martha didn't let that discourage her; she contacted the municipality of Alausi, and they provided a car, which she took along with the doctor in charge of the tuberculosis program to test these people. On the day to do the visit, the car never came, and again Martha was left without a plan. But luckily she and the doctor ran into the provincial director of Chimborazo, who offered to take them in her own car, and then provide another car so that they could visit the patients and take the tests.

The test was taken, and she also took the chance to return the results for the pap smears from the Mobile Clinic.

According to the World Health Organization, Ecuador has an incidence of almost 6,000 new cases of tuberculosis each year.

Thanks to our Mobile Clinics, working in the most remote communities in Ecuador, MEDLIFE has joined to the fight against this illness by including Sputum tests for tuberculosis diagnosis as part of the Mobile Clinic routine.

Today after remembering everything she had to go through to examine these patients, Martha is happy to say that the results are in, and none of the patients have tuberculosis. 


Marco and his parents Maria and Jose Maria after the surgeryMarco and his parents Maria and Jose Maria after his knee surgery. (Photo by Martha Chicaiza)

“How old are you?” I ask Marco, who looks at me with a shy smile. “I'm 6 years old,” he answers me. “And his birthday was on Wednesday," added his mother, María. Wednesday. The same day that Marco received the operation he was waiting for several months. He could not have received a better gift. 

It's hard to imagine that over a year ago, Marco could barely walk, let alone play soccer, which is now his favorite game. Marco was diagnosed with dermatophytosis, an infectious skin disease that causes painful pustules on the hands and face.

María, his mother, did not hesitate to take him to the MEDLIFE mobile clinic in her community in Colta, Riobamba, Ecuador, in February 2012. After the clinic, Marco became one of the youngest members to become a part of the Patient Follow Up program, at only four years old. “They [MEDLIFE Staff] called us after the Mobile Clinic, and I began to worry about my son” says María. “Marco, at that time, could not move, and was falling when he walked. He couldn't do anything,” she remembers.

After taking him to the hospital, and he started receiving the appropriate treatment, everything seemed fine. The pain had subsided and the wounds had decreased considerably. Marco even started going to kindergarten. But an unfortunate accident yielded another painful disease, chondrocalcinosis, a rheumatic disease in the knee that is common on older people, and is really uncommon to see in 5-year-old kid.

It was clear that Marco needed an operation on his knee.

Thanks to the support of Martha Chicaiza, MEDLIFE Director of Latin America and Ecuador, and María Chavez, MEDLIFE Field nurse, were able to go through the complex health care system to achieve the much desired operation, and gave Marco the opportunity to run and play like any child of his age. 

On Wednesday, August 7, 2013, Marcos underwent a successful knee surgery. The same day he turned 6 years old.

“All of them [MEDLIFE Staff] helped me, and never stopped calling. Since that day we met at the mobile clinic, they never stopped worrying about Marco,” says Maria. “We wouldn't have had the financial means to start the skin treatment for him, not to mention the operation, so thank you so much. Because of MEDLIFE, my son is fine.”

Just like Marco, all MEDLIFE patients who enter the to the Follow Up Program receive comprehensive help both in medical treatments as well as any other aspect necessary to give them a better quality of life.

To learn more about the MEDLIFE Patient Follow Up Program click here.

Written by Rosali Vela and translated by Swathi Varanasi & Rachel Goldberg


When Amal came on a Mobile Clinic in Lima, Peru earlier this summer, she met Jose Luis, a young man who was helping out on the staircase project for his community, Buena Vista.

Despite the language barrier, they managed to communicate and understand each other. “I am not the best at Spanish so I talked to him a little bit through the intern, Galen, and a little bit in my broken Spanish,” Amal says. “He seemed like a very nice kid.”

Jose Luis told them how lucky all the volunteers were for being able to study for a professional career at a university. “I wondered why he didn't go to school when he seemed so driven and intelligent,” said Amal. What she learned affected her deeply.

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."

Written by Rosali Vela and translated by Rachel Goldberg

This week, MEDLIFE student volunteers are helping out with the construction of an auditorium at an orphanage in Cusco, Peru. Learn more about the girls benefiting from this project in the blog post below, written by Rosali Vela and translated by Rachel Goldberg. 

Jessica has a shy smile, but when she starts talking no one can stop her. Living in the San Judas girls' home wasn't easy at first, especially when her mother left her there at the age of 9 in the care of the nuns that governed the institution at the time. It was hard to find a moment alone there, even in the bathroom, which is shared with more than 20 other girls. But in spite of it all, she says now she's never been happier.

JESSICAJessica looks at me doubtfully when I ask her if she is able or willing to tell me the reason why she lives in the orphanage. "My mom left me here because she couldn't take care of me, and her partner- her partner didn't want me," she tells me, her eyes misting. "I'm fine here, the mamis take care of us, they teach us to take care of ourselves, and especially to protect ourselves." The "mamis" are what the girls call the women who run the orphanage.

When I asked her what the girls needed protection from, she looked at me like the answer was obvious. "To protect us from people who want to hurt us," she says.

At 15 years old, Jessica is one of the oldest girls in the home. Her dream is to finish high school. Now she studies cosmetology in a government-subsidized institute and takes high school classes at night. "I want to be a lawyer," she tells me when I ask about her plans, and then she seems lost in thought for a moment, as if reflecting on what she wants to tell me. Finally, she adds, "I have two younger sisters who live with my mom and with him." She doesn't need to say more.

Like Jessica, almost all of the girls in the home were rescued from violent homes, where relatives abused them or abandoned them to seek a better future elsewhere. But not all of the cases are the same.

JOHANA"Take my photo," says one small girl in the accent that is particular to the Cusco region of Peru. "I'm going to be famous," she says confidently. "I already have a band, and I'm the singer." Johana, 9, has lived in the San Judas home since 2012 with her younger sister. Their mother couldn't afford to take care of them after her husband left her for another woman, and couldn't find help in her small community. Now she is working in a market in Puno. She visits her daughters every other Sunday without fail.

The orphanage is currently administered by the government of Cusco, with Señora Maruja in charge of running the day-to-day operations. "We're always looking for support for the girls," she tells me. "Our dream has always been to have a big auditorium where the girls could exercise, visit with their parents on the weekends, or have classes and performances." Maruja is a strong woman who seems full of energy, and disposed to do everything she can for her girls. "We may be poor," she says, "but if I've learned anything, it's that the most valuable thing isn't money, but education and love."

One curious thing that caught my eye was the Barbie doll carefully placed in a glass case in a living room. With her long hair and pink dress, she seems to watch over the place from her perch high up on the top of a dresser. Rosacarmen finally gave me the answer to what I had been wondering. "The mamis put her there to remind us that we are all ladies," she told me. It seemed to me an apt analogy; these girls are all princesses. 

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