Name: Reed Franklin
Type of Project: Service Learning/Study Abroad
During spring break, I went on a volunteer trip through MEDLIFE to Riobamba, Ecuador. MEDLIFE is an organization that works with underdeveloped communities throughout South America and Africa to provide medicine, education, and development to the people of the community. During my week in Riobamba, I was able to travel to several rural Andean communities and aid various healthcare professionals with caring for the people of these communities.
My trip to Ecuador was absolutely life changing. This was the first time that I have ever been on a volunteer trip, and the first time that I have traveled to a destination that was not meant to be touristy. Before traveling to Ecuador, I was aware that native Andean communities face high levels of poverty. But, I was completely oblivious to the harsh realities that these communities face on a daily basis. My viewpoint on how fortunate I am to live the life I live, with easy access to proper healthcare and education, became extremely clear during my trip to Ecuador.
On our second day in Riobamba, we went on a “reality tour” which was essentially a tour of some of the communities that MEDLIFE has worked with in order to prepare us for the communities that we would be traveling to throughout the week. We traveled to a notorious hacienda that has been employing Andean natives for centuries. We were able to see the types of labor that are required to run a successful hacienda. Also on this day, we visited Maria’s casa, the house of one of our MEDLIFE nurses. This was my first real eye opening experience of the week. Maria owns several animals including cows and donkeys, which she is solely responsible for tending to. Unlike in the U.S., Maria’s farm did not have machinery or tools. The climb up and down the hills necessary for tending to her animals was treacherous. Many of us struggled, while Maria was totally unaffected. This was the first of many times that I saw first hand the hardships that these people face everyday, and have become used to.
Day three in Riobamba was the first day of our mobile medical clinics, and was my favorite clinic location of the entire trip. This clinic was extremely busy because we stationed it at a local elementary school. The school was extremely small, and was more of an indoor-outdoor facility. Stray dogs were in and out of the schoolyard while the kids were in class. For the majority of the day, I worked with the dentist, Dr.Pedro. Most of the MEDLIFE staff surprisingly spoke little to no English. This made communication pretty difficult and patchy for some people who had little or no Spanish knowledge. At this point I was glad that I am a Spanish minor. Dr. Pedro allowed us to be his dental assistants for the day at this station. We were very hands-on and assisted with filling cavities of the young children and adults of this community. Many of the children did have cavities, as many of them have never been taught the correct way to brush their teeth (and many did not even own a proper toothbrush). At the end of the day, every kid was sent home with a better education on proper dental hygiene and a new toothbrush. This clinic day was hectic, but ended in a way that I will never forget. One family from the clinics invited us into their home and prepared our entire group dinner. This was a very emotional experience because this family had almost nothing, but still graciously invited us to share a meal with them. This act of kindness showed the heart and the graciousness that the people of Ecuador showed us each and every day.
The rest of the clinic days went almost the same. Every clinic had an ample number of people who came to us from all over the community for help. Most of these people had not seen a doctor in years and were in serious need of medical attention. We encountered many cases of parasites, due to the lack of running water. Every community had a small community restroom that all the people shared. The condition of these restrooms was atrocious. We also encountered a woman who was immediately transported to the hospital in the city for surgery because she had over 30 cysts in her stomach that caused her body to enter into stages of sepsis. The twisted irony that I realized while in Ecuador was that healthcare is free for all citizens of Ecuador, but those who need medical attention the most simply cannot access it.
I experienced so many emotions throughout my entire trip. I felt sad for the people of the Andes who are suffering everyday without access to proper healthcare and education. I felt pride in knowing that, while we could not help everyone, we certainly did make a difference and actually saved at least one life during our visit. I felt happiness being surrounded by a group of people that were so dedicated to helping others that they had never met. All of these emotions led me to consider steps I could take after the trip to help others to the best of my ability.
The lessons I learned, and the people I met during my trip to Ecuador will stay with me throughout my entire life. I have officially decided to pursue a career in public health after receiving my bachelor’s degree next spring. I am drawn even more now to helping people overcome their circumstances. I have seen firsthand how kind and giving people can be that live everyday with minimal possessions. This trip was so important to me because it allowed me to give back, but I did not realize how much I would also gain from the citizens of Ecuador. I hope to be able to participate in another MEDLIFE trip soon!
(pictured above: Rodrigo’s family. We built them a sustainable house complete with indoor plumbing and electricity in order to create a stable environment for Rodrigo’s recovery. He suffered from cleft pallet and OSU’s MEDLIFE chapter raised money for his corrective surgery. This day, we presented the family with their completed house, which we had painted and built furniture in. Previous MEDLIFE groups aided in the construction of the house. For more on Rodrigo’s story visit https://www.medlifeweb.org/blog/item/412-eet-the-patient-rodrigo-caranqui.html)