Name: Taylor Moore
In early August 2016, I went on an amazing week long trip to Lima, Peru with MEDLIFE. MEDLIFE, which stands for Medicine, Education, and Development for Low Income Families Everywhere, raises money and provides resources to help increase access to healthcare in impoverished communities. On my trip, I participated in several mobile medical clinics, which provided doctor visits, dental care, OBGYN services and public health education. Along with health services, each group worked on a community development project. Most of the impoverished communities in Lima, live in poorly constructed homes in extremely steep mountains. In order to move up and down the mountains, they are forced to take dangerously steep paths carrying food, water or even children. We built 5 staircases and remodeled a new home for one of the residents. For the majority of the day, we were either at our clinic or project site. In the afternoon and on the weekend, we were allowed to experience the Peruvian culture and explore Lima. Whether we were educating children on proper tooth brushing in Lima or sand boarding down the sand dunes of Huacachina, every day was new and exciting.
I am majoring in Microbiology and minoring in Epidemiology, so I have learned a lot about diseases in the developing world and the health disparities seen in international health. It is one thing to learn and read about it but it is completely different when you have to see and experience it. The conditions that the people of the community had to live in and the problems that they had to face on a daily basis were extremely disheartening. To think that people have to live without the most basic resources makes you question everything that you have and take for granted. We most certainly have poverty in the United States but there is another characteristic of developing world poverty that leaves you in awe. The majority of us don’t have to worry about where our next meal or drink of water is coming from or worrying about being able to get a doctor’s appointment because we may have a cold. Some of those people hadn’t been a doctor in years or have never been to a dentist in their lives. For me, this trip allowed me to think more about what I am privileged with and urges me to find more way to help those in my community and abroad.
Before our days in the clinic began, our group leader took us on a reality tour of some of the communities that we would be working in. Our hostel was in Mira Flores, one of the wealthiest parts of Lima. As we drove an hour away, we passed through varying degrees of poverty. The farther we got away from the city, the more apparent the economic disparities were. I couldn’t help think about what kind of resources disappeared as you moved farther away and just how different the people’s lives were. We went from beautiful modern apartment locked away behind wooden and stone gates to homes made of nearby material and obvious infrastructure problems. We no longer saw grocery stores and shopping centers, only food carts. The paved streets turned to dirt roads on the side of cliffs. We learned that not only were there economic disparities as you moved away from the city, but also as you increased in altitude. In the mountains, those that lived farther up the mountains had less money and resources. There was no central electricity or water systems so those further up had to pay more to get access to it and still had to carry large containers up and down the mountains to get the water. Just seeing what they have to deal with on an everyday basis made me realize just how important this opportunity is. We may only be in their community for one day, but we would have the opportunity to provide resources that haven’t been available to them for most of their lives. I believe that the reality tour humbled all of us.
The actual clinics were the most valuable part for me. What always seemed like a slow beginning quickly turned into a block full of people all waiting in line to receive some kind of medical care. Seeing the joy and gratitude on their faces, whether they just got a physical or had their first OBGYN appointment ever, led to sense of purpose and excitement in the air. I talked to some of the doctors that volunteered their time for the week. All of them told me how much programs like MEDLIFE are appreciated and needed in areas like this. MEDLIFE not only provides mobile clinics, but they also have follow-ups on patients to make sure they can continue to get the care that they need. While I alone couldn’t change the health care system of Peru, they appreciated that there were people that wanted to come to help them.
Throughout the week different groups worked in development projects in one of the Peruvian communities. My group worked on building a staircase on a steep side of the mountain that essentially ended at a cliff. When we got to the site, the site leader explained to us the importance of the staircases. A couple years ago, one of the residents fell down a dangerously steep and muddy slope while carrying water up to her home. She almost lost her baby. After hearing the story, he lead us down some of the really bad paths in the community, which was a terrifying experience. The soil on the mountains was very loose in some parts and muddy from the dew of the high altitude. The only thing between myself and the edge of the cliff was a community member that tried to guide us through something that they experience several times a day. During the stair construction, we worked side by side with the residents to truly make it a community experience. While we were working, one of the lady’s whose house was at the bottom of the hill, made us all tea and brought us crackers to thank us for our work. Something I have always loved about the attitudes of those that do suffer from poverty is their ability and willingness to give to others even though they may not have much themselves. The last day of project development was truly the most special. To commemorate finishing the staircases, the community held a celebration. At each staircase, a bottle of champagne was broken for good luck, Afterwards, they performed three traditional dances. Having this moment end the week of service solidified its value. Even though I may have only been in the community for a couple of hours a day, I truly felt that what I was doing would have a lasting effect on these people’s lives.
Of all the places I have gone and things I have done in my past 3 years in college, this trip may be the most valuable and significant. Being a part of this experience has confirmed my desire to pursue a career in public health. After I graduate from Ohio State, I plan on getting a Master in Public Health with concentrations in epidemiology, infectious diseases and global health. I do understand the dire need for access to healthcare both in the United States and abroad. One of my dreams is to be able to open many free or reduced clinics around the world to bring those much-needed health care services to those who may not be able to afford it or have access to it. Being able to see what it takes to put together a successful mobile clinic and understanding that improving someone’s quality of life is more than just swooping in to provide assistance and leave forever. It is about building a strong relationship with the communities and understanding what they go through in order to be able better address what they need. This trip will drive me to continue my pursuit of higher education, community service and the appreciation and acknowledgment of what it is like to be privileged. This trip has allowed me to put a lot of my past work and hopefully future work into perspective. I will never forget the time I had there.