MEDLIFE organzies trip to Peru to improve terrain’s safety

Jillian Sandler

Northwestern students will spend July 9 to 17 building staircases on the hilly land of Pamplona, a community near Lima, Peru, in hopes of enhancing the safety of residents who walk the land on a daily basis. Students will travel there with the MEDLIFE organization as part of an engineering brigade.

NU and Georgia Tech host the program, but it is open to the public.

McCormick freshman Alex Van Atta, who is helping organize the trip, said students will spend the week studying the terrain, constructing frames for staircases, mixing and pouring cement and installing hand railings to make the land more navigable.

Van Atta said the idea to organize the trip was formed after he traveled to Panama with MEDLIFE on a medical brigade over Spring Break. During the trip, Van Atta said he talked to MEDLIFE’s founder Nick Ellis about starting a trip catered to engineers.

At that time, Ellis mentioned he wanted to send teams to Ecuador, Peru and Panama to do infrastructure work to accompany the medical work MEDLIFE has already completed in these areas.

Tommy Flint, MEDLIFE’s director of student operations, said he and Ellis were excited about the idea of starting a new kind of brigade.

“We jumped at the idea of expanding to a new student base,” Flint said. “(We) came to the conclusion that having students come to Lima to work on the staircase project was the best way to go about it.”

According to Van Atta, many Peruvians have had medical issues related to falling while traveling on the terrain. He also said women have delivered babies as many as three months prematurely as a result of falls they have taken. Van Atta said the elderly have also been common victims of the hilly landscape.

“(It’s) not good for health or the community,” he said.

Flint added that these issues have created a large demand for concrete staircases, which will make Peruvians better equipped to obtain resources.

Van Atta said the trip will hopefully be the first of many.

The brigade is a “trial run to see what we can do and see how effective we can be,” he said.

According to Flint, Ellis started MEDLIFE in 2005 after working with a doctor in Ecuador to bring medical supplies and services to rural areas. He organized further trips to Ecuador and other Central American countries with more volunteers and supplies and installed MEDLIFE chapters on various college campuses throughout the country, resulting in the birth of the organization.

MEDLIFE has offices in Ecuador and Peru and recently hired a doctor and nurse to become full-time members of the staff in Lima. Mobile clinics, such as the one NU students will form this summer, are installed in rural areas of these and other Central American countries for a week at a time, while full-time doctors and nurses ensure that patients receive continual health care, Flint said.

Communication freshman Eesha Zaheer went on a previous MEDLIFE trip to Panama and said the experience was extremely memorable.

“It was like the best experience I’ve ever had in my life,” she said. “It ended up being something that I’m going to remember forever.”

Flint said MEDLIFE will run another clinic in Panama at the end of June and host two undergraduate interns in Panama during the summer to develop a program there.

Van Atta said he feels it’s crucial volunteers do their part to bring adequate health care to impoverished nations.

“I think it’s really important just because, in these countries, a lot of the times the government doesn’t really do much,” he said. “The country may not be that developed, so what these brigades do is provide health care that these people desperately need and cannot afford.”

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