The heat was so intense that even the walls seemed to be sweating. As I stood in this tiny room, I looked around me and noticed paint shavings on the floor and a small wooden table and chair coated in what appeared to be a years worth of dust and dirt. The shattered window in the room offered little to no relief, causing my t-shirt to stick to my skin. This was about the 3rd Mobile Clinic we had set up this week and was by far one with the worst conditions. The building we were allocated to set up in looked like it was some type of abandoned clinic, one that had clearly not been running in years. The small community it was situated in was similar to the others we had visited: small dirt roads, run down buildings and shops and a sea of people waiting and staring at our MEDLIFE bus, turning uphill, into remarkably narrow streets.
That morning I had been assigned to the pharmacy station, where volunteers were asked to fill in the doctors prescription according to the different dosages the patients needed and explain to them how frequently they were expected to take their medications. A doctor walked in before the doors were opened and gave us a brief description of every medication we had access to – pretty much just your basics. We placed all the meds on the small table and attempted to categorize them. Since none of us knew any medical terminology – most definitely not in Spanish anyway, in attempt to make the task easier, I grabbed a pen and paper and tried to label all of the boxes with an English description of the drug. The doctor was speaking so fast that Spanish became even more incomprehensible! My hands started to sweat profusely, and I could barely hold onto the pen. In that moment I thought to myself how, as a student, my note taking skills were being tested like they’ve never been before!
The entrance quickly filled itself with hundreds of people, desperate for medical attention. My experiences at the Mobile Clinics were different everyday depending on what station I was assigned. At the pharmacy, I had an opportunity to see just how many people were suffering from specific diseases. What came to my attention the most were the excessive amounts of children suffering from different parasites and the large numbers of women who had some type of vaginal infection. None of us could believe how many people were suffering from these potentially preventable illnesses. One of the most remarkable aspect of this experience was whenever we handed the medication to a patient, we witnessed a genuine sentiment of relief. They seemed overwhelmed with gratitude and grasped the little bags filled with meds like it was worth all the money in the world. It felt strange to listen to a 75 year old woman tell us about how ecstatic she was to have gotten her medication and realize that what we had given her was just ibuprofen (Advil). Thisserious lack of access to these simple pain medications was heart wrenching. She explained to us that she was terrified that we would run out of meds (something that happens often in these areas). Like most other patients we interacted with, she too asked us for other meds for her family members and friends who could not make it to the clinic (some of them were too sick to even make the journey). It was even more heart breaking having to say no to her and others because of the fact that it would be unsafe to give people meds without first seeing a physician. The general lack of access to what should be considered a basic human right was truly miserable to witness.
Being able to be a part of these sustainable and holistic approaches to aiding communities in need with medical attention, education and development projects really was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. This experience opened my eyes to the fact that any one, really any one, can get on a plane and help out anyway they can! A little goes a long way in places like this. The invaluable experience of interacting with these communities first hand, along side local health care practitioners, is something that – as much as a cliché as it sounds, really does change your perspective on life.