Quito día dos.

Instagramming Esmeraldas

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Emily Brown, a participant on our March 2013 clinic, volunteered to document her experience while on the inaugural MEDLIFE Trip to Esmeraldas, Ecuador!  We’ll be updating the pictures here as we get them – you can also follow us on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook; we’ll be cross-posting them everywhere.  Thank you Emily!

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It Was a Dark and Stormy Thursday…

Vicky Chen, Grace Wang, and Cher Ting take us to Thursday’s clinic, where even the rain couldn’t stop local children from winning hearts (and probably a basketball game or two).

Setting up the pharmacy

It was a cold, dark, and rainy day. A bus full of tired college students arrived at a new foreign village. Having woken up at 6am, something that we are not accustomed to, we sluggishly began to set up all the mobile clinics at the village school. Little curious faces started to peek through the window and the doors; as soon as we saw their faces, we couldn’t help but smile and all the physical discomfort from the rain and the cold and the early wake-up call was forgotten. After the stations were set up, the adults of the village greeted us with fresh bread and tea. I almost felt like a celebrity walking among the locals – all of them would flash you their biggest smile and say, “hola,” as you walked around, and the younger kids would hide behind their parents or older siblings and peek out half of their face and give you a shy but radiantly bright smile.

In the afternoon, a couple of students decided to play baseketball with the kids. It is amazing how a game of basketball broke though the extreme language barrier that exists between students and the children who live in the area; we hardly spoke any Spanish, and the kids hardly any English. Simple words, such as “pase” and “pelota,” one ball, and two groups of completely different people somehow generated a court full of laughter and an afternoon of unforgettable joy. By the end of the day, we all made friends; these are not just kids in a random village that we helped, we connected with them and got attached. The day ended with a huge “family photo.” No amount of “ciao” or “adios” seemed to be enough, because we didn’t want to say goodbye.

Soccer on Tuesday and basketball on Thursday – sports were a theme for the week!

Even after an exhausting day at the mobile clinic, we were still willing to stay a bit longer, just for these kids. We were all amazed how though these kids live in what we consider “poverty” and they might never experience the kinds of comforts that we take for granted, they were genuinely happy.  Really, I know we will never see a smile more brighter and sunnier than the ones we saw today on these kids’ faces.  Their eyes flicker with hope, joy, and love when they smile. Knowing that I can be a part something that keeps these little angels healthy and happy everyday gives me a sense of fulfillment and joy that can hardly be described by words but can certainly be recognized by the heart.

All 20 (or 32) Teeth

UPDATE: This post has been republished on the blog run by the larger MEDLIFE organization next to updates from other chapters around North America. Kudos to Sonia and Grace!

Sonia Jain and Grace Wang team up to tell and show us how the first day in the clinics went on Monday!

Today was our first day as a group working together. For some of us arriving into Ecuador at around 3 this morning, getting up to go on the bus seemed like a pretty strenuous task. However, our eyes were opened when we made our way to the rural town where we would participate in our first mobile clinic.

As we were split up in groups and set up our tents and specific areas, we couldn’t help but notice the beautiful agricultural landscape we were in. As time went by, small children with their parents started to arrive. At first, it was a bit surprising to see their faces. Most of the children had scars from heat and wind exposure, and their parents suffered from poor oral hygiene. It became evident how serious of a health problem dental hygiene was in this area, and it was up to us to help the children learn proper techniques to maintain good oral health, which they can apply in the future.

At first, it was a bit difficult to communicate with the children and elders – who spoke Spanish – when most of the MEDLIFE students could not. However, it became easier when we used simple phrases and using hand gestures to communicate tasks, to the children especially.

I think every member of MEDLIFE learned a great deal from both the children and the elders of the community today, who sacrifice a great deal to support their families through farming while also taking the time to come into the clinic for medical care.

The group that was involved in the development project also reinforced how important it was for the area to create working washrooms in order to promote better hygiene. Everyone working together and putting their efforts today went a long way. When they thanked us before leaving, we could only say thank you back; little did they know, their smiles from receiving proper treatments and toothbrushes was probably the highlight of our day and the best thanks we could have received. We can only hope that they will cherish the information we gave them in the future, and continue to work on developing the washroom in their community. Now we are off to explore more of Riobamba as a group. Ciao for now!

Punto Cero Clouds and the Final Clinic Day.

Final Clinic Day! –  Punto Cero.

by Kate Sheridan

Today, I volunteered for the dreaded gynecology station, and I have to say, I liked it a lot more than I thought I would and I felt way less awkward than I thought I would.  Essentially, students on gynecology watch as the doctor takes histories, does pap smears, and examines pregnant women.

My very favorite part of gyno was, without doubt, the pregnant women. They all looked happy and all of them were healthy, thankfully. One was even probably carrying twins! I say probably because the clinic lacks ultrasound equipment, and the twins were “diagnosed” by palpitation only. While the gynecologist was pretty sure that the woman in question was carrying twins, she admitted it can be difficult to distinguish a head from a backside or another body part entirely, so the second head she felt could be a part of one baby.

My least favorite part of gyno was pap smears. Most women seemed to be fine with one female student in the room, but I couldn’t help but think of the physical discomfort they must be in – the speculum was unwarned and unlubricated, unlike what many North American women may be used to.  However, there was a significant number of women who elected against receiving a pap smear, for their own reasons, even after hearing about what it can do (For those of you who don’t know – the main thing people think of when they hear “pap smear” is cervical cancer, but there are other conditions that can be diagnosed with a pap smear.) My duty was to hand the doctor instruments and stabilize the light used. We did 5 or 6 pap smears in total, and I rotated in with 2 other girls, so I don’t know if I would have become more comfortable with the procedure and how I could have best assisted if there had been more opportunities.

Right in the middle were the histories. It was mostly the same basic questions everyone gets asked when they see a doctor, but I was particularly fascinated when the doctor asked certain questions: “cuantos hijos tiene? Muerto? Aborto?” My friend Vanessa asked a few clarifying questions after one physical and we had our translation: “How many kids do you have? How many have died? How many miscarriages?”

I thought about the stories represented by the numbers. What did these women feel when they had miscarriages? (The doctor used aborto to mean spontaneous abortions – induced abortions are illegal in Ecuador .) Were they devastated, relieved that there would not be yet another mouth to feed after all, a combination of both, or something else entirely? I suspect the base emotion must be something similar to what North American women feel when they miscarry; while there may be differences caused by what are very different circumstances, I feel like the loss is felt in similar ways too.

If this brigade taught me anything, it is both that I was incredibly privileged to be born into a North American family with access to consistent medical care and that I am not all that different from the people we see at the clinic anyways. The people we saw at the clinic worked hard, were deeply tied to a community, and experienced the same emotions. They may not have the same emotional triggers – I would never say that. But it goes back to the miscarriage thing I wrote about. Everyone feels loss, like when a woman miscarries; everyone feels joy, like when a new baby is born healthy and perfect. Doesn’t matter where it happens.

This clinic has been a wonderful experience for me overall. While I’d need to save up some airfare money, I would absolutely do it again.  I can’t believe it is already over and the first of my flights to send me back to the Great White North takes off in 24 hours.

THANKS! for reading the blog from this brigade, and my tweets from the ground. (If you haven’t been, check it out: @MEDLIFEMcGill! More pictures!) I hope we’ve given a little bit of insight into what the clinics are like and the people who you might meet if you go on one!

And PLEASE! Comment and give us feedback! So we can improve the blog and give you guys everything you ask for!

MedlifeMcGill