Sunita: Clinic with McGill!

This post for my second clinic week is over a week late, but only because it has been quite busy around here. Doulia’s blog has beautifully summed up our experiences for that week.
As an intern, my second week started before the first clinic ended. Students from the first clinic were leaving as the new students were arriving. Every time that a new group of students come in, I get a different feeling and a different first impression. We thought that the second group would be quieter but hard working nonetheless. They certainly were hard-working – as for the quiet part, I’m not so sure. Since this group was smaller than the first, they got to know each other a lot better and they formed relationships which I believe will last them a lifetime. Many students cried prior to their departure because they were not ready to leave behind both the people they had worked with all week and the relationships they formed.

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On our final clinic day, the students participated in the inauguration of the staircase they helped to build. We, the interns, were chosen to break one champagne bottle over the staircase while three students broke another. There was a lot of singing, dancing, and many words of appreciation from the community members; they have continuously expressed to us that we are always welcome in their community and that we are family. The best part of the inauguration was the hail of baby powder for good luck which the community members were throwing on our heads. At our final talk following the inauguration, it was revealed that we had attended to over 800 patients. As we discussed the number of lives the group had been able to change, there were tears all around.

Saturday, the interns were able to go on a two hour boat ride to Parakas (to see sea lions, penguins, and thousands of birds), sandboarding in Ica (at the border of the Atacama Desert), and visit a traditional bodega (vineyard). It was quite the experience, one that I was so happy to share with Doulia, even though the students always wanted me to go down the sand dunes first to test the waters 😉

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Final Thoughts

By Doulia Hamad

It’s Saturday. The clinics are done, the development project is finished, and we got our the final debriefing. In four days, we saw nearly 400 patients, young and old, and gave twice as many prescriptions and treatments.

Among the many striking events that coloured our week, I was particularily taken aback by the character of the people. Despite the poverty, the health problems and the harsh living conditions, bright, genuine smiles were never scarce. More than just exchanging smiles and saying “Buenos días“, I was especially pleased to be able to converse with many in my broken Spanish. I discovered that making an effort and showing a willingness to communicate in the people’s native language quickly won you encouragement and support.

My first real conversation occured on Wednesday, with an elderly lady from Ventanilla. I was assigned to the education tent, and since the day was drawing to a close and few patients were still being admitted, I had ample time to sit down and chat with the remaining patients between lessons. That day, we talked about where I was from, what I studied, and how the weather was. The topics of conversation may not have been groundbreaking, but the event felt immense to me. This woman and I had oceans between us (both figuratively and literally), yet she could understand me, and I, her!

In the subsequent day, this newfound confidence allowed me to have even more substatial conversations, comparing the Canadian and Peruvian healthcare and education systems with the OB/GYN doctor, and finding common ground with Mary Lara, the nurse in charge of educating the villagers on hygiene, disease prevention, and treatment.

With kids, there was barely any need for words. We conversed in the universal language of childhood: games and play. On Wednesday, I found a great friend in a small boy living in Ventanilla, simply by chasing around a blown-up surgical glove with him. Yesterday, I got help from a seven year old Pamplona native as I stayed behind to finish painting a MEDLIFE sign: I held the brush, and she held the pot of paint.

However, as we inaugurated the staircase we helped build in Pamplona Alta, I realized that language is a barrier only if you accept it as so – even with adults. We did not need to say a word to appreciate the artistry of the dancers who performed traditional dances honouring both earth and nature, nor did we need to understand Spanish to share the “pure joy”, as our intern Christina put it, that flooded us as we were invited to dance and laugh and dance some more. Moving to the sound of guitars and trumpets, we became a blur of pale and copper-colored skins, of long braided hairs and baseball caps, and of traditional colorful skirts and MEDLIFE t-shirts.

Giorgio, the leader of our clinic, said we should be proud of ourselves for what we did this week. I sure am. However, even if this trip will end soon, I will continue the adventure with a renewed energy. MEDLIFE advocates for sustainability in medicine, health and education: our work for these communities, both on site and from home is therefore not done yet, it is only beginning.

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