By: Zoheb Sulaiman, Guest Writer
If you had known me freshman year, you never would have imagined me to be one to travel to South America. I was not familiar with the Spanish language and could not see myself interacting with the local community at all. Fast-forwarding two and half years, I have traveled to Lima, Peru and Esmeraldas, Ecuador in each of the past two winter breaks. Even with limited Spanish proficiency, I was able to help provide education, primary care and dental care to over 1,000 patients by participating in two mobile clinics. I also had the chance to assist in local development projects by building staircases with members in the community. The organization that gave me this wonderful opportunity is called Medicine, Education, and Development for Low Income Families Everywhere, also known as MEDLIFE.
MEDLIFE helps low-income families by partnering with poor communities and working to improve their access to MEDs: Medicine, Education and community Development. The group achieves this mission through volunteer trips, the MEDLIFE Fund and student empowerment. The mobile clinics give college students the chance to work alongside its Latin American staff and medical professionals to provide primary care services to individuals and families who otherwise lack access to quality health care.
I was first exposed to MEDLIFE at the Fall Activities Fair during my freshman year. The UGA Chapter had just been founded and began expanding rapidly. I was drawn to its mission and dedicated myself to becoming as involved as possible. I participated in several volunteer events (MedShare and Scarf Sales), attended interactive meetings and the MEDLIFE Southeastern Conference and helped fundraise for the MEDLIFE Fund through the Zombie 5K and Benefit Concert. Subsequently, I had the privilege to join the executive board my sophomore year and served as the Internal Affairs Chair. I began my current term as Co-President my junior year.
From the start, MEDLIFE has had a profound effect on my college career. My first mobile clinic experience in Lima, Peru really had an impact on me. I had been struggling with organic chemistry and seriously considered not pursuing medicine anymore. However, after attending the clinic, my life goals were reaffirmed and I realized that I could not see myself being anything but a doctor. I had the opportunity to assist in filling cavities with the dentists and to shadow the doctors. Being able to stand in the examination room and listen to the patients explain their life story and struggles to the physicians was invaluable. Having the opportunity to expose myself to people from new cultures prepared me to interact and communicate with patients from all backgrounds.
I had a similar experience this winter break when I traveled to Esmeraldas, Ecuador. The UGA chapter sent 24 students on this mobile clinic, the highest number in our chapter history. This group would not have existed without Amelia Rhodes, the current Mobile Clinics Chair for the UGA Chapter. Her continuous hardwork and efforts made everything possible. My role during this clinic was a little different than Peru. I served as a 10:1 leader for MEDLIFE, in which I facilitated the student groups, assisted in travel logistics and helped students understand cultural sensitivity. This trip was especially meaningful because of two unique moments. The first came when the general doctor allowed me to use her stethoscope to listen to a little girl’s lungs and diagnose an upper respiratory infection by identifying the ‘crackles.’ The later moment occurred during my dentistry rotation. I assisted the dentist in conducting extractions by providing gauzes and loading the numbing medicine in the needles. One particular patient, a middle-aged man, thanked me after his extraction was complete and shook my hand. It was definitely a humbling and eye-opening experience to be able to give back to the community.
Just as the UGA Chapter has grown in the past four years, National MEDLIFE continues to expand its work. The organization now travels to India and Tanzania, in addition to Peru and Ecuador. It has structured student chapters at 70 universities across the world. I would advise every college student, despite his or her major, to go on a MEDLIFE mobile clinic. The service done, lifelong friendships made and memories are truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. This service organization can definitely have an impact on your life if you just take a chance.