By: Sefali Patel, Guest Writer
I never imagined all of the things I could do in a week in the far away South American country of Ecuador. Teaching young kids how to brush their teeth, working with dentists to fill the never-ending cavities, making an assembly-line to carry buckets of cement up the halfway made staircase in a village surrounded by a scenery of paradise…every moment was simply breathtaking. My experiences were made possible by MEDLIFE, an organization that promotes medicine, education and development in underserved populations across various parts of the world.
Along with 23 other UGA students, I participated on a Mobile Clinic trip that set up temporary health clinics in various parts of Esmeraldas, Ecuador to provide basic health care services. Students worked with MEDLIFE personnel in setting up the tents and preparing the rooms for the stations that patients would visit. For example, a typical mother and child would first register and learn about preventing diseases via videos and pamphlets; afterwards, the child would go to the tooth brushing station to receive a toothbrush and learn how to use it; afterwards, the family would go to the general doctor, gynecologist and/or dentist as desired.
My favorite station to work at was the tooth brushing station; the children were full of so much energy and many were eager to learn. Because I did not know Spanish well, it was often challenging conveying the information to them. Although, after learning a few phrases on the spot and having a fellow student in the station translate for us, the language barrier was soon forgotten. We all played with the kids afterwards, including games such as tag and clapping to nursery rhymes; they also enjoyed taking pictures with us and would excitingly yell “otra foto” (another photo) to keep the camera flashes coming.
Also on this trip, we worked at two service sites to build staircases for the community. One involved a village nestled in the greenery and settled beside a river among the mountains, while the other was amidst the bustling sounds and chaos of a developing city. These stairs were being built on hills were many families resided; in addition to providing health care, MEDLIFE also aims to prevent future accidents or diseases by developmental projects. As we were working on the staircase, there were already locals using it, everyone from the elderly and young children to animals. I can only imagine the hardships experienced by these people from lack of sufficient infrastructure, and I also realize how much a basic commodity such as a staircase has the potential to prevent people from falling and suffering serious injuries. While carrying the loaded buckets of cement one by one up the hill was an arduous task, it was so rewarding in the end to see all that we accomplished. At one site, a group of little boys were there to help us out. They helped carry the empty buckets down the hill for refills and would bring us cups of cold beverages if needed. It felt amazing to work with those who we were building the staircase for.
I will never forget the things I saw or the friends I made. I not only met others from my university, but those students as well from places like Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. Working towards a common goal really does bring people together, as I was privileged to discover in my weeklong trip in Ecuador. I recommend this opportunity to all of those interested in learning about health care in a foreign setting or wanting to do various volunteer activities for such great cause. I can personally assure those that it is an opportunity worth taking, as the experiences working with MEDLIFE are priceless.