Two days after finals ended, instead of basking in the freedom of summer like all of my friends, I instead saw myself rushing to JFK Airport at three in the morning, heaving two heavy suitcases up numerous escalators and stairs, and trying to navigate the unfamiliar territory of flying internationally alone. Just two weeks before, I had spontaneously decided to fly to Lima, Peru with MedLife, an organization that provides and improves access to medicine, education, and community development in low-income communities globally, which additionally Rutgers just started a chapter of this past semester. I decided to do this trip because it was a way to satisfy two of my biggest passions: travelling and helping people. However, after just ten days in Peru, I can definitely say that my experience working with the children, the patients, and all the different types of people I met while on the trip helped me way more than I helped them.
Monday through Friday in Peru took me to different communities in the densely populated settlements on the outskirts of the city known as “pueblos jovenes” where millions of people live in conditions of extreme poverty. These communities were like nothing I have ever seen before: barely-sturdy wood and tin siding made up tiny shacks that housed families and these little shacks took over the entire skyline of the area; trash of all sorts was strewn around everywhere causing the air around us to reek of decaying food, animal feces, and just general poverty.
We learned that most people had extremely limited access to electricity and water, and when the water trucks did come, the prices were so hiked up—due to the corruption of most government workers and officials—that many cannot even afford to buy that water. Just working in these areas every day put so many things into perspective: we take hot, safe, and running water, air-conditioning, clean food, and so many other little things for granted. We do not think twice about these things; we expect our access to them to be unlimited, just because we have never had a reason not to think that way. However, working for a week with little kids who ran around smiling and laughing with nothing but each other and the dirt on the ground for entertainment, who never complained once about their lack of everything, completely dumfounded me. Every local was so happy, so content. At the end of each day, the community leaders of where we worked would express to us through translators just how thankful they were of our organization taking the time to help them. We provided doctors for their sick, educators for their children, and volunteers for construction, specifically to build staircases and preschools, proving that no one was forgotten.
The end of the week totaled in staggering results. Just five days of providing medical clinics, including doctor check-ups, dental care, cervical and breast cancer check-ups, and education pertaining fitness, nutrition, and diseases benefitted 1862 people in those communities. We provided medical attention to 573 adults and 468 children, and taught 821 children how to properly brush their teeth. We built, primed, and painted a staircase that will benefit hundreds of people to come, as these communities are built on such high, steep, dangerous terrain. Hearing this information made our results tangible—it made it so rewarding knowing that we were making a difference and touching lives, no matter how rusty our Spanish skills were or how many times we had to ask a local to repeat themselves.
Being back in my air-conditioned, comfortable home in a clean suburbia of New Jersey, typing away on my laptop while my brother, intently focused on his FIFA match on his Xbox, sits next to me, with bags and bags of groceries just piled on the floor in the kitchen next to me makes last week seem like it never even happened. But it did. And it impacted me and all of the people I met while on the trip, in a way that no dictionary has the words to describe. Just ten days in Peru turned my entire world upside-down; it made me so much more appreciative of what I have and made me realize how lucky I am to live the life I do. It also made me realize that I want to go back to Peru and other impoverished areas globally in the future and do more. I owe so much to MedLife: not only did it allow me to make a difference in other people’s lives, but it also exposed me to the injustices of healthcare present in so many communities that we do not necessarily see and ignited a spark in me to work to fix that. This organization also allowed me to explore, go sandboarding and dune-buggying, and learn about a rich and beautiful history of a beautiful country.
So I encourage you go on MedLife’s website, donate what you can, and/or sign up for a volunteer trip yourself. No amount of words can express just how life-changing of an experience this was and I strongly urge everyone to experience it for themselves. You know that poverty exists in places both nationally and globally, but you never truly know the real extent of it until you see it through the eyes of a child who knows of nothing else.