I have been involved with the Lafayette Chapter of MEDLIFE for about two years now, and am currently the president of the chapter at Lafayette. I originally got involved with MEDLIFE because I saw that MEDLIFE was getting long-lasting results where others were failing. Especially with all of the recent articles I’ve seen condemning short term service work, it was a good chance to see and be a part of what MEDLIFE is doing. The foundational argument of those condemning short term work is that you could hire people in Peru (for example) for much less money than it costs to fly an unskilled American college student to Peru, and house them for a week. This is a valid concern. The program cost for this MEDLIFE trip to Peru was $805. I am going to guess that after flights and souvenirs, most students will have spent $2000. MEDLIFE fully funds their mobile clinics and small development projects with these program fees. By my estimations, about $500 out of each person’s program fee went directly to these communities. The argument that instead of spending $2000 on a trip, one should simply donate $500, is not a valid one. The choice is not between spending $2000 where $500 of which is a donation, and simply donating $500. The other choice is no money. Realistically, it’s a lot easier to sell someone a $2000 trip than it is to get them to donate $500. There were 110 college students in Cusco with MEDLIFE the week I was there. That means $55,000 went directly to the communities that otherwise wouldn’t have that week alone. This happens over a hundred times every year in rural communities in seven different locations. Furthermore, while the people I spoke to from MEDLIFE were not willing to give me numbers because it changes every year, chapters that send a higher percentage of their members are much better at fundraising for MEDLIFE. In fact, a vast majority of the fundraising for the MEDLIFE Project Fund comes from student chapters. The MEDLIFE Project Fund is what MEDLIFE uses to fund the development and health projects that cannot be completed in the span of one week. They have a separate fund for administrative costs. So while you could pay Peruvians to do the same work for less, the students would not be having the life changing experiences that may ultimately drive them to fundraise for MEDLIFE for the rest of their college career and possibly beyond. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of dollars (well over a million dollars during the summer, spring break, and January) that currently go directly to help low income rural communities every single month would disappear.
We left our house at about 11:00 to drive to IAD to catch my 3:00 flight to San Salvador. I met Sally, Erin, and Tori at the airport in D.C. In San Salvador, we met some kids from Texas A&M who were also traveling to Cusco for the MEDLIFE Trip. We were all on the same flight to Lima. I had an entire row to myself on the way to Lima which was a great improvement to the coughing lady next to me on my first flight. A girl named Baylee from Texas A&M sat behind me and we talked a little bit on the flight. When we arrived in Lima, we had to go through customs. After that, we sat in Starbucks until it was time to go through security for our flight to Cusco. The flight to Cusco from Lima is only a little over an hour, so I arrived in Cusco at 6:45 am on Saturday, the second. I was pretty tired when I got there (I hadn’t slept the last night, and the night before I was up late because it was New-Year’s Eve), so I took a nap until about 11:30. Then, I woke up, took a shower, and took a cab to meet Scott Dillon and his family for lunch. Scott is a missionary supported by my church. I met him when I visited in Summer 2013 when I visited Cusco for the first time. I gave Scott the things that he had requested I bring for him from the US and had a very pleasant meal with his family and Jonah, an 18-year-old intern working on Scott’s team from Mission to the World. After lunch, I went to Jonah’s house and changed, and then we went to a soccer field. I played soccer with Scott, Jonah, and some of their Peruvian friends. I’m not very good at Soccer at sea level, so playing it my first day at nearly 12,000 feet was pretty tough. I got lightheaded and had to take a break more than a few times. Afterwards, I went back to the hostel (El Señorio Real Inn) and met up with the other people from Lafayette. I took them to Señor Carbon, a Rodizio restaurant where they bring you unlimited meat (17 different kinds) for dinner. It was delicious.
The next morning, we called an adventure company and went zip-lining on the longest zip-line in South America. The ride there was a long and our driver didn’t speak any English. The location of the zip-line was fairly remote, so it took nearly two hours to get there. When we did finally arrive, the view was incredible, and the zip-lines were lots of fun. At the end of every line, we had to climb up about fifteen feet to the next one. At this point, we were closer to 13,000 feet and it was brutal. Climbing 15 feet up the mountain left all of us panting and ready to take a break. On our way back to the city, we saw I child kick a dog which was disturbing. There are over 20,000 stray dogs in the city of Cusco alone. In Peru, dogs are not normally viewed as pets. Some people will leave food out to attract dogs to their houses for security purposes, but they are not allowed inside homes. They’re viewed as wild animals, sort of like how we view squirrels. It’s not uncommon to see people throwing rocks at them or kicking them to get out of their way. As a dog owner, it makes me sad to see the dogs treated this way. At 5:00 pm, we had our first meeting with the entire MEDLIFE group and discussed what we’d be doing for the next week. We went to dinner with some girls from University of Georgia. I ate alpaca steak for dinner, and we ordered one guinea pig (cuy) for the table to try. The alpaca was good; I probably won’t order guinea pig again.
On Monday, we began our day at 7:00 am for breakfast, and at 8:00, the bus left for our reality tour. We drove about an hour and a half to a rural hospital to learn about the reality of health care in Peru, particularly in rural villages in the highlands as opposed to in the city. In the highlands outside of the city, access to healthcare is dismal at best. Pregnant mothers must come to the hospital days before they give birth because the journey takes too long and they normally have to sell farm animals in order to afford the journey. Outside of the cities, access to healthcare is very limited.
At the clinic, we provided basic healthcare for 1,915 people in rural villages in the highlands outside of Cusco, Peru, and taught over 500 children how to brush their teeth (a practice that is not common in Peru, particularly outside of the cities). We helped check people in, take their vitals, taught the children how to brush their teeth, and helped the doctors with whatever they needed. One man I talked to said that he had walked eight hours (overnight) just to come to the clinic. I worked on the development project on Friday, but others worked on it other days because we were all split up. In the villages in the highlands, people live in houses made from adobe bricks (dirt) and cook over open fires inside their homes.
Constantly breathing in all of that smoke is not healthy. What MEDLIFE did was use materials they already had available to them (adobe bricks and clay) along with an aluminum chimney to create a stove/oven combo that still uses wood, but funnels all of the smoke safely outside.
One added benefit is that the new stoves allow fires to burn hotter. At over 12,000 feet in altitude, water boils at around 78oC due to the thermodynamic effects of the lower air pressure, so it takes food longer to cook.
On Saturday, we went to Machu Picchu. It was a very long day – our bus pulled away at 3:15 am, and we didn’t get back until around 11:00 pm. I slept most of the way there, but I did manage to catch a few glimpses of some beautiful scenery. When we finally got to Aguascalientes, and took the bus up, a lot of people started taking pictures on the bus. As I’d been to Machu Picchu before, I knew it wasn’t really worth taking pictures yet because in comparison to the ones taken at Machu Picchu, they won’t even be worth uploading to Facebook. Machu Picchu is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Pictures don’t come close to doing it justice. You just have to stand and look, and hope to God that you can capture a good enough mental picture. One new thing that I got to do this time was hike to the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate is the end of the Inca trail, and the original entrance to Machu Picchu which was the secret royal city of the Incas until they destroyed it in anticipation of the Spanish invasion.
While it took about an hour to climb up, it took only about 20 minutes to climb down. Even at only half the altitude of Cusco, climbing is a little tough. There were a couple of other hikes we could have done, but a thunderstorm was coming in and we didn’t want to have to climb down a mountain on wet, slippery rock paths; I decided to start heading back to Aguascalientes. I got ice-cream with Emma and Erin, and then caught the bus down. We got lunch at a restaurant recommended by our guides and then met the group to head back to the train station. We were all very tired when we got back to the hostel and we went straight to bed. By the time I woke up the next morning around 8:00, Sally and Erin were already on a flight to Lima.
Most people on the MEDLIFE trip left on Sunday. Tori and I stayed until Thursday. Mitch and Emma’s flight wasn’t until the evening so we got brunch at Paddy’s Pub (the highest 100% Irish owned pub in the world), and then sat and relaxed in Plaza de Armas for a while. Once Mitch and Emma were ready to head to the airport, Tori and I moved our luggage to our new hostel and then caught a cab over to Scott Dillon’s new church plant for the service.
On Monday, I woke up before Tori and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with an Australian man named Andrew. Andrew is a home appraiser who takes two months off of work every single year to take an around the world trip. He said he’s been to every country in the world except Russia and North Korea.
He said that Cusco is his favorite city in the entire world, so he makes a point to visit every single year. Later, we did a Cusco city trek that our hostel offered for free. The hostel was really nice and they had lots of great amenities and free activities.
We got to walk around the city, take pictures with the famous 12-sidded stone, and hike up to an amazing view point to see the city. One person I met on the trek was from Lima but he had been to Cusco over 15 times because he likes the city so much that he makes a point to visit every year. He also went to College in Madrid which he said was his favorite city in the world. I’ve never met anyone who’s spent any significant time in Madrid who didn’t fall in love with it. Even Andrew said it was one of his favorites. On Monday night, we met Jackie and Abby (two friend of ours from Lafayette doing an interim abroad in Cusco) for dinner at the Rodizio restaurant. We only got through one and a half rounds of
meat this time, but it was still delicious. After dinner, Abby went home because she was tired, and Jackie came over to our hostel to hang out for a bit.
The next morning, we had to wake up early to be picked up at 7:00 for our ATV tour. There were some Incan cultural sights that I wanted to see that can’t be reached by car (we passed two stuck in the mud), so the only reliable way to get there is via ATV. There were two other groups that the van picked up before we left Cusco. One was a group of three Australian girls and one Scottish guy on a two month long south American adventure. They were leaving to begin hiking the Inca trail the
next morning. One of the Australian girls (Stephanie) had just won a contest for a free trip around the world. The deal was unlimited, free international flights, and 50% off domestic flights.
She could keep traveling as long as she wanted, but it’s all over as soon as she sets foot in Australia again. She is 19 years old and dropped out of college to travel for two to three years and plans to continue her education once she’s done traveling.
The other group consisted of two absolutely wonderful Australian girls (Jaimi and Olivia). We actually ended up befriending them as the other group took a different car to their new hostel in preparation to begin hiking the Inca trail.
Plus, once Jaimi told me she liked the movie Hot Rod, I knew we’d get along pretty well. Before we got back to Cusco, we had already friended each other on Facebook so we could communicate.
We met up a few times before we left for home. On Tuesday night, after meeting Jaimi and Olivia for dinner and hanging out for a while, we met up with the entire group from Lafayette studying in Cusco for interim. We went to a bar with live music (they were playing Stand By Me when we walked in and were very good).
On Wednesday morning, Tori and I headed to the Josephine house (an orphanage Scott works with) and helped entertain the kids there until they napped after lunch. It wasn’t easy to get there; it’s outside of the city down a very long dirt (mud) road. I had to give the taxi driver turn-by-turn directions. When it was time to leave, one of the other missionaries that works on Scott’s missionary team gave us a ride close enough to town to catch a taxi, and then we took a taxi back to the Plaza. After lunch, we took a nap and packed. We both had Alpaca steak for dinner and then I went to bed around 11:00.