University students share MEDLIFE experiences
Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 18:09
When senior Ashley O’Connell, president of Medicine, Education and Development to Low Income Families Everywhere—also known as MEDLIFE at UD, traveled to Peru with the organization, she found it to be very humbling and eye-opening to teach children and communities about health, she says.
“Half of the children don’t understand what a toothbrush is,” O’Connell says. “They think it’s a toy and play with it in the dirt. Seeing that we’re teaching them these basic things, like how to brush your teeth, is one of the most rewarding parts.”
According to its mission statement, MEDLIFE hopes to help 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 Project Fund and student empowerment, according to its official website, medlifeweb.org.
Junior Enoch Lee, vice president of MEDLIFE, says the acronym can be a bit misleading.
“Contrary to the name, MEDLIFE is not entirely focused on medicine,” Lee says. “Combining all those aspects, we like to go out to different countries. We do focus primarily on mobile clinics, we also help with the developmental process and do youth education.”
Currently, MEDLIFE has chapters at 70 universities across the world. In 2010, a chapter was founded at the university.
The organization currently has seven locations it travels to, such as Ecuador, Peru and most recently India and Tanzania.
By bringing mobile clinics around to different communities, the volunteers of MEDLIFE are capable of seeing more patients.
Although his trip to Ecuador last spring was his first with MEDLIFE, Lee previously went to Nicaragua and Bolivia on similar programs. MEDLIFE differs from other volunteer programs, Lee says, due to the mentors, who are either medical students or people who work with the national charter, involved. They don’t just focus on the medical aspect but instead cater to a wide variety of interests, Lee says.
Junior Shaivi Patel, a member of MEDLIFE at UD, went to Peru over the summer with the organization. Patel was the only student from the university on her trip. Since she didn’t have time over the school year to travel, Patel took advantage of other trips offered through the national organization website, she says.
Patel saw first-hand how medicine, education and development are intertwined, she says.
“It was good to see the interplay between lack of development and lack of education and how that in turn affects their health care,” Patel says.
Time abroad during a MEDLIFE trip is divided between serving at a local clinic and participating in a community project, Patel says.
Lee says the trip also helped him make connections with people all around the world who had similar passions and interests.
“Whenever you go on a trip like this—any part of the world where it’s a developing country—I think the most shocking part is how good we have it,” Lee says. “We know these poor people exist, we know there are Third World and developing countries, but the main shocker is how great, as Americans, we have it. If you juxtapose two societies and how different they are, it’s definitely shocking.”
Senior Melissa Warshavsky, a member of the executive board for MEDLIFE at UD, went to Peru during her spring break of sophomore year.
Warshavsky says one of the biggest problems in developing countries is that people don’t
understand how to prevent disease and illness.
“We’re trained in modern society about preventive care,” Warshavsky says. “For the people we’re treating it’s a completely foreign concept. They don’t understand about trying to prevent an illness. A huge problem for women is that they don’t get pap smears so they don’t know how to prevent against cervical cancer. MEDLIFE makes sure that women are getting these, even people who live high in the hills, [doctors] will follow up.”
Lee says MEDLIFE is beneficial for all students, not just those interested in medicine.
“It offers them a global perspective,” Lee says. “The trip is not just for people interested in medicine, there were kids who were pre-law. Nowadays, in order to succeed you have to have that perspective, you can’t just be one-minded.”
For the future of MEDLIFE at UD, Lee hopes to gain more name recognition, he says. The only way to truly understand the importance and impact of the trip, Lee says, is to actually go on a trip.
Warshavsky says the new executive board for this semester is planning the new fundraising programs and mixers with other RSOs to get ready for the new year. The board will also find out if the new MEDLIFE trips to Tanzania and India were successful.
Patel says she walked away from this experience with a new understanding of the relationship between medicine, education and development, such as how simple things like development of roads can mean a child gets to school, whereas previously they did not.
Although it was from a personal perspective, Warshavsky says her trip helped her realize she no longer wanted to be a doctor.
“I was going to go to physician’s assistant [school], but these trips have actually geared me towards global medicine and global health instead of becoming a doctor,” Warshavsky says. “I saw what MEDLIFE could do as an organization, people who created and implemented the programs, rather than be the doctor that goes on the trips, I’d rather be the person that implements these trips.”