Honors students travel to Peru to provide medical assistance
By Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs (6/2/17)
Twenty-three Virginia Commonwealth University students traveled to Lima, Peru, earlier this month as part of a volunteer trip to provide medical services and education, and to build a staircase that will allow local residents to better navigate their very hilly neighborhood.
The trip was organized by the VCU chapter of Medicine, Education and Development for Low-Income Families Everywhere, or MEDLIFE, which aims to improve the health and welfare of families and communities in Ecuador, Peru and Tanzania by providing medical services and education, as well as community development projects.
The chapter was co-founded last summer by Megh Kumar, a junior majoring in biochemistry and psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, and Shwetha Kochi, a junior biochemistry and bioinformatics major. Both are members of the Honors College. They both wanted to give VCU students a new opportunity to help provide medical care in low-income countries.
“The organization identifies areas throughout the world that are notoriously impoverished and lack proper medical access and infrastructure, and works with local community leaders to change that,” Kumar said. “MEDLIFE hosts local doctors and provides community members access to physician consultations, ranging from internal medicine to dentistry to obstetrics.”
The goal of the trip, he said, was to provide education about health topics to help people experience a higher quality of life, as well as to work together to build a project that the local community needs, such as building water tanks, bathrooms and community gathering areas. For the VCU students, that project was a staircase that will allow residents to better access their neighborhood in a municipality called San Juan de Miraflores.
“This was my first medical service trip ever, so I didn't know what to expect,” Kumar said. “It was amazing. I got to experience an entirely different culture and explore Lima for a short period, but, most importantly, I got to help people.”
The 23 VCU students were the biggest group that took part in the trip, which also included an additional nine students from colleges in Ohio, Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
“I think I can speak for the other 22 trippers when I say that this experience really opened my eyes to the privileges that I have as an American,” Kumar said. “As VCU students, we have [VCU Medical Center] a 15-minute bus ride away if we ever need help. Some of the communities that we served live hours away [from adequate medial care] and, factoring in their work schedule, it may not even be possible for them to get adequate medical care, so having our mobile clinics helped immensely.
“This kind of humanitarian work really helped affirm the reasons why I want to go into medicine, and I think I can say the same for a lot of our trippers.”
Each of the students on the trip paid their own way, though the VCU chapter has held fundraising events to help offset some of the costs.
While the Peru trip was the first for the VCU chapter of MEDLIFE, the group is already planning its second, which is slated to take place this winter in Tanzania.
For more information, visit the Facebook page of the VCU chapter of MEDLIFE at http://www.facebook.com/medlifeatvcu.