Talking with community members was one of the best parts of her May 19–27 trip to Riobamba, Ecuador, with Illinois Tech MEDLIFE, according to Austeja Staneviciute (BME 3rd year), the group’s vice president.
“I learned more about their life, health concerns, and problems faced in their society, as well as how much faith they have in our generation to help change the world,” she said. “Learning their stories is a driving force for us to work hard and be passionate leaders for equal access to education and healthcare for all.”
Staneviciute was one of 10 undergraduates from Illinois Tech MEDLIFE who traveled to Riobamba to assist with a medical brigade for low-income people. They included Chandrika Haldar (BME 1st year), Abdallah Hasan (CHEM 3rd year), Nour Issa (BIOL 3rd year), Quaratulann Khan (BIOL 4th year), Ilma Lodhi (BME 4th year), Dheeksha Ranginani (PSYCH 1st year), Sobia Sultana (BIOL 2nd year), Diana Wu (CHE 2nd year), and Sivaguru Selvam (EE 3rd year). Kathryn Spink, director of pre-health professions programs and senior lecturer of biology, accompanied the group.
The Illinois Tech students set up a mobile clinic at a different community in rural parts of Alausi, Guamote, and Columbe each day of the brigade. The clinic included three general medicine stations, two dental stations, one obstetrics/gynecology station, and one pharmacy station. The students helped the physicians at the stations and taught the children about hygiene. In all, the students assisted 224 people.
As their service project, they helped to build a water tank to improve access to water to communities in the mountainous region. They also donated goods they had collected throughout the school year, including toothbrushes, toothpaste, medicine, vitamins, hand sanitizer, and used clothing.
“I saw happiness in the ‘poorest’ of places,” Selvam wrote in a reflection after the trip. “Sure, they lacked spending capital and purchasing power. But with resources abundantly available in their own societies, the indigenous population were able to master their own and chart their own path. Considering that most of the indigenous population had been completely emancipated only by the 1970s, it is highly inspiring to see a line of people stand up and take charge of their own situation with little foreign aid and media attention. They mustered everything that they could to better the situation they found themselves in,” she said.
“It humbles you and it makes you look at life through a different lens,” said Issa of the brigade. “We each have so much going on in our life, especially as college students, and so it is so easy to become oblivious to problems others around us are facing. The brigade, to me, is always a reminder that each of us has a story. Everybody is a story. The way we interact with the people we meet allows us to be a part of their story. And so in some sense our stories connect, making one big, beautiful story.”
“As much as I hope I do not forget anyone I met on this brigade, it is only human nature for us to do so,” she added. “However, no matter what and who I remember or do not remember, it is for certain that I will never forget how my heart felt throughout this brigade.”
MEDLIFE, which stands for Medicine, Education, and Development for Low-Income Families Everywhere, is an international organization that sends students on medical brigades to South America, Africa, and India. Student groups from more than 150 universities raise money and travel to these countries to assist with the medical brigades. MEDLIFE’s focus is to both serve the people and to inspire the students.
Before the brigade, MEDLIFE works with the community to decide on the service project, giving it even greater significance. The organization tries to maintain a year-round presence in the communities where they send volunteers and to follow up on the care provided by volunteers. Their long-term goal is sustainability – they hope MEDLIFE ultimately will not be needed.