Pre-meds forge global ties on Ecuador trip

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, January 26, 2012

For the second time in less than a year, the University’s chapter of Medicine, Education and Development for Low-Income Families Everywhere sent a group of students to Riobamba, Ecuador. The 23-person group spent eight days this month assisting doctors in nearby villages and constructing a bathroom for a village’s schoolhouse.

“I got to see a lot of different sides of medicine,” David Stein ’13 said. “I enjoyed working toward sustained change for the lives of the patients.”

The organization was founded in 2005 as a student group at the University of Maine. Since then, it has expanded to 45 different college chapters, the majority of which are pre-med student groups, according to Tommy Flint, director of operations for MEDLIFE USA. By facilitating travel to Ecuador and Peru, the organization gives students the opportunity to help villagers lacking proper medical care and learn about medicine through community service, Flint said.

The University’s chapter was founded in September 2010, said Katie DeAngelis ’13, co-president of the chapter. The group traveled to Riobamba during spring break last year, and the chapter decided to return over the recent winter break to continue developing a relationship with the region’s people, she said.

During this last trip, the Brown contingent formed a “mobile clinic brigade,” Flint said.

In keeping with the organization’s goal of connecting students with local doctors, students on the trip visited villages in the area alongside physicians, dentists and gynecologists from the region, DeAngelis said.

The villagers received free consultations and medicine on-site, Flint said. Patients with medical issues that could not be dealt with on-site were given a diagnosis to discuss with doctors in the city center.

All students on the trip were members of the organization and were required to participate in fundraising and other public events. This requirement ensured that only the most passionate and committed students embarked on the trip, DeAngelis said.

The organization focuses on providing a “positive cultural exchange” for American students that gives them a chance to learn about career opportunities in medicine, Flint said.

Shivang Desai ’14 said he chose to go on the trip because he was interested in health care and particularly in the service of underprivileged communities. He said assisting with the toothbrush station, a place where students and other volunteers taught young children how to properly brush their teeth, was an eye-opening experience.

“Watching them learn how to brush their teeth, something that’s so simple for us, was exciting to be a part of,” he said. “It’s not something you expect to see.”

Stein said seeing the children’s smiles and the villagers’ gratitude throughout the week made the trip worth it.

Desai said the language barrier was one of the biggest challenges he faced during the trip, but the local doctors and a minority of the students knew Spanish.  Some of the older villagers did not even speak Spanish, but rather an Incan language.

Rose Shan ’14 said she saw the local doctors as bridges between the chapter and the villagers. She added that she felt the language barrier was more apparent during the construction project, as the English-speaking doctors were not available to assist with translation.

The University’s chapter hopes to begin consistently sending groups of students to the Ecuador site at least twice a year during winter and summer breaks, DeAngelis said. Both Desai and Stein said they feel returning to Riobamba is integral to cementing a lasting presence in the region.

“Going back is completely necessary,” Stein said. “The goal is sustaining, lasting change.”

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