I am officially back home, back online and back to work. It was tough to think of how to start up my blog again. How can I summarize everything that has happened and as a result, now will happen? In short my trip home was great and the future is very bright. It was incredible to see my family, friends, my students and my church. It refreshed me, motivated me and left me feeling confident. Confident knowing that everything and everyone are fine at home. That is exactly what I hoped for and now motivates me to work hard in Tanzania as well as comfort me with the knowledge that this place still needs me more.
Another big reason for my coming home was to see the work being done by Medlife in Peru. I went down to Lima to see Dr. Nick Ellis (the CEO and founder) and Angie (Medlife employee, future dentist and Nick’s wife) who I had met months before in Tanzania. Nick had seen me in the hotel, at the school and watched what I was attempting to manage during those days and after a few discussions decided that he would like me to help them with their work. My experience, ability and our discussions on my understanding of how to effectively manage this project fit right with their needs here in Tanzania as well as with their larger goals. We spent months communicating and building to this trip and it was certainly more than I could have asked for.
What I saw was an international office of Peruvian employees and American Volunteers working cohesively, up-tempo and enthusiastically talking about their work. They were working in teams focusing on different areas; tourism, recruiting new chapters from Universities, scheduling service trips, creating new media for websites/facebook/youtube and even interviewing their volunteers for the next year. All of the American volunteers are previous Medlife service trip attendees who were so inspired that they committed a year to volunteer, live in country and use their skills to grow Medlife and help more people. It was so great to see so many well intentioned young people who took time after college to grow individually and serve others. It definitely made me jealous to see the incredible community atmosphere they created with one another and how they could feed off each other’s energy.
Undoubtedly the best part of the trip was seeing Pamplona, the slums of northern Peru where Medlife does a lot of their work. It was inspiring to see their development and infrastructure projects, staircases, future kindergarten that is in construction, meeting the people they serve and just getting an opportunity to feel a connection with another community. I do not enjoy seeing these things or seeing people struggle. It does not make me feel good to know that halfway around the world from Tanzania there is another country struggling to meet the needs of their poor. I do love seeing the evidence of our love for one another, the sacrifices that others will make to serve the poor and listening to people talk about their dreams for a community. Pamplona taught me more about the different faces of poverty. The truth is, I cannot compare Peru to Tanzania. I cannot say which is more or less of any adjective that is attributed to impoverished communities, they are just different, but they both need help. Their problems are very similar. The communities are trapped in perpetual cycles of poverty.
Nick put it best when he related poverty to the game of Chutes and Ladders. There is a road out of poverty but is long, with many turns, many hazards and few shortcuts. Along the way there are places to pull yourself up (the Ladders) and pitfalls that can happen at any moment and bring you right down to the beginning of your journey (the Chutes). The way to navigate this road is to avoid the chutes and climb the ladders. In impoverished communities the chutes are medical problems. Medical problems, illnesses and deaths can bring down an entire family. One mother that came to a clinic was diagnosed with cancer, Medlife helped her begin her cancer treatment, but she recently passed away. This meant their oldest daughter who is still in high school had to drop out of school to care for her family. Now the family must try to continue on without their mother. The children must be raised by another child (a teenager) and hopefully make it through school, with one child already forced to drop out. These are the worst types of chutes because it is a whole family that is affected. The ladders are provided by education. Education is the one opportunity that exists in all countries that allows even the poorest child to succeed. If someone is successful in school, goes to high school, goes to college and gets a great job then they can break the cycle of poverty and reach the finish line. It is only through playing the game the right way, having the opportunity for a good education and getting medical care when they need it that our poor neighbors and friends can find a way out. This is why I am glad to say I will be working together with Medlife to bring their medical work (Mobile Clinics) to Tanzania. Additionally we will be working on creating a new volunteer opportunity, working in schools all over the world (Peru, Ecuador, Tanzania and India) so young people can have the opportunity to serve in education and benefit schools in a new and meaningful way.