With an estimated 1.8 billion individuals worldwide lacking proper health care, one group of GW students is working to improve the lives of some of the most needy communities.
Sophomores Emily Alloy and Corinne Stone started the GW chapter of MEDLIFE – a nationwide organization working with impoverished communities in Latin America – this fall, and held the first meeting open for new members last Wednesday.
Through a number of fundraisers and events, the group seeks to provide “medicine, education and development for low-income families everywhere,” which is also the meaning behind the acronym in the group’s name.
Alloy said the organization is heavily dependent on the contributions of college-age students.
“There aren’t many organizations that you see with administrators literally putting the fate of the organization in the hands of 18 to 22-year-olds,” Alloy said.
MEDLIFE is a nonprofit global health organization that Nick Ellis, a graduate of Dartmouth Medical School, started in 2005 after witnessing firsthand during a trip to Latin America the conditions the poor were living in. He later returned to those same communities with aid and started the first MEDLIFE chapter. Today, 100 percent of the profits earned through fundraising by his organization go directly to the communities in need.
“[The organization’s] mission is to help families achieve greater freedom from the constraints of poverty, empowering them to live healthier lives,” MEDLIFE’s website states.
The organization gives brigades, groups of about 10 to 30 volunteers, the opportunity to travel to Ecuador, Peru or Panama to help provide sustainable education and healthcare for the poor communities in the area. Volunteers work alongside health professionals to treat individuals with medical conditions, and to set up clinics and schools.
“Because it was built off of such an awe-inspiring experience, that’s what they want to ignite in the people who go on these brigades,” Alloy said.
Team leader sophomore Sarah Hillware said what sets MEDLIFE apart from other global health organizations is the interaction that takes place between its members and the communities they provide for.
“It’s literally a cultural exchange, and I think that’s just so special and rare,” Hillware said.
The chance to physically see the influence they have on human lives is what led them to get involved in the chapter on campus, junior Heidi Zhang said.
“This group looked attractive to me because I came from China and I saw a lot of villages that lacked proper health care,” Zhang said. “Going to Latin America will give viable experience and exposure to culture, while at the same time being able to help other people.”
The GW chapter plans to send brigades to Latin America this summer, and will be raising money throughout the semester to prepare for the trips.
When brigades from other chapters come back from their weeklong trips in March, they will supply the other chapters with scarves purchased in the Latin American countries they visited. These scarves will then be sold in April to raise money for future brigades. Hillware said this sale is unique in that it not only acts as a fundraiser, but also helps customers feel more connected to the cultures associated with the cause.
Alloy said the GW chapter is also thinking about getting the community more involved by talking to businesses such as Safeway about doing joint fundraisers.
“We’re lucky enough that we don’t go to school in the middle of nowhere,” Alloy said. “We have that accessibility and availability.”
This article appeared in the February 28, 2011 issue of the Hatchet.