On February 27th, I departed to Ecuador for a humanitarian trip with MedLife. Little did I know, I’ve embarked on the most educational and inspiring trip I’ve ever been.
Quoted directly from my sketchbook:
“Honestly, I don’t know what to expect out of this trip. I signed up with the purpose of understanding better what it truly means to live in poverty. I guess I’m trying to learn more about myself in the process and discover what it really is that I want to do with my life.” – Feb 27th, 2016
After 11 hours of flight time and an 8 hour bus drive, our group of ~50 volunteers have arrived at our hostel in the city of Atacames. We arrived in the early morning and was given the day off to buy water, supplies and recover before the week started.
(You can click on the illustrations and view them in their original size)
The day had a very “vacation” vibe to it. Our hostel was connected to a beach. We swam, played beach volleyball and played beach soccer with the locals. By the end of the day, I had almost forgotten that I was there for a volunteering trip.
It was very nice sleeping on a bed that night.
I had woken up at 6am on this day, the weather in Ecuador was beautiful in the morning, the air was a little damp and cool, but the sun rising was giving just enough heat to keep me warm. Anyways, we had breakfast and quickly left to start off our first day of volunteering.
I have unfortunately not written down the name of the community we have went to.
The first station I had was tooth brushing. We were a small group of 6 or 7 and we set up a station where we would teach the kids in the community how to brush their teeth properly and supply them with toothbrushes at the end.
It was soon after we started the day where I realized that I could absolutely not communicate in Spanish. In a way, it was inconvenient, but in another way, it made things more fun and interactive with the kids. Trying to communicate through gestures often made the kids laugh as they were trying to decipher what we were trying to tell them.
2 or 3 hours into the day, it started pouring rain and we had to clean up our station and go for lunch.
By the time we finished eating and went back to the clinic, things were already wrapping up. There weren’t many people seeing doctors anymore. 2 hours after my lunch break, we left the community, back to our hostel. This concluded the first day of volunteering.
By the end of this day, I still had not felt like I was on a volunteering trip. We were very efficient that day and were able to help around 170 people in the spam of 5 hours.
The transportation time to the location of this community took a lot longer than the the community we visited on the first day. It was also located in the middle of a forest within mountains. The vibe of the community was clearly different from the first community we visited.
Upon arrival, we quickly went to work and set up the mobile clinic in their local elementary/high school. For this day, I was in the education station which is where patients are sent to after registering and taking their vitals. There, patients were shown short educational videos about various health topics such as STDs, breast cancer, malnutrition etc. and handed pamphlets.
Though I did enjoy the station, I had a hard time with the fact that patients came in to sit in this room with the mindset of waiting to be called to see the doctor. It seemed like the education room was more like a waiting room. It made me realize how education was a strong tool that is often taken for granted by us. We don’t realize how much being educated can have a strong impact in a community.
This day also ended early. We were able to help 190 people that day and we were thanked by the community leader for helping them out consistently.
This day started like the past two days. Got up early in the morning, had a terrific breakfast and hit the road to the local community. By this time, what I was doing in this trip had started to settle in my mind although I still wasn’t clear about it. The whole thing didn’t feel real and had not a big impact on me.
That was about to change on this day.
I was able to work at the doctors station and with the OB/GYN on this day. Right at the start of the day, I was able to feel a difference in the atmosphere. The doctors station felt a lot more serious, and after the first couple of patients coming in, I understood why. The morning was filled with patients that suffered from parasites in the stomach caused by the consumption of non-treated water. Families of 4+ kids were coming in in waves as well as teenagers with kids.
The day was tough in the sense that I was a lot more exposed to the problems that the community faced.
Quoted from p.17:
“After half of day of work, most of us are exhausted. I think to myself: “I can’t wait to plunge in the pool” or “I can’t wait to eat something when I get back to the hostel” or “crap, I have so much to study for, I have midterms when I get back home” but when I realize that these are thoughts of an extremely privileged individual. I feel ashamed for having these thoughts in a situation like this. It makes me realize how unfair society is. We use, or, I use my privileges selfishly, and I have not been actively thinking about using it to help others.”
The last day of volunteering was spent working on a local community project. For our trip, we had to paint the local health center of the Community of Tabiazo.
Spending the whole day painting allowed me to organize my thoughts on the experience I had taken in the past 3 days, which I will address in the afterthought section of this blog.
After painting, we were taken on a little tour of the community. MedLife had helped them build two staircases. One which provided better access to the local reserve of clean water.
Geez, where to start. This past week has definitely been a life changer for me. I flew in Quito not knowing what to expect and I definitely did not expect this trip to have such a big impact on me.
As a general week schedule, we spent 4 days working in local communities for around 6-7 hours each day. We helped around 590 people in total and one of the 4 days was also spent working on a development project for a community. This time, we helped paint the local health center of the Community of Tabiazo.
Out of the 3 days I spent working at the mobile clinic, the last day definitely had the biggest impact on me. The whole experience and the understanding of what you’re actually doing and seeing takes a while to settle. I think that it is on the last day of clinic that I really realized what was going on and being fully aware of the big picture. It’s so easy to focus on the task you’re assigned and it’s so easy to forget that the people in the community only get to see doctors once every couple of months and that they have probably traveled hours by walk or bus just to get to the clinic. It’s so easy to take for granted and forget how we, university students of North America, are so damn privileged. It hit me hard that I have been too selfishly using this privilege and that I haven’t been using it to help other people.
Another thing I realized while working at the mobile clinic was how important education is. Teenage pregnancy is a big issue in third world countries the reason for that is partly because of religion but also partly because many teenagers are not aware that having sexual intercourse could lead to pregnancy. It shocked me to see 15-17 year old girls being pregnant. It also shocked me to see that some of them already have 2 or 3 kids. It’s pretty easy to understand why when you look at the education facilities, one school for a whole community that ranges in dozen of miles of radius with minimal ways of communizing to school. Elementary school kids and high school kids sharing the same building at different times. Kids often give up on education because they need to work to help sustain a large family. In order to graduate from high school, teenagers need to travel to a major city to take exams then they are placed in a career field depending on their scores. Most don’t even make it that far… Imagine college. My point is, the lack of emphasis on education is disconcerting and alarming. Back to being privileged; we, as university students have access to unlimited source of knowledge, we have internet, professors, books that are so easily accessible by us, yet a lot of us complain about how hard school is. A lot of us cram valuable material 24 hours before a test. For what? To pass that class, to get a good grade. But what is a good grade if we haven’t retained anything? Knowledge is precious and a powerful tool. But you can’t use a hammer to unscrew a screw. After this trip, I feel a strong need to look at education in a different light, change perspective and focus on learning instead of earning a good grade. For me, it’s not about the money I end up earning, but the impact I make on this world before I leave.
Furthermore, i would like to add a couple of notes on the MEDLIFE mobile clinic itself. We travelled alongside 3 doctors, one dentist and one gynaecologist. These doctors worked the whole time we were there, some of them missing lunch in order to keep serving the community. I find that highly admirable, it’s clear to see that their priority lie in helping every patient and focusing on their needs no matter how hot it gets in the room (easily over 35-40 degrees Celsius) I also noticed that the medication people receive are from donations from us. Calcium pills, vitamins, toothbrush, toothpaste, anything. I feel terrible for not bringing anything this time, but it won’t happen in the future. The medlife mobile clinic can do what they do because of us, volunteers. But I also believe that a big goal for MEDLIFE is to expose us to a different side of the world.
Don’t worry, my monologue is coming to an end:
At first, I drew what was around me for myself, so that I could remember what I saw around me, but as the trip went on, I found myself drawing for an audience. I ended up drawing for the sake of transmitting information and raising awareness. I want my drawings to make an impact and I hope that going through them has stirred a little something in you.
Given the impact this trip has had on me, I have decided to start this blog for my travel illustrations as well as for my artwork in general. I plan on travelling more with MedLife but also with engineers without borders. I plan on raising awareness, but most importantly, I plan on acquiring more knowledge for the purpose of making this world a better place.
I applaud you if you have honestly read through all of this. Thank you a lot for reading through it, or for checking out my illustration. I hope you have a great day,