SHULLSBURG—It takes a special person to give up her winter break during college to travel abroad and help people she’s never met have a better life.
Marlaina Morrissey, a 2010 graduate of Shullsburg High School, is a nursing student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Through her campus activities, Morrissey learned of MedLife (Medicine, Education and Development for Low Income Families Everywhere) and was able to travel to South America to be a doctor, teacher and builder to help the people in the rural areas surrounding Riobamba, Ecuador. Morrissey volunteered Jan. 4-18.
Morrissey said mobile clinics are held during all of the college breaks (winter, spring, summer) to accommodate college students willing to travel to Ecuador, Panama or Peru to provide medical check-ups, educational sessions and construct schools and other necessary buildings. Local doctors operate the mobile clinics to provide care for rural residents in each area.
“We stayed in the city of Riobamba but then we would travel out to all of these rural areas and set up mobile clinics in the communities surrounding Riobamba so the communities would be able to see the doctor and get medical attention,” Morrissey said.
She said the people in the rural communities can’t travel to the city to see the doctor often because it is a three-hour trip, then they would have to wait in line with the possibility of being rejected to be seen. They also may not be able to cover the full cost.
“Going to the doctor is something that just doesn’t happen,” Morrissey said. “That’s what’s nice about these clinics.”
She said if serious problems were detected during the routine exams, the doctors would return to the communities to talk to the people who may be affected and encourage them to seek medical treatment.
She said there were physicians, dentists, gynecologists and pharmacists.
She said while she was volunteering she took vitals, helped the doctor, helped the gynecologist and worked at the tooth brushing station.
“That was a lot of fun,” Morrissey said. “These little kids would come in, you’d hand them a tooth brush and then you’d have to go through it all in Spanish. So that was a challenge for some of us who didn’t know it very well. They all got to keep their toothbrush, which they were all like ‘wow.’ It was the best part.”
She said she watched a 3-year-old after giving him a toothbrush.
“I looked around the corner and he was there scrubbing the floor with it,” Morrissey said. “He was so little he didn’t quite get the whole idea of the toothbrush.”
She said in Ecuador MedLife worked with the Ministry of Education. Many of the clinics would be up in the mountains held in the school of a community.
“It was nice to allow for buildings to be used instead of just using tents,” Morrissey said.
She said there were two service projects going on while she was there: building a school and building flushable toilets for a school. She worked on both of the service projects at one point.
She said it was a two-hour bus ride to get to the clinic each morning, so they would leave at 6 a.m., and they would work until no more people showed up, usually between 1 and 5 p.m.
The rest of the evening she would get a cultural feel of Ecuador by eating at traditional restaurants and exploring the area.
While in Ecuador, Morrissey also visited an inactive volcano and “The Devil’s Pot” waterfall on the eastern side of the country. Her group arrived a day early and was able to explore the Quito area.
Morrissey said UW-Madison recently started a MedLife chapter. She said having a chapter at your school isn’t necessary. If you want to get involved you can apply for one of the trips at the MedLife Web site. Morrissey is a sophomore at UW-Madison majoring in nursing. She said you didn’t have to have a nursing background to participate. One student was an anthropology major.
Morrissey said she paid a participation fee that covered her for a week of clinics, including her stay, transportation to and from the sites and all of her meals. She also had to cover air fare.
“It opened my eyes a lot,” Morrissey said. “Here in the United States we go to the doctor any time we think something might be wrong.”
She said she would definitely go back again.
“I like the idea of what the organization stands for,” Morrissey said. “I would definitely recommend if anybody has an opportunity to do a service trip like this. It’s eye-opening to see how lucky and fortunate we are in the U.S.”