The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Ecuador visit provides medical aid

Madeline Buckley | Monday, November 10, 2008

Instead of using fall break to catch up on sleep, 11 students spent their break in Ecuador giving medical treatment to people without access to affordable health care.

Senior Megan Rybarczyk organized the trip through the Timmy Foundation, a medical service organization. The trip was unaffiliated with the University this year because the Foundation does not have a Notre Dame chapter, Rybarczyk said.

“I am trying to start a chapter here because the Foundation mainly has college chapters,” she said. “The student chapters have three tasks, to advocate, fundraise and serve.”

The campus chapters are given a partner organization, and the students involved in the club educate their peers about the community they are serving, fundraise for the community and then travel to the country to do a service project, Rybarczyk said.

“The major thing is to educate people so they hold educational events about the language, culture and needs of the people in the community they are serving…and foster a global perspective about things, especially with health care in other countries,” she said.

Rybarczyk said the trip was a “test run” for the prospective club. She said she found interested students, and they had informal meetings and paid for the service trip themselves.

If SAO approves the chapter, the group would be able to educate and raise money on campus for a yearly trip to serve the University’s partner organization, she said.

“We probably wouldn’t be able to have all the trips paid for by Notre Dame, but we would be able to use facilities to have fundraisers, and we could have access to some of the grants and things Notre Dame offers for travels like this,” Rybarczyk said.

On the service trip, the students set up medical brigades where people were treated for health problems in four barrios in Ecuador, Rybarczyk said. The brigade consisted of a triage section where the patient history and vital signs are taken, a consultation center where the patients meet with a medical professional for a diagnosis and a pharmacy where the patients get the medicine they need, she said.

“The people there are absolutely incredible,” Rybarczyk said. “I have worked as a medical assistant here in the U.S. and patients wait for five or ten minutes and they are upset, but in Ecuador, we had people who would get there early, wait for along time and never complain.”

Rybarczyk said the students were able to get hands-on experience working in a medical setting and learning about a different country.

“We were involved in all aspects,” she said. “We had people translating, taking vital signs and patient histories. We had people playing with kids, administering fluoride to kids and helping out in the pharmacy.”

The group also helped start a program to move from using a paper form of patient records to electronic charts, Rybarczyk said.

Rybarczyk said a major goal of the Timmy Foundation is education so the students had the opportunity to partake in several cultural events.

“We had multiple discussions called charlas with community members and leaders of different neighborhoods,” she said. “We talked about their everyday life, politics, a lot of things.”

The group also saw an Andean ballet and went on a tour of the colonial center in Quito, the Capital, she said.

Rybarczyk said the service trip draws mostly pre-med students because it is a good way to gain experience in the field without having to live in another country for a summer or semester.

“I know a lot of people can’t take the whole summer…this way you get to be involved all year round with education and then go for a week and experience it,” she said.

Rybarczyk said the students who participated in the trip will talk about their experiences Thursday in the Lyons Hall chapel.