When Stephanie Bailey first traveled to Ecuador with Carrboro-based Volunteer Med Partners two years ago, she and other volunteers swung machetes in dense vegetation to make way for a medical clinic she could see only in her mind.
When she returned this summer, the building was nearly complete, and this time her mind was busy with final plans for the clinic’s debut.
“It’s amazing seeing the transformation, before and after,” said Stephanie, 17. “When I was there the first time, it was covered with plants. And then, when we left, it was completely bare and they started using string to outline where everything would be in the clinic.”
Stephanie, now a senior at Carrboro High School, was taken with the small town of Mindo after her first trip there with a group of volunteers from her church. She knew she wanted to find a way to continue the work she had started.
“Doing that and getting a little look into the whole Ecuadorean culture just kind of pulled me in and kept hold,” she said, “and it’s what made me look into this internship with Volunteer Med Partners and to return.”
She kept in touch with VMP’s founders, Mark Marquardt and Rebecca Young-Marquardt, and proposed an internship at the beginning of the last school year.
“She came forward and said ‘I’m gonna come back to Mindo someday,’” said Young-Marquardt. “She was really interested in coming back, and that impressed me.”
Young-Marquardt was glad for Stephanie’s help, but also for the chance to teach a valuable lesson.
“I wanted her to see it all the way through, that one person can make a huge difference,” she said.
Mindo goods for Mindo cause
As an intern, Stephanie’s biggest project was raising money to buy defibrillators to be placed in Mindo, a small town known for its cloud forest and diverse bird population. By selling chocolate and scarves made in Mindo to church members and her neighbors and family members, Stephanie raised $3,500 – enough to buy two automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to be placed in public areas plus a training device.
“There’s a lot of stuff that’s happened in Mindo that if they had an AED it would have saved people’s lives,” she said. “I’m really happy that they’re going to get it.”
The AEDs and the clinic, which opened earlier this month, will give people in the area access to better health care than the small, government-run facility in the area has been able to provide. Previously, residents had to travel over bumpy roads to distant Quito for anything more than the most basic care.
During her six weeks in Mindo this summer, Stephanie did a lot of “listening and learning,” Young-Marquardt said, sitting in on committee meetings where VMP volunteers and leaders from Mindo decided how the clinic would be run.
“I got a look into how a clinic is opened and how to create a foundation and all the kind of legal stuff,” Stephanie said.
She also got to witness medical care when groups of veterinarians and doctors came through town for brief stints. People came from all over Ecuador and waited hours for care, she said.
“Even though my Spanish isn’t the best, I tried talking to some of the people and just hearing their story and where they came from,” she said. “Hearing the problems they have and comparing that to the problems that Americans have, it’s just completely different.”
A trial run
Stephanie wants to be a nurse, and she considered that day she spent watching the visiting doctors a bit of a trial run.
“Sitting in and listening to all these doctors and how they work with the patients and how they interact and hearing the problems and the diagnoses – all of that is maybe like a look into what my future might be,” she said. “This whole summer was kind of a great big test to see if I could handle everything, and if health care is really what I want to go into.”
With that opportunity for observation, and all the hard work with a machete, then fundraising, then meetings that shaped how the clinic will work, she said she feels as though she just might be up for that kind of future.
“Yeah,” she said. “I passed the test.”