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March 3rd 2017: Back to the Basics

It was unreal to me as I woke up today for the final day of clinic. After a rather groggy breakfast, the coffee started kicking in for the team and we climbed into the vans, ready for the last day of work.

We were again in Santiago, where we began to notice many similar chronic issues with the people. The common trend with many of these issues was that they were preventable. Some of the most common diagnosis included carpel tunnel syndrome, high blood pressure and back and shoulder pain. As Dr. Malik demonstrated through consult after consult with these patients, these health problems cannot be cured with medicine alone. Physical therapy and support braces are the hallmark of treating these conditions.

Most of the conditions that we saw require awareness and education so people know how to prevent them. As we have seen time and time again this week, people are living in pain but unsure of what to do of it. Priya Sankaran told the story of a patient who said that she has had chronic pain for years, and with the use of the free clinics she learned different exercises and received different medicines to help ease her pain. The patient thanked Humanity First for continuing to come back year after year to her town, because without it she would be living in pain.

Watching the week unfold, we began to see so many issues come from the bare basics of health – hygiene, nutrition, physical activity. To many people in the U.S., these problems seem easily solvable. But as one team member, Kelly Hong told us, "I realized how privileged we were in the US, when I had an entire bottle of Ibuprofen at home, but could only hand them a prescription written for ten pills. It is so little for us, but it can make a huge difference in a person's life here."

The week came with many lessons, and sparked a drive in our entire team, each having a passion for something they wanted to help improve. One member, Olivia Wood, talked about how just the fact that we gave these people the agency to get some form of health care is the best start we could possibly give them. The education we are able to provide them, about anything from nutrition to physical activity to suggesting they get a wrist brace is the beginning of sustainable health care.

As the day came to a close, we began saying good-bye to the staff members and patients. We then went to the Humanity First Nasir Hospital, where we were given a tour of what would soon be built. It was incredible to see all the work and effort cultivating into one single system that could ultimately transform the lives of so many people, giving them access to health care that they have never had before. The hospital really represented so much to the team – David, the HF leader told us that the hospital was possible because Michigan students as well as other volunteers have continued coming back, and the people they have helped began to ask for a centralized location. This sentiment hit home that even though as individuals we don't think that we can make a big difference, but if we work together we can bring about tangible change.

As we reflected back on the work we have done, all the team members shared one take-away they had from the week. Each person had their own unique and individual take-away, showing that the trip affected us all in different ways that we could bring back once we came home. Sabrina Yancey said she realized "Seeing a smile doesn't necessarily mean that an individual isn't pain. There could be so much more to that person's story, even if they don't show it."

Ali Garada talked about how he realized how important communication really was. He said this week he was really able to hone into different problems and get past the language barrier he had, and that made all the difference in helping each patient he came in contact with.

Zarine Minwalla said it was the resilience of the people which had had a huge impact on her. She said that as she was shadowing the physicians, so many people came in with lifelong, excruciating pain, only to have a smile on their faces. "When I'm sick, you know it," she laughed, but continued to say that this comparison really made her see the contrast of how people handle suffering here versus how it is handled in the U.S.

Wrapping up the week, it was evident that in order to improve our care going forward, we have to evolve our efforts by teaching these people how to prevent their particular chronic disabilities.

At the end of the day, better care doesn't always mean the newest and most expensive equipment. Better care starts by arming the people with the tools they need to prevent the disease in the first place. In order to move forward effectively, we have to go back to the basics of health care.

-Hannah Goosen

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Humanity First is registered in 43 countries across 6 continents, and has been working on human development projects and responding to disasters since 1994. These have included the earthquakes in Turkey, Pakistan, Japan and Iran, floods in Africa and Latin America, hurricanes (Katrina and Rita) , tornado's (Kansas) and wild fires (California) in the USA, Indonesia and Bangladesh, and conflicts in Eastern Europe.

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Since its inception and IRS registration in 2004, Humanity First has been focused on spending most of the raised funds on direct program related expenses. As a result, more than 90% of its funds are in that expense category. This is achieved through dedicated volunteers in its management, and program operation teams.

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