I´m super sore right now, and I don´t want to see any more cement or buckets ever again.
Although I´m in Peru to help out at mobile clinics withMedlife (seeposts 1 and 2),the purpose of this trip is really about learning what the people here need and how we can help them in those ways. One of those needs is staircases. A lot of the poorer people in Peru live in the hills, in districts that started out from illegal settlements. In order for their houses to count as property (for benefits like bank loans and addresses etc.) as well as in order for better safety andevacuation routes, people need staircases to their homes. This is especially important in the rainy winter season when the dust on the slopes turns to slippery mud.
So Medlife splits up volunteers into teams, and each team works on the staircase construction project for one day of the week. Today was my turn.
When we arrived in the morning at the top of the hill, we first made the climb all the way to the top, to this wall called the Wall of Shame. It´s also known as the Peruvian Berlin wall. It´s tall and there´s barbed wire on top. A few years ago, the haves were afraid that the have-nots would steal from them so they ironically hired these have-nots to build this wall. The have-nots needed the jobs… so they built it. Unfortunately, it makes it tougher for the have-nots to get to their jobs in the city because now they have to go around this wall, so they have to pay forthese small rickshaw-esque taxis or quit certain jobs that are just too far.
Someone spray painted this quote on the wall of shame:”My country is mine, my country is yours, my country is everybody´s.”
We then climbed down and formed a human chain to pass buckets of cement up the hill to fill in the stairs. This continued for a long time… and now I´m really drained.
It was difficult work but a very gratifying experience. The members of the community came out to help. Towards the end, my friends and I were too slow because we were tired… and some of the ladies of the community told us (in Spanish and hand gestures) to switch places with them and go to flatter ground. There were a couple of really cute and kind of shy kids who watched us work. Anadorable dog kept making its way up the hill and then sliding back down to scratch its belly on the rocks between our feet. These little things and the community members´ smiles kept me going.
After a rejuvenatinglunch break, I stood next to this kind grandmother (let´s call her B). In terribly broken Spanish (I took French in high school) and with the help of a friend who did take Spanish in high school, Iconversed with her. When I told her I was 21, she asked if I was single (sola). I laughed andanswered in the affirmative. She then asked if I had babies. I said no, that I need to find a good man, first. I jokingly asked her to find me someone.We laughed and joked, and just like that,we finished transporting cement from a second pile.
I´ll get to see the completed staircase on Friday, so I´m pretty excited. Also excited because tomorrow is the first day of my clinical rotations. I´m pretty tired… so I think it´s time for bed (which has gotten earlier due to the lack of speedy wifi and all the distractions that come with).
This summer I had the incredible opportunity to do a 10-week internship at Gilead Sciences in Foster City, CA. For those unfamiliar, Gilead Sciences, Inc. is a research-based biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development, and commercialization of innovative medicines.
With 45 Nobel Laureates on its Faculty Roster, it’s not surprising that research is an integral part of the Caltech undergraduate experience. One of the programs that promotes such research is the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). There is no minimum knowledge or experience required to participate in a Caltech SURF. In fact, students can participate in a SURF as soon as the summer after their freshman year. It is not difficult to get a SURF. All you need to do is find a mentor who is working in an area of research that interests you and willing to mentor you through a research project. The mentor can work in a Caltech lab, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), or at another participating institution. Once you find a mentor, you work together to write a project proposal that you later send to the SURF office for review and approval. About 98% of the SURF proposals get approved. This fellowship is a great way to explore various fields of research and obtain real, hands-on experience where you get to apply the theoretical knowledge you’ve learned in class. Not only do you get to work and learn alongside your mentor, but you also get compensated for your time. The length of the SURF is ten weeks, and it starts at the beginning of the summer. However, it is not uncommon for many students at Caltech to continue their research project throughout the academic school year.
Like many students at Caltech, I suffer from a slight boba addiction, where side effects may include over caffeination, minor sugar highs, and of course, a large toll on one’s wallet. This addiction is not helped by the fact that there are at least three boba shops within walking distance of campus. So, after an entire term’s worth of boba runs, I came back from winter break with a new year’s epiphany: it was time to get a job. Rather than try to curb my addiction, I decided to find a way to subsidize it.
Research at Caltech looks different for every student, and can often vary term by term. As a chemistry major, my course requirements are on the lighter side for a Caltech major, and many chemistry majors take advantage of the lighter course load to join research groups. This can be whenever the student wants, but many people join labs during their freshman or sophomore years. Some may work in one lab only, and some may switch between labs during the course of their undergraduate studies, depending on if their interests change.