Getting Geared Up to Live It!

Hellos All!

My name is Margo Faulk. This coming Fall I will be a senior Geography major with a concentration in Community and Global Health. Since December I have been working with a small non-profit run by two recent Macalester graduates. The organization is called A Tu Lado, which means ‘by your side’ in Spanish. We work with partners in Venezuela and Bolivia to provide training and to improve emergency medicine systems, empowering local communities with the knowledge and tools needed to save lives and build safer neighborhoods. You can check out our work at

A Tu Lado is currently collaborating with Mano a Mano, a Bolivian NGO which builds healthcare infrastructure in the Andean region of the country. Mano a Mano also provides a medical air service for the northern rainforest of Bolivia, the Beni, where a small and disperse indigenous population has very limited access to clinical care. With a fleet of four small planes, they have transported over 1000 patients to Cochabamba since 2004. In addition to those emergency transports, they regularly fly medical teams to these villages to provide primary and preventative care.   A Tu Lado is setting up a course to train paramedics to attend these flights, building a patient information system, and helping to improve the logistics of the program. I will be working specifically on the patient information system and teaching a few elements of the course. I am also mapping resources and epidemiological trends to help the flight service better know their population and maximize their efficiency. Finally, I am hoping to talk to some community members in the areas that are being served to get a better idea of what community priorities are and how they would like to see the service take shape, as often in development projects indigenous voices are marginalized in the name of efficiency and improving patient outcomes.

This project expresses my vision of global citizenship in multiple ways. Instead of unilaterally carrying out the project, I am working collaboratively with local organizations developing curricula and train local providers– ensuring a sustainable, culturally appropriate service. Instead of pursuing development blindly, my research will encourage self-reflectivity and critical evaluation of results. Ultimately, the health and flight registry systems will give our partners the tools to make informed decisions about their development.

Mano a Mano hanger. Photo by Will Chilton @ A Tu Lado

The last couple weeks have been hectic. I have been finishing up my semester abroad in Arica, Chile, where I was studying public health, traditional indigenous medicine, and community empowerment. And of course, I have been trying to get some of the prep work done for this project. A few of the highlights in the process of getting ready to launch this project are listed below.

I took a trip to Santiago to talk with Joaquin Blaya of EHealth Systems about our vision for the patient record system and incorporating research and internal review elements. He is an expert in an open source medical records system, OpenMRS, and an innovator in applied mobile technology for medical care.

We are starting a dialogue with potential partners in South African who are also building community based emergency response systems. Already this new link has lead to exciting ideas!

The first computer purchased failed to load Windows, the second blew up. We are currently having it fixed by a wonderful Cochabamba tech wiz. Fingers crossed!

After a lot of reading reviews and comparing prices, I have purchased glucometers and oximeters to determine patients’ vital signs as part of the service. As well as improving patient care, these tools will help us to establish a system of internal monitoring over time to see what effect the service has on patient outcomes and determine areas we can improve.

Finally, I have been writing course material for the lessons I’m signed up to teach and generally reviewing EMT skills. I am honestly a little nervous about the teaching aspect… but the prevailing sentiment is definitely excitement!

Well, the bags are finally packed and I’m on the bus, headed to Cochabamba, Bolivia. I am ready to hit the ground running on this project. I’ll keep you updated as it gets rolling!

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