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Tecate Rx


By Meg Sullivan

Published Jan 1, 2008 8:00 AM

The scene in front of the makeshift medical clinic could have been lifted from the nightly news. Weary mothers cradled listless babies while flies circled their faces. Diapered toddlers with painful-looking skin disorders crouched in the dust.

Most families arrived on foot, several before dawn. By 11 a.m., it was 95 degrees in the shade. Yet, this wasn't some far-flung humanitarian crisis. And the response wasn't organized by any well-known relief organization. This was Cerro Azul, in Mexico, and the caregivers were Bruins.

For eight years, the undergraduate group Chicanos/Latinos for Community Medicine (CCM) has traveled four times a year to this valley of chronic unemployment on the outskirts of Tecate. With a handful of volunteer physicians, medical residents and pharmacists, the service club organizes medical screenings, medical evaluations and handouts of medication for all comers.

Within a half hour of their arrival in Cerro Azul last fall, 22 undergraduates had turned a derelict community center without electricity into a relief center with a makeshift waiting room, examining room, pharmacy, repository for hundreds of medical records and a distribution center for food and donated clothes and toys. That day, 185 people were treated.

The clinic is the brainchild of Takashi Michael Wada M.D. '94, M.P.H. '02, health officer of Pasadena's Public Health Department. He learned of Cerro Azul from a church member who had grown up nearby. "An infant had just died of dehydration," Wada recalls. "She asked if I'd come down and look at some other families who were having medical problems and didn't have access to medical care."

When CCM members learned of Wada's activities, they asked to join him. Soon they were raising money to buy medical equipment, medication and food for Cerro Azul residents — as well as for Los Angeles day laborers and Central Valley farm workers. Now the students line up transportation and enlist professional volunteers, including doctors, pharmacists and sometimes even dentists.

The 16-hour, round-trip commute to and from Westwood is grueling, but the students don't mind. "Without us, they don't have care," says first-year UCLA medical student Marc Montecillo '07. "It's a very important job that we're doing here."