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Medical School and Nursing students recently gathered in Center City to party for relief efforts in the aftermath of a mudslide in Central America.

Between 150 and 200 students packed into the TPDS Club in Center City on Friday night for the Guatemalan Mudslide Party.

In early October, torrential rainstorms resulted in a massive mudslide that buried the small town of Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.

An estimated 1,400 inhabitants were buried alive, and 5,000 were left homeless and displaced.

The party's purpose was to raise money for the reconstruction of the town and the daily needs of residents.

"We are having an amazing party," event co-organizer and Nursing senior Marilyn Arenas said during the party. "We have tons of people on the first floor, tons of people on the dance floor."

The Guatemalan Health Initiative, a charity organization made up of Penn Medical and Nursing students, hosted the party.

The organization was formed early last year by three Medical School students with a desire to improve their knowledge of and participation in global health initiatives.

One of the co-founders, fourth year Medical student Justin Schram, said that the group has formed a partnership with the Guatemalan town and its hospital, Hospitalito Atitlan.

Support for the students in the form of academic credit and faculty advising was provided by the Medical School's Department of Family Practice and by the Nursing School.

A year and a half and 30 or more students later, organizers say the program has been a huge success. Medical and Nursing students spend several weeks during various times of the year conducting community-health surveys and providing care in the hospital.

The information gained in the surveys is then used to target the particular health concerns of the town.

Schram said that the hospital had only been open for six months. Prior to this, an ongoing civil war kept its doors shut.

Still, the mudslides have changed everything.

"The hospital is covered by a six-foot wall of mud," Schram said. "The mayor has declared the area a mass graveyard."

Now, the immediate mission of the organization has been changed into a relief and recovery effort.

Jessica Weisbein is one of two fourth-year Medical students currently in Santiago Atitlan.

She described the aftermath in her brother's Web log:

"I am in the middle of something that I can't even begin to describe just yet. ... Many people have died."

And the emergency supplies flowing to the area desperately need a source of funding.

At the party, on the third floor of the club, the Guatemalan Health Initiative presented a slide show and had a table displaying items for sale, such as jewelry, tapestries and bags of coffee beans collected by the Guatemalan villagers.

First-year Medical student Jimmy Byun said that all the items were produced in the community.

Schram said that preliminary reports have the party exceeding its $4,000 goal.

He added that many relief agencies were initially present but that the earthquake in Pakistan has caused many to leave Guatemala.

This has resulted in the community largely fending for itself, a fact that the Guatemalan Health Initiative is working to change.

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